Interlocutor at work

The centre’s new interlocutor’s Dineshwar Sharma’s visit has triggered a sense of de javu in Kashmir. Seven years ago the then three interlocutors comprising  noted journalist the late Dilip Padganokar, academic Radha  Kumar and the bureaucrat M M Qureshi had arrived in Kashmir in similar circumstances. They had been appointed following the five month long unrest which killed 120 youth. The then union home minister P Chidambaram had said the purpose of appointing  interlocutors was to establish a ”sustained dialogue” with the people of Kashmir. What followed for the one year thereafter is now the history. They travelled extensively through the state and held meetings with the hundreds of social, business, cultural and student groups and compiled a report which recommended the setting up of a Constitutional Committee, to review all Central Acts and the articles of the Constitution extended to J&K after the signing of the 1952 Agreement even though it ruled out a return to the pre-1953 position. But the report was never taken up for discussion  as a jumping off point for the resolution of Kashmir but put into a cold storage. However, this was not a fate specific to the Padgaonkar’s group only. Their predecessors’ reports  were similarly consigned to dustbin, most particularly that of the five working groups constituted by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. One of the Working Groups led by Justice Sagheer had recommended greater autonomy for J&K.

Sharma, a successor to a long line of these interlocutors, is in the Valley to go through the same errands: meet the same political, social and cultural groups to acquaint himself and New Delhi with the aspirations of the people of the state. Now it is Sharma’s turn to reconfirm or prove his forerunners wrong. Underlining the rank public indifference to his visit in Valley, only a few insignificant delegations from various community and business interests met him on the first day, one of them representatives of the Gujjar community and another that of the fruit growers.  Incidentally, no major civil society group went to meet him, even though 50 people comprising various delegations were scheduled to meet him. On Sunday, a joint statement by Kashmir’s various civil society groups and the prominent personalities had expressed reservations about meeting him, saying “the engagement of the nominated representative of Government of India with anyone else other than Joint Resistance Leadership will be a futile exercise”. Even Kashmir Economic Alliance, the conglomerate of the Valley’s major trading groups has decided against meeting him.

Unlike the former interlocutors who at least talked of greater political concessions, Sharma has set the bar very low. This has greatly reduced the public expectations from him with even the major mainstream political party like National Conference and Congress expressing their reservations about the initiative. There are thus few signs that the initiative is going to go anywhere unless the centre modifies and upgrades Sharma’s mandate and prioritizes his talks with the dissident groups challenging the political status quo in the state.






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