People in Jammu and Kashmir will make a serious mistake if they underestimate the team of interlocutors who were visiting the State to interact with people and suggest measures that can be taken to bring peace to the State.
The new J and K interlocutors group, consisting of noted editor Dileep Padgaonkar, Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari and academician Radha Kumar is perhaps the most sincere team of persons who have been given the task of functioning as ‘interlocutors’ ever since G. Parthasarathy interacted with Mirza Afzal Beg, the confidant of Sheikh Abdullah in the early seventies.
Since the outbreak of militancy in the late eighties, we have had ‘interlocutors’ – in former Home and Defence Minister K. C. Pant, and the former Defence and Home Secretary, N. N. Vohra. K. C. Pant made his best efforts to meet the ‘separatists’ and the only person he could interact with was Shabbir Shah.
N. N. Vohra tried his best to interact with the different shades of opinion, but was always looked at by the Kashmiris as the ‘former Home Secretary’, a person who was ‘important’ when he was in the North Block atop the Raisina Hill in New Delhi.
Dileep Padgaonkar and other members of the team have followed events in the State in their individual capacities for decades. That they have taken their task seriously is evident from the amount of consultations they have had in New Delhi before their departure for Jammu and Kashmir.
They have taken up their task from the point reached by the All Party delegation that visited the State for two days. The team of interlocutors has been briefed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and some of the political leaders who visited the State earlier.
The team is going to visit the State every month till a solution emerges. They will be visiting Srinagar, Jammu and Ladakh and interact with all groups – including those who are in jails. They will interact with political groups, separatists, students and even stone palters.
The team has a wide mandate, with no red lines drawn. It would be a mistake to compare the team to G. Parthasarathy who reported to Indira Gandhi. The situation in the nineteen -seventies was different, both in the State and in New Delhi. Sheikh Abdullah was the dominant voice of Jammu and Kashmir, and in Delhi Indira Gandhi had the authority to take decisions.
Much of the trouble these days is due to the fact that there are many claimants who would be projected as the ‘voices of Jammu and Kashmir’. The All Party Hurriyat Conference has little influence in Jammu, Ladakh, Kargil or even in all parts of the Valley. The Hurriyat itself is divided between the hard line and moderate factions.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is the official voice of the State. He assumed the office following a free and fair election process, but the separatists have not accepted his leadership. Even the Peoples’ Democratic Party, instead of discharging its role as a constitutional opposition, is always engaged in sniping at the State Government headed by Omar Abdullah. The National Conference shares power in the State with the Congress, but the Congress is divided between factions owing allegiance to Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been mentioning ever since he assumed office that a ‘political solution’ is required in Jammu and Kashmir. He has also been stating that unless relations between India and Pakistan become normal, normalcy will evade the State.
In the charged atmosphere, it is difficult to avoid controversy. Provoked by opposition groups who have alleged that decisions concerning law and order in the State are taken in Delhi, Omar Abdullah reacted strongly, stoking a controversy.
To emphasize the point that he was his own master, Omar Abdullah remarked that Jammu and Kashmir had ‘acceded ‘to India and not ‘merged’ with India. The remarks engulfed the Chief Minister in a controversy. Days later, Home Minister Chidambaram had to clear the air by saying that Omar Abdullah did not say anything wrong.
There is a lingering impression that ‘back channel’ or ‘Track-2’ talks between India and Pakistan during the days of President Musharraf had brought the two countries nearer to a ‘solution’. We are living in a make believe world.
To recall, India Pakistan had ‘solved’ the Kashmir issue in Tashkent in 1966, in Shimla in 1972 and the impression is that it was almost ‘solved’ when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Lahore in 1998 and later in Agra. Lastly, Dr Manmohan Singh would have announced a ‘solution’, but the change of government in Pakistan prevented it.
Successive Governments in Pakistan could revoke any ‘agreement’ reached by General Musharraf. One has to read the statements made by David Headley to understand Pakistan. Any illusion about General Musharraf should be discarded after reading the recent statements made by him about training militants and sending them across to Jammu and Kashmir.
On the eve of the visit to India by U.S. President Obama, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, gave vent to his feelings in Delhi. He received backing from Arundhanti Roy, the patron God of all Small Things, and Naxal sympathizer Varavara Rao. Ali Shah Geelani was shown the shoe, by a member of the audience, but was spared shoe-pelting.
One expects a great deal from the interlocutors visiting the State. They may have to visit the different regions many times, and interact with all sections of the population till a lasting solution evolves.