Brief-less intermediaries

The 3-member team of Kashmir interlocutors continues to be dogged by contradictions and confusion about the purpose behind this move. Firstly, the choice of the persons, though at least two of the three being known professionals in their respective fields, did not square up with the well recognised requirements of their assigned task. Secondly, the non-political character of the team failed to inspire confidence in its ability to deal with a highly complex six-decade old political problem.

Thirdly, the timing of setting afloat such a contraption was baffling. The decision to despatch this set of interlocutors to Jammu and Kashmir was largely an outcome of the visit of the all-party delegation from Delhi consisting of prominent, experienced MPs from national political spectrum who had broken some fresh ground by initiating their engagement with recalcitrant separatist leaders in the Valley. Obviously, follow up to that initiative warranted movement along the same course. But the appointment of non-political interlocutors came as a big surprise and its hidden message continues to be an enigma.

The disclosure in the Rajya Sabha last week that the central government had so far not even decided on terms of reference for these interlocutors confirmed the general feeling that it was a non-serious exercise, presumably to mark time. In the absence of a precise definition of their task, the interlocutors have virtually been let loose for free-lancing in the political jungle of this state. And that is about all that they have been doing so far. This briefless team seems to be working without any sense of direction. Its members have been giving vent to their individual fancies and fantasies to the extent that their ring master had to pull them up publicly and gag them. This snub has naturally added to the team’s weightlessness in the estimation of the general public. Even otherwise also, all that the interlocutors have been so far saying about the real problem they are supposed to be dealing with is less than elementary. That there exists a ‘dispute’, that the people of the state desire its ‘solution’, that the ‘key’ stake holders include Pakistan and separatist, that security forces must ‘act with restraint’… nothing new. The discovery made by the interlocutors for the benefit of their masters in New Delhi after two visits to the state could have been ferreted out from the huge pile of government’s accumulated records and files right in the union capital itself.

The fact that the ‘key’ stake holders on this side of the Line of Control have chosen to avoid these interlocutors and that even the mainstream camp has been engaging itself with unconcealed reluctance greatly diminishes the output of the entire exercise. The interlocutors seem to be making up for this deficiency by giving vent to their individual opinions with little concern for credibility. Some of the fanciful ideas floated in the process have forced union home minister P Chidambaram to caution the team to refrain from behaving like cricket commentators and stop giving ‘ball-by-ball running commentary’. Obviously, New Delhi has not been impressed by the conduct of the interlocutors even as their presence in Kashmir continues to be ignored by the ‘key’ stake holders. Yet if some of them feel like drawing self-satisfaction from their visits to the state and keeping themselves busy in meeting those whose stake in determining future course of events is less than negligible the only sufferer is the public exchequer. To be fair, the interlocutors are not alone in this endeavour; the road from New Delhi to Srinagar via Jammu is full of fellow-travellers doing nothing but adding to the burden on public resources.

Putting together the bits and pieces of this story, the central government’s calculated lack of urgency behind setting terms of reference coupled with union home minister’s public snub over the team’s style of functioning only confirms the belief that this is a non-serious exercise. And that is what it has proved to be so far. Irresistible itch for media projection is beginning to boomerang on the mission of the team. Added to that is the rumour that the head of the team, Dileep Padgaonkar’s absence from their second visit had much more to it than Radha Kumar’s explanation that he was ‘pre-occupied’ with something else. Similarly, the low profile maintained by another member, MM Ansari during the first visit is being interpreted negatively in the absence of any convincing justification to the contrary. Be that as it may, the central government would be deceiving itself if it believes that by floating this balloon they can evade any meaningful engagement with stake holders in Kashmir. Deceptive calm on the surface carries a familiar ominous ring around it.