The interlocutors’ report on Jammu and Kashmir offers no credible roadmap for a lasting solution…
The typical Congress-style of addressing intricate political issues is to increase the complexity by buying time, creating confusion and leading the stakeholders into a labyrinth of dark alleys where they fret aimlessly. Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram is carrying this Congress legacy to new heights — or depths. Like the manner in which he pronounced on December 9, 2009, the Government’s initiatives for the formation of a Telangana State in south India, he announced the formation of a team of interlocutors on September 25, 2010, to explore the contours of resolving the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The Telangana matter remains undecided, bringing with it a new wave of disorder and confusion in Andhra Pradesh. The interlocutors’ report — A New Compact with the people of Jammu and Kashmir — too has only added to the confusion that already exists in the State.
The appointment of three interlocutors — Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and former MM Ansari — had twin purposes. It acted as the continuation of a process initiated in 2002 by the then NDA Government to engage the political stakeholders internally in a dialogue process in Kashmir. Second, the interlocution was necessitated by the five-month long summer agitation in 2010, which began against the killing of four Kashmiri youngsters in a fake encounter in Macchil sector of north Kashmir.
The killing of over a 100 protestors and onlookers by the State police and the paramilitary forces in the violence that broke out, the pouring of thousands of people on the streets with slogans of separatism, the targeting by violent mobs of police stations and sending mainstream political leaders and workers into hiding were the highlights of the summer unrest that forced New Delhi to send an all-party parliamentary delegation to view and sense the ground situation.
The interlocutors’ appointment was the medicine prescribed by the all-party delegation. After the interlocutors submitted their report, following a year-long engagement with “diverse shades of opinion” in the embattled state, it appears that the ailment is destined to deteriorate further. Either the prescribed medicine was sub-standard or the basic ailment has been mis-diagnosed.
On the face of it, the interlocutors’ mission was to identify the political contours of a solution and the roadmap towards it through holding wide-ranging discussions with all sections of opinion in Jammu & Kashmir. Sadly, instead of all shades, only a part of the political opinion decided to engage with them. The element of dissent, which was predominantly conspicuous in the 2010 unrest, decided to give the team of interlocutors a slip, despite Ms Kumar’s and Mr Padgaonkar’s initial assurances that the periphery of the dialogue process was extendible to Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. To lure the separatists, they initially referred to the part of Kashmir beyond the Line of Control as Pakistan-administered Kashmir, expressed their desire to interact with the leadership in Pakistan and PoK. The team even assured that the Constitution of India was amendable to accommodate the wishes and aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.
However, the separatists, barring former Hurriyat chairman Maulvi Abbas Ansari, categorically refused to engage with the interlocutors. Mr Ansari was later suspended from the Hurriyat and reinstated after he explained his position before the executive committee of the amalgam. The separatists’ insistence remained that the appointment of interlocutors did not reflect the Government’s sincerity to resolve the Kashmir issue. For Mirwaiz Umar Farooq or Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’s Yasin Malik, who have held talks at the level of the Prime Minister in the past, it was not altogether sensible to engage at a rather low-level.
The interlocutors’ 176-page document has been prepared after visiting Jammu & Kashmir’s 22 districts and meeting with around 700 delegations comprising 6,000 plus people. The State-sponsored meetings with select groups of people did not change the mindset of the interlocutors, who scripted The Compact after rehashing the already available material on Kashmir. The basic premise remained that the solution should be within the ambit of the Constitution of India and that the maximum Government of India can indulge in is safeguard the ‘special status’ and the integrity of the State.
The interlocutors want Article 370, that ensures the special status to Jammu & Kashmir, be appended with “special” in place of existing “temporary”, bringing it at par with the status of States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Assam Manipur, Sikkim etc. Although they have suggested a mechanism like the setting up of a Constitution committee to reassess the implementation of all Union laws in Jammu & Kashmir since 1953, when internal autonomy was snatched after the arrest of then State’s Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, they have maintained that the bulk of the laws were”fairly innocuous that enable the State to conform to international standards, norms and regulations”.
The interlocutors have suggested retention of the jurisdiction of Supreme the Court and the Election Commission besides the autonomous commissions like National Human Rights Commission, SC/ST Commission and National Commission for Women in the backdrop of “the vastly changed situation in the world since Jammu & Kashmir acceded to the Indian Union”.
They say the State’s economy is intractably linked with the economy of India, especially on the strategic, economic, technological and cultural fronts. For attaining the larger goals they have suggested to revisit the innocuous nomenclatures indicating heavens would not fall if Chief Minister is referred to as Wazir-e-Azam (only in Urdu) and Governor as Sadr-e-Riyasat.
‘For all and none’
In an extremely indirect approach, the report has suggested more confidence- building measures than concrete solutions to the problems plaguing the State. Setting up of regional development councils is projected as a means to devolve power of governance but many suspect it as laying foundation to the formal trifurcation of the state on communal lines. The external dimension of Kashmir has been restricted to various initiatives on the LoC like trade and enhanced interaction between divided families.
The involvement of Pakistan into political settlement has been trivialised, perhaps, in the backdrop of improved situation in Kashmir. “The agreement on a political settlement should not be made contingent on whether Pakistan is willing to enter into it. If the people of the State are willing, then the door can always be kept for Pakistan to join”, the report reads.
The interlocutors have tried to do many things and please many people. In the end, though, they have failed to appease any one. More importantly, they have not been able to take the bull by the horns. Their effort, like many others before, will prove fruitless.
(The author is Kashmir Correspondent, The Pioneer)