Even though its salient features were already in the public domain, the fresh discourse around the interlocutors’ report on Jammu & Kashmir has generated little interest in the Valley. The major grouse among the separatist and Valley-based mainstream parties is that the report is largely “extraneous” to the basic political problem in the state.
The report prepared in 2011 by three interlocutors appointed by the Centre — journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, social scientist Radha Kumar and economist MM Ansari — is being blamed for either regurgitating or diluting earlier recommendations on the state. For example, their most significant recommendation about reviewing “all Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India extended to the state after the signing of the 1952 Agreement” — albeit subject to qualifications — was earlier proposed by the Working Group on Centre-state relations headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retd) Saghir Ahmed. It was one of the five working groups on J&K set up by the UPA government in 2006 and submitted its report in 2009.
Justice Ahmed’s report had advocated restoration of autonomy to the state “in the light of a Kashmir accord”. Acting on the report, the J&K government has already set up a Cabinet Sub-Committee to forge a political consensus on the quantum and contours of autonomy.
“The interlocutors’ exercise was basically about anger management in Kashmir. New Delhi wanted to reach out to Kashmir following the 2010 unrest,” says senior PDP leader Naeem Akhter, while expressing scepticism that a BJP government would act on the interlocutors’ recommendations. “If the Centre was serious on Kashmir, the reports of the working groups on J&K, set up during the UPA’s reign, provided all the ideas for addressing the alienation in the state.”
For many in the Valley, the interlocutors’ report came as a drastic climbdown from the ambitious objectives outlined by the panel initially. They had termed Kashmir a “dispute” rather than an “issue” — the official Indian line — and outlined a role for Pakistan in the solution, even indicating that they would recommend amending the Constitution, if needed. This had made the Sangh Parivar see red, but in Kashmir, it imparted their mission a sense of possibility. But within a year, the panel had digressed from addressing political aspirations to tackling “social, cultural and economic aspirations” as well.
“The social, cultural and economic problems in Kashmir are contingent upon the conflict, not vice versa,” says Aamir Sheikh, a student of Kashmir University. “Once you address the conflict, many of the other problems would disappear and the rest can be tackled in a peaceful environment.”
Sheikh’s argument finds wide resonance in Kashmir, but not everyone has given up on the report. There are many who acknowledge that the interlocutors had an unenviable task on their hands: while they had to keep up a pretence of trying to resolve the political conflict, they also had to account for even the harmless observations they made about the nature of the dispute. Making things tough for them, the BJP often accused the panel of foraying into a forbidden domain.
On the other hand, in Kashmir, the panel’s mandate was seen to be so narrow that it could be matched only by the absoluteness of the separatists’ demand. While the Centre did not want to go beyond some phraseological re-adjustments on Kashmir, the separatist constituency in the Valley wanted a fundamental shift in the relations between the state and the Centre. And the interlocutors were in no position to bridge this vast chasm.
“Despite these constraints, the interlocutors have done a reasonable job. They may not have addressed the conflict itself, but have certainly sought to address its fallout,” says political analyst Gull Wani. “The conflict over Kashmir is between India and Pakistan and no internal initiative can resolve it. It would have been too much to expect the interlocutors to lead the way to a solution.”