Writing in the Times of India, ‘window of opportunity’, January 26, 2003, Dileep Podgoankar himself unravels the intent behind what they call ‘negotiations’ between ‘separatists’ and Delhi and the contours of solution to Kashmir dispute: ‘all the same, the separatists appear to enjoy credibility in considerable sections of Kashmir opinion which is a good enough reason to engage them in discussions. This is precisely what the Kashmir Committee headed by Ram Jethmalani has endeavored to do over past few months (I am one of its members). The Committee has held three rounds of structured dialogue with All Parties Huriyat Conference, with Shabir Shah and several other Kashmiri leaders, academics, lawyers and activists? Padgoankar then mentions ‘agreement’ reached between ‘separatists’ and the KC that apart from eschewing ‘violence as an instrument and strategy to attain political objectives’ and ‘firm commitment to democracy and protection of human rights…’, included main component that ‘all concerned parties must rise above traditional positions and abandon extremist stand…’ Lest anyone be tempted to draw the inference that the ‘agreement reached’ lifts ‘within Indian Constitution’ bar, Padgoankar, talks of specifics: ‘It is now necessary to pin the separatists down to specifics of these broad principles. The Kashmir Committee has made it clear that in its view “extreme stands” would include the secession of J&K from the Indian Union, any erosion of special status of the state guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and disturbing the status quo in Pakistan-held Kashmir’. Then as if to have got seal of confirmation from ‘separatists’ adds: ‘This has not led the suspension of talks. Of course, as he boasts: ‘New Delhi has nothing to lose…’.
Exactly in the same vein Ram Jethmalani in an interview published in a New Delhi newspaper (October 2010) talks about a ‘written agreement’ with “moderate” Huriyat Conference his Kashmir Committee has reached on the lines mentioned above by Padgoankar. He too stresses that ‘extremist positions like scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution and the demand for secession were to be abandoned by both sides…’ Making a scathing attack on Syed Ali Shah Geelani in his interview Ram Jethmalani accuses Geelani of creating hurdles in the progress of arriving on an accord with “moderate” Kashmir leaders.
Three things emanate from the ‘window of opportunity’ and the interview. One, the negotiated settlement arrived at was nothing but restoration of internal autonomy and a ‘guarantee’ that it would not be eroded again (A caveat one can come up with: Where not constitutional guarantees given already to protect the internal autonomy? What happened to them after 1950s? And what about the plebiscite pledge Delhi, time and again, made?) Two, moderate leadership has agreed to the solution of the Kashmir dispute within the framework of Indian constitution. The same position they have based themselves on when they entered into talks with NDA government where Deputy PM L K Advani, as he recalls in his My Country My Life (P.689), ‘made it clear that there was no question of the government entertaining any proposal outside the Indian Constitution and that Kashmir is ‘an integral & inseparable part of India’. Three, it was Syed Ali Shah Geelani who refused to be a party to such a solution and strongly opposed the approach of ‘moderate’ leaders. The two opposite stands within the grouping regarding solution of Kashmir problem created fissures, which ultimately led to its split.
Much water has flown down the Jhelum since then. The Intifadah 2008, Shopian agitation 2009 and Great uprising of 2010 have all but nudged ‘moderate’ leaders to speak in a different language. That reflects the nature of the political wind that is blowing across the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The unprecedented developments made Indian political class acknowledge the injustices heaped on people of Kashmir and identify with their pain. Parliamentary delegation arrived, and met separatist leadership. Indian civil society supported genuine demands of Kashmiris. In that context, Indian government announced on 25 September last year ‘a new political initiative’ with 8-point action plan, including establishment of an interlocutors’ panel. The panel was entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out a ‘sustained dialogue with the people of J&K to understand the problems and chart a course for the future’.
The three-member panel appointed by New Delhi and headed by journalist Padgoankar, has a vague mandate. It fell short of expectations and evoked sharp criticism and was boycotted by Kashmir’s most important players. New Delhi once again went back on its stale worn out concept of interlocution. The panel is a far cry from the concept of a high level committee having the representation of major political parties of India. Delhi’s response to such a huge upheaval shows their “sincerity” towards the political aspirations of people of Kashmir and as Sajad Gani Lone, who contested Assembly elections in 2008 avers: ‘They have once again ended up in harming the process they purport to advocate by selecting wrong people for right job’.
Since 1990 Delhi has developed a penchant of appointing groups tasked to interlocute with prominent voices, but as track record shows the role they played has never been towards ending the political uncertainty or suggesting anything reflective of the aspirations of the people. It has always been for managing the problem and getting in the business of taking heat off the volatile situation. Padgoankar, even after eight years, is religiously pursuing the same policy. While he is yet to recommend to Delhi about the ‘course for future’ and it will be too early to say what findings his team submits, but as they say ‘the taste of the pudding lies in its eating’, his two statements are quite indicative of the lines he is working on. First, in October he said: ‘The political aspirations of the people of the state lack unanimity. There is a total discordance between people of different religious and ethnic groups in the state’. Two, his ‘understanding’ of the problem made his team to believe that, as he said some time before, majority of people in Kashmir are not for ‘plebiscite, self determination and UN resolutions and most people interlocutors spoke to did not refer to independence or implementation of UN resolutions as a solution for state but reiterated their faith in democracy…’
Ruling out plebiscite option, and basing his assumption on ‘interaction with different sections of people’, the ‘solution’, inevitably, has to be ‘within the framework of the Indian constitution’. Not different from the one Ram Jethmalani’s Committee, of which he himself was one of the members, had negotiated with the then Kashmir leaders. One is amazed to hear from an interlocutor panel head making such a claim which not to speak of pro-resistance even many political leaders of India including Sitaram Yechuri and Ram Villas Paswan, would not subscribe to. More pertinently when interlocutors have not succeeded in seeking an audience with the leadership which enjoy represent largest political opinion in Kashmir.
As far the lack of ‘unanimity in political aspirations’ and ‘discordance’ in different religious and ethnic groups remark is concerned, all those committees and groups – whether claiming of ‘independent’ character or government appointed, or Non Government Organizations (NGOs) – have demonstrated that they are seized with the ‘initiative’ of changing the major Kashmir discourse and create some alternative discourses. Where by it would appear that Kashmir is a religious, regional and ethnic problem. And that Kashmir struggle is confined to valley only. Dileep Padgoankar is not behaving differently. Still if the panel chief claims that his report, he is going to submit to Home Ministry, ‘will be unlike earlier ones’, it would be a historical marvel. And a welcome change.
Post-script: – ‘118 arrests, 10 PSA detentions in a month’ (GK, Feb, 9). This is despite the fervent appeals of the interlocutors to the authorities that all political prisoners and the alleged stone pelters should be released as a confidence building measure.
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)