The 3-member group of Interlocutors appointed by the central government for Jammu and Kashmir is nearing the end of its specified tenure in October. Political focus is gradually turning towards the likely end-result of their vaguely defined mission. Interlocutors’ failure to engage the separatist segment of Kashmiri leadership has foreclosed the possibility of its findings or recommendations offering anything new or more than what is already known. Going by the occasional utterances of the three interlocutors after interacting with other ‘stakeholders’ it is clear that their collective findings would largely be confined to issues of governance and state administration. Any attempt to stray into the complex political field and evolve a roadmap, in the absence of authentic input from the foremost stakeholder-separatists, would be devoid of credibility as well as legitimacy. Preparing a roadmap is the primary task assigned to the interlocutors.
Interlocutors’ occasional statements and observations have by and large left the key political questions untouched. Substantive political issues lying at the root of the problem which the Interlocutors were supposed to be dealing with did not figure in their exposition. Failure to motivate the separatist leaders for interaction proved to be a major hurdle in approaching the problem politically. Interlocutors were left to drawing upon superficial conjectures. The result is that the utility of their mission is so adversely affected as to make their roadmap a questionable proposition. Perhaps the most charitable view at this stage and in the given circumstances would be that the Interlocutors concrete findings would be a revised edition of half a century old ‘Gajendragadkar Commission’ prescription (on regional imbalances and administrative arrangements) than demarcating a political way out of the mess.
Within the 3-member group itself, significant differences over some of the key issues, have been surfacing from time to time. Added to that is the recent personal criticism voiced by one of the interlocutors against their leader. Disclosure of Dilip Padgaonkar’s name in the guest list of Ghulam Nabi Fai provoked MA Ansari to seek former’s exit from the team. Earlier also, differences in approach have been coming to the fore. These internal troubles have put a question mark over the end-result of this financially costly venture of the Government of India. The idea of floating Interlocutors was not well received in the Valley, though subsequently the mainstream groups were made (persuaded?) to eventually fall in line and engage with the centre’s pointsmen.
As the time nears for the mission to be wound up it is becoming increasingly clear that the entire exercise was actually what it had all along been suspected to be-passing (wasting) time. The key question to be grappled with was and continues to be to resume the dialogue with the separatist leaders. New Delhi’s undisguised reluctance to take that route is inexplicable. Bilateral engagement with Pakistan has been resumed and mutual willingness to ‘discuss the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir’ has also been revived. Yet, for unknown reasons, there is no movement towards responding to its corresponding internal dimension. Until and unless the two are taken up together no progress is possible to achieve. That is the lesson of the past history. Interlocutors’ side-show might have served a temporary (diversionary) purpose but even its most optimistic outcome cannot provide any escape route for the Indian government. There is no substitute or alternative to direct engagement with the estranged leadership in Kashmir.