From beginning to end, the interlocutors’ report overlooks the fundamentals about Kashmir
When Kashmir was simmering with angry protests for the third consecutive year in 2010, the Centre appointed a group of three interlocutors — Dilip Padgaonkar, M.M. Ansari and Radha Kumar — “to interact with all shades of political opinion” and “suggest a way forward that truly reflects the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.”
Based on year-long consultations, the interlocutors report — made public last month — has become another imprudent exercise aimed at further complicating the problem.
One of the major causes for the anger in Kashmir has been the government’s consistent failure to acknowledge the basic reason for the political dispute, and tackling only the symptoms. If the interlocutors were not ready to engage with the fundamental political issue, there was no chance of drawing a credible roadmap for a resolution.
“The New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir” is an incoherent 179-page summary of issues that have arisen because of the political conflict.
The report talks about “a sense of victimhood” in the Kashmir valley, arising from the systematic denial of democratic rights, rigged elections, arrests of leaders and the choking of dissent through harsh laws.
The interlocutors conclude that at the heart of all the “dirges” — they use this term to describe the “demand for Azadi and an Islamic state’’and “autonomy, self-rule, achievable nationhood and other such alternatives’’ — is the “sentiment that the woes of Kashmir are due to the emasculation of the substance of its distinctive status enshrined in Article 370 of the Constitution of India”.
This is a flawed diagnosis: the post-1952 constitutional erosion is only an outcome of New Delhi’s mistrust caused by the dispute, not the reason for the dispute.
Nobody expected the home ministry-appointed interlocutors to suggest a plebiscite to figure out the future of J&K or recommend any remedy outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution. However, it was surprising that the report has not even seriously acknowledged that the demand for secession exists.
By calling the political demand for Azadi a dirge, and associating it only with the establishment of an Islamic state, the interlocutors have mocked Kashmir’s entire political struggle, the meaning of Azadi and even the political agendas of J&K’s two major pro-India parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The report makes it clear that the official goalpost for a dialogue on Kashmir has been shifted and now even the restoration of a pre-1953 status is not on the table. The demand for a restoration of the pre-1953 status is not a secessionist demand but a resolution passed by a two-thirds majority of the legislative assembly.
The interlocutors, however, recommend “a case-by-case review of all Central laws” extended after 1952, but with several stringent caveats. “Any proposed change that questions the sovereignty of India, disrupts its territorial integrity, compromises India’s defence and larger, strategic economic interests cannot be entertained,” it stresses.
Constitutional committee: To review the Central acts extended to the state after 1952 that have dented J&K’s special status, the interlocutors have recommended setting up of a Constitutional Committee (CC) — and have also ensured that it never succeeds.
The head and members of the CC must be constitutional experts who “enjoy esteem and respect in the state and in the rest of India” and the “confidence of all stakeholders”. How is it possible to find individuals acceptable to all stakeholders in such an intractable conflict?
Even if such a dream constitutional committee was set up, there is no way that its recommendations will ever be accepted. According to the report, its “recommendations must be reached through consensus so that they are acceptable to all stakeholders represented in the state assembly and in Parliament”. Such a consensus would need divine intervention. The interlocutors suggest “retaining many of the Central laws made applicable to the state” because they are “fairly innocuous”.
Parliament, however, can still continue to make important laws related to the “country’s internal and external security and its vital economic interest”. Thus between the important and innocuous, there is hardly any work left for the CC.
Communal polarisation: The report has correctly raised the issue of communal polarisation in the state, but its solution will balkanise the state into three pieces along Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist lines.
They have totally disregarded the communal divide, especially within Jammu and Ladakh and recommended the division of J&K into three regional councils — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh — and devolve powers to them. This is a recipe for disaster.
The interlocutors have further divided the state’s Muslim population and come up with “stoutly pro-India Muslim Pahadis, Muslim Gujjars and Bakarwals”. This new classification is extremely problematic. They have split these groups along Muslim-Hindu lines and recommended that these Muslims need to be rewarded for being pro-India.
The interlocutors have recommended “some sort of a special status” for the Muslim Pahadis “who have always stood by India”. They have supported the “demand for forest rights, enhanced development funds and representation in local and state level political institutions and bureaucracy for Muslim Gujjars and Bakarwals” because they “have also been stoutly pro- India”.
Cross-LoC relations and the 1994 parliamentary resolution: It is ironic that the interlocutors recommend “harmonisation of relations” between the two parts of Kashmir and turn the Line of Control (LoC) into a “line of concord and cooperation” while wrongly suggesting it to be in consonance with the 1994 parliamentary resolution on J&K. The 1994 resolution had asked Pakistan to “vacate the areas of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression”.
In their extreme optimism, the interlocutors have even sought “wide-ranging constitutional change in Pakistan-administered Kashmir” for “harmonisation of Centre-state relations (between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad) and devolution of powers across the LoC”.
Human rights violations: Despite a unanimous demand for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir, the interlocutors have avoided a clear position and requested the defence ministry to respond favourably. Subsequently, the interlocutors term the army’s decision to hold a “court-martial in the Machil (stage-managed encounter) case” as a “positive response”.
Once the interlocutors support a court martial, which is the army’s preferred forum for a trial of its erring men, it is clear they would probably not mind if AFSPA stayed. The interlocutors have been apologetic while putting forth the demand for withdrawal of troops, suggesting that “the shifting out of residential areas and thinning them out is the desire across the political divide”. However, they make any such measure subservient to the demands of the security forces.
The report recommends “psychological closure for 200 cases of disappeared persons, most of them from 1990”. The families of the disappeared have a concrete right to truth, justice and reparations, not some vague and absurd psychological closure. And how have the interlocutors reached this figure of 200 when according to the state’s own acknowledgement the number is more than 3,000?
There are several smaller observations that defy common sense: “while security interests are supreme, they must be safeguarded in such a way that a curfew does not create hassles to day-to-day living which it does at present’’. How can there be a curfew where people are allowed to carry on with their daily chores without any hassle?
Although Kashmir has been peaceful for two consecutive summers, there is no guarantee that this calm is permanent. If Kashmir slips back to the brink, the government will find itself in a precarious situation.
The message that has gone out through this report is disastrous for any future effort at engagement. From Narasimha Rao’s “sky is the limit” to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “insaniyat ke dayray mein”, the Centre had always ambiguously offered unconditional talks with an aim to provide separatists an opportunity to engage.
This report is, however, all straight talk in terms of politics and language: a dialogue on Kashmir can be held strictly within the ambit of the Constitution and there is no room even for an ambiguous interpretation.
(Muzamil Jaleel is Associate Editor with Indian Express)