Scope of Interlocutors’ Intercession

November 2011

There is an erroneous belief in the common citizen that the Interlocutors were appointed as a critical interface with the people in Jammu and Kashmir to douse the fires caused by a protracted stone pelting ‘Intifada’ raging in Kashmir valley at that time. It is true that the new Interlocutors were appointed after the visit of the All Party Delegation to the state when the India Ragdo campaign was in full swing in Kashmir valley.  But it is doubtful that they were employed as a contingency plan to bring the state out of the mire of civil unrest.  Evidence in the public realm suggests that the Interlocutors were employed as a next logical step after the three Round Table Conferences and Working Group meetings on Jammu and Kashmir failed to create the desired political space for what the Government of India wanted to do. The Government of India had taken a public position, well before the surfacing of the so called non-violent separatist unrest in Kashmir valley and the appointment of three interlocutors, that the political solution for the turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir had been almost finalized. Civil unrest in Kashmir had created the thrust for the appointment of Interlocutors with the expectation that they will take the process ahead from the point where Justice Sagir had left it. In fact civil unrest in Kashmir was crafted with this as one of its objectives.

To accommodate the separatists the Government of India has to move away from the present status quo. This is how the entire machinery of separatism in the valley thinks. The objective of government action in Jammu and Kashmir seems to have shifted from making separatists to abandon separatism.  And this shift had taken place well before the stone pelting campaign in the valley started.  Government action in Jammu and Kashmir for quite some time has been seeking primarily to create an internal public space to move away from the status quo. This has created a bizarre situation. All leverages demographic, political, legal and historical, which the government of India has in the state, have become part of the problem rather than part of the solutions it can deploy on the ground. And all insults to the sovereignty emanating from the separatist echelons and mainstream political establishment have assumed the respectability of measures aimed at a solution.

National Conference articulated the perception shared by the separatist gentry across the factional divides that appointment of Justice Sagir as the Chairman of the Working Group on Centre State Relations was not a prudent step. They wanted a Hindu like “Justice Sacchar’” to deal with the issue of a political solution for the Kashmir problem and declared it so publicly. The civil unrest in Kashmir valley had a definite connection with the visit of President Obama to India. But one thing which has been overlooked is the catalytic pressures which the statement of Prime Minister of India generated on the separatist mind just towards the fag end of the elections to the Parliament of India. The Prime Minister of India surprised many by confirming publicly that a final settlement on Jammu and Kashmir had almost been reached and the same had got derailed due to the dethronement of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.  For the separatist, the agenda for action was getting clearly defined. Exert pressures from inside to set the process, which had stopped due to change of regime in Pakistan, into motion once again. The choice of new interlocutors was defined by the separatist needs and not by the contingency of the times.

At least two of the interlocutors had a very clear cut stated position on the turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir which had always been music to the ears of various strands of separatists operating in the valley. Their stated position was not fundamentally in conflict with the official positions of Pakistan as well as USA. The choice of the interlocutors was better than the wish list the separatist might have had in mind and certainly must have pleased even Dr Farooq Abdullah who wanted some amenable eminent Hindu of the type of Justice Sachhar to deal with the issue of redefining the relation of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India.

Government of India declared that there were no red lines fixed for the interlocutors. The approach had a fundamental implication of creating a government sanctioned process, which is still continuing, which can operate beyond the boundaries of recognized national interests and constraints of sovereignty.  So the interlocutors operated in an environment of a political sanction to explore with a freedom which no government appointed interlocutor had anywhere and anytime in the country. The rationale put forward by some that this had merely a tactical value to create an atmosphere of engagement with the separatists has by now been exposed to its core. Even as the interlocutors sued for peace with separatists on behalf of Government of India, the separatists only stiffened their stance and refused to talk to the interlocutors.

Interlocutors knocked at the door of separatists not in the literal sense but physically. Every public expression or gesture which they employed was aimed solely to appease the separatist sentiment. As  they did so, they maintained the aura of a ruler while dealing with the rest of the diversity of the state. Most of the delegations other than the separatists had to seek an appointment to meet the interlocutors. Most of them had to perform within the time limitations of the interlocutors.  Interlocutors saw to it that they keep all such voices out of the engagement process who had posed fundamental questions during the Round table Conferences and Working Group meetings about separatism, causes which sustain it and the responses of the governments at the helms from time to time. Through conducting seminars and conferences in Kashmir, Jammu and Delhi, interlocutors made a brazen show of their preferences. The conference conducted in Jammu had most of the representatives who did not represent the views of Jammu. Even the sole Congress leader from Jammu was stopped half way.

The scope of what the interlocutors may recommend will be essentially determined by what the Government of India has already decided. The contours of the Government policy to devise a solution on Jammu and Kashmir have been stated by the government one way or the other from time to time. Government of India has stated that if holds the view that India has a shared destiny with Pakistan; that terrorism and peace process cannot be linked; that borders can be made irrelevant.  The stated postulates of the government policy have opened the doors for an arrangement where sovereignty of the nation over the whole state or a part of it can be shared with Pakistan. There are areas about which there seems to be a finality that the interlocutors will not trespass.  Interlocutors will not re-examine the rationale of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir. They will not examine the contradiction of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir with the secular nation building in India: they will not examine the growth of Muslim identity politics in the state and its relation to armed separatism; they will not examine the implications of a republic within the republic and they will not treat the genocide and internal displacement of Kashmiri Hindus more than an economic, developmental and administrative issue. In the political environment and the constraints of the government policy on Jammu and Kashmir, if interlocutors, in their final report, don’t confer legitimacy to the separatist perspective that accession was conditional, if they don’t suggest the division of Jammu along its demographic contours under one pretext or the other and if they don’t recommend making the article 370 as a permanent provision of Indian constitution, then we should feel a little relieved.