Skirting the reality Interlocutors’ interlude is over

In purely objective terms, the end-result of the year-long ‘Mission Kashmir’ of the central government’s interlocutors appears to be along expected lines. Although their report and recommendations formally handed over to union home minister P Chidambaram in New Delhi on Wednesday are yet to be made public, its broad contours as well as the response/ reaction to these reports, particularly in the Kashmir Valley, have also been on the expected lines. There are no surprises, except perhaps for those who might have been looking for their respective agendas finding a place in the interlocutors’ final report. Mainly, they belong to the ‘autonomy’ and ‘self-rule’ categories and both are easily identifiable political entities. If, as is speculated, the assortment of these non-political interlocutors have really disfavoured proposals for constitutional guarantees seeking substantial devolution of powers from New Delhi to Srinagar their conclusion would turn out to be a faithful replay of the central government’s position enunciated way back in 1975.

The key phrase in the Kashmir Accord between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah was that the ‘hands of the clock cannot be turned back’. Sheikh was able to regain power only after climbing down on his earlier demand for restoration of ‘pre-1953 autonomy’. All other issues beyond that position, relating primarily to local-level administrative arrangements, have been gone into from time to time by expert panels and commissions—Gajendragadkar & Wazir commissions included. 36 years after the Kashmir Accord, time and public money spent on interlocutors could have been better utilised. The circumstances leading to the appointment of interlocutors made it look an exercise in evasion.
It was the visit of an all-party parliamentary delegation in the midst of bloody uprising in 2010 summer that created a window of opportunity for constructive political engagement with key stakeholders—separatists. The  opening created by the direct intervention of visiting MPs who represented national political spectrum was seen as a highly promising development. It needed to be followed up appropriately. But that was not to be. There was no surprise when separatist chose to stay away from interlocutors and even mainstream political groups voiced their reluctant approval. The barren outcome of the mission thus became a foregone conclusion.

It is not the fault of this assortment of a journalist, an academician and a civil servant that their collective labour is most likely to go waste. They have the right to claim credit for having undertaken these many visits to the state and met hundreds of people besides having ‘factored in’ the stated positions of boycotting separatist groups. Their narrow terms of reference left little, if any, scope for producing a report of substantive significance.

Going by the comparable track record of New Delhi, the ultimate fate of the interlocutors’ labour of love cannot be different from what had happened in the case of the recommendations made by the all-important Working Groups of the Prime Minister’s Round Table on Kashmir. Looking from here, these all seem to be diversionary tactics to avoid purposeful engagement between separatist leaders and the government of India. There is no other course to resolving the real issue of deep-rooted alienation in Kashmir. These palliatives in the form of make-believe concessions have not worked in the past and, for sure, will not work in future.

It is pathetic to see the interlocutors making such big noise over their recommendation to lift AFSPA and DAA from the state. Hasn’t the state’s own chief minister been demanding the same thing for more than three years? Who is listening? The only point yet to be known is as to what recommendations the interlocutors have made ‘towards final resolution’ of the Kashmir problem (as understood by them). It is inconceivable to resolve the real issue by short circuiting the only viable course— direct and purposeful dialogue with the alienated population.