The Modi government has begun to carry forward a process related to Jammu & Kashmir that the UPA regime had initiated but had then abandoned in all but name. In October 2010, the home ministry had set up a Group of Interlocutors under the chairmanship of this writer with a wide mandate: to reach out to all sections of opinion in the state to take stock of their concerns, grievances, interests and aspirations on a host of issues, make recommendations to address them and submit its report within a year.
Accordingly, the group visited each one of the state`s 22 districts, met more than 700 delegations representing diverse interests and submitted its report to the then home minister, P Chidambaram, within the prescribed time frame. A few months later it was put on the ministrys website when it generated a great deal of comment. Much of it was heated and, alas, also ill-informed. Chidambarams successor, Sushilkumar Shinde, effectively placed the report on the back burner. His top officials were rumoured to be hostile to it. And he was himself unwilling to handle what he reckoned was a political hot potato.
The report might yet be rescued from oblivion. Last Tuesday, minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju informed Parliament that while the government had not taken any decisions on the report it would welcome an informed debate on its contents. That was precisely what needed to be done in the first place: to allow all stakeholders to give their considered opinion on the findings and recommendations of the group. These arent cast in stone. Only after a comprehensive discussion would the government take a call on its future course of action.
This would require, first and foremost, a close reading of the report. From the outset, the interlocutors made it clear that J&K has been, is and will continue to be part of the Indian Union. It also highlighted the fact that much of what the interlocutors heard during their interactions close to 80% was in the nature of grievances about poor governance, lack of economic and social development and corruption. It pointedly referred to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and called for their return to their ancestral land with their security assured and their dignity upheld. These have been Prime Minister Modis refrains as well.
But the report also spoke about political issues. It drew attention to a fact that has been persistently ignored in the past: political concerns and aspirations differ from region to region. Sentiment in the Valley harps on erosion of the Constitutions original Article 370 that guaranteed a special status for J&K. But the sentiment in Jammu & Ladakh seeks a closer integration with the rest of the country. Their clamour for a more equitable distribution of powers between the three regions that successive state governments promised time and again has gone unheeded.
The report points out that several commissions and Supreme Court rulings and accords between the Centre and the state have not brought the debate on the constitutional relationship between the Centre and the state to a closure. That cannot happen if attempts are made to turn the clock back. National Conferences demand for a pure and simple revert to the pre-1953 situation was rightly rejected by the first NDA government. But it was also prepared to make genuine efforts to reach out to the people of the state.
In his autobiography, L K Advani, the then deputy prime minister and home minister, makes a significant remark on the subject: I explained to them why NDA had rejected granting the pre-1953 status to J&K. At the same time, i said the government was willing to consider realistic ideas about certain special powers for the state which would help the political process towards the goal of permanent peace, normalcy, development and integration with the national mainstream. Indeed he has gone on to say: There is a clear case for devolution of more administrative and financial powers to the state. NDA favoured this for all states, not just J&K.
That in fact is the leitmotif of the Group of Interlocutors people-centric report.
—–Dileep Padgaonkar in the Times of India
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