The summer of 2010 was a turbulent one for Jammu and Kashmir. The Amarnath Yatra had been marked by controversy which had a violent spill over in Kashmir as well and Jammu regions. In this scenario, after taking initial punitive steps to restore a semblance of normalcy, the government at the Centre appointed a team of three interlocutors on October, 13, 2010, to conduct a dialogue with the people of the state and prepare a roadmap that would be acceptable to all stake holders. They were mandated to recommend such processes that were pertinent for the development of the state. It is to the credit of the interlocutors that they met and interacted with no less than seven hundred delegations and organised three round table conferences over this period of almost fifteen months. Their avowed effort was to bring as many people on board as possible in their effort to look for a solution to the problems in the state.
Unfortunately, despite all their effort and good intentions, the report that they produced appears to be typically academic; nothing more than a rehashing and rephrasing of pre-existing literature. It is based on popular perceptions largely created through a clever manipulation of media and some left of centre public sentiments. The interlocutors were very astute as far as the identification of the aspirations of the people are concerned but when it came to representing their findings in the form of suggestions, they could come up only with was a repetition of a multitude of reports and documents already produced. Their error is not so much that of plagiarism as an inability to adequately understand the ground situation.
In fact, the aspirations of the people and the suggestions given by the interlocutors are so much at odds with each other that it is difficult to believe that the same team has authored both these segments of the report. For instance, one among the variety of freedoms that the people had sought was freedom from religious, ethnic and regional chauvinism of a majority community, that fosters disinterest in the minorities and the disadvantaged. The suggestions that the interlocutors have given are all from the perspective of Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims, which only serves to reinforce the dominance of an already dominant region and community. The minority and the disadvantaged in the state are the people of Jammu and Ladakh. Even though a cursory lip service has been paid to their cause by suggesting the formation of regional councils, there has been no talk of the fresh delimitation of political constituencies to give these regions a representation that is commensurate with their numbers in the state. There has been no concern expressed over the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who have been unceremoniously turned out of their homeland to wander as refugees all over the country as well as the world.
Then there are suggestions to involve the Pakistani administration in solving the problem of Kashmir. Now this is a country that openly supports religious fanaticism and sponsors fundamentalist organisations whose sole purpose is wipe out the secular traditions of Kashmir. This is also the country which has brutally colonised the Shia population of Gilgit-Baltistan. Surely, the interlocutors are aware that the ethnic complexion of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (which they sadly refer to as Pakistan administered Kashmir) has been changed with a large scale in- migration of the Pakistani Punjabi population? How then do they think that the special status of Kashmir, whose strengthening they strongly advocate, will be preserved if Pakistan is allowed to have its way over there? Would such an arrangement be in the interest of the people of Kashmir? All said and done, even a cursory analysis of the state of economy and society in Pakistan occupied Kashmir would reveal the chasm in terms of development levels that that exists between the two Kashmirs. It is hilarious and quixotic to try and place them on the same plane, especially now when they don’t even share a similar ethnic complexion any longer.
The interlocutors seek to protect the Kashmiri frenzy with regard to the autonomy of their status which disallows outsiders from settling in their land? This despite the fact that Kashmiri’s themselves are free to purchase and own property in any part of the country. Are these not double standards? On a broader framework, is this policy of isolation in an increasingly global world order not causing a financial and development loss to the youth of Kashmir?
The interlocutors suggest that no law may be applied by the Parliament of India on Kashmir without the prior consent of the state government. On the other hand they also expect the self-same Parliament to provide a special financial package to the state from the centre. Is this not, yet another, classic example of double standards?
The interlocutors advocate free trade across the border with
Pakistan and exclusive right of the state on local resources. Here, the main example quoted is that of hydro-electricity. Now everyone knows that power generation has been made possible due to the investment and technological support provided by the central government at Delhi. Would it be fair and even ethical, if tomorrow the government in Jammu & Kashmir decides to export the so produced hydro-electricity to Pakistan instead of other states within India like Punjab and Haryana?
The fact is that the interlocutors, despite all their noble intentions, have faltered in fulfilling their given mandate, they managed to catch the essence but somewhere down the line they lost the script. The reason is that they have gone by popular perceptions that make for interesting media bytes instead of getting in touch with ground reality. Unfortunately this report too shall remain on an obscure shelf in the library of Parliament house or the Ministry of Home and perennially gather dust.