Kashmir: Official Report, Private Opinion
By Zafar Choudhary
26 May, 2012
Reading through a scholarly lens the report of Kashmir interlocutors is one of the best of a hundred thousand books and documents churned out of home-grown to truly international presses over past many decades. The close to 200-page report meticulously written by a rare mix of experience and intellect captures the contemporary public mood in Jammu and Kashmir. However, it really didn’t need a year-long mission to study the public opinion which has always at best been inconsistent.
Everyone knows that no two persons have the same view about the genesis, evolution, the present status and future prospects of Kashmir issue. From a conflict hardened downtown stone thrower to an affluent businessman in southern plains of Jammu and from a Sarpanch in Rajouri to a Councillor in Kargil the report tells us how everyone in Jammu and Kashmir thinks about Kashmir issue. The difference is that the all too well known has been laid down on a ream of paper so that the one thinking in isolation for long gets to know how the other one thought of it. Contrary to apprehensions of separatists in Srinagar and ulra-nationalists in Jammu, the interlocutors have not taken any sides as they report ‘how people of Jammu and Kashmir think of themselves’. During their year-long term of engagement, the group of three interlocutors comprising journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academic Radha Kumar and former civil servant MM Ansari, visited Jammu and Kashmir eleven times and heard views of thousands of people mainly in delegations. In all, they met 357 delegations, some of them as big as comprising 300 persons. They travelled through all 22 districts and met government officials for first hand appraisals on current deployment of governance and security apparatus. They also convened three roundtable conferences, one of them exclusively with women, and some other group meetings with people from shared interests –like lawyers, Sarpanches etc.
At the end of every visit, the panel would submit a set of recommendations to the Home Minister for immediate follow-up. What needs to be marked here is ‘set of recommendations’ and not just one recommendation which could mark the beginning of the end of ambiguity that has remained a part of national imagination in India and Pakistan for six decades. In fact, the interlocutors have tried to tread a very cautious path which takes care of two things –that position of India is not undermined in Kashmir and the position taken by Kashmiris is not dismissed summarily. Therefore, the report recommends taking the process forward in a more technical manner: formation of a constitutional committee to review all the statute provisions and to examine the application of central laws to Jammu and Kashmir.
There is caveat: the constitutional committee, say the interlocutors, ‘should bear in mind the dual character of J&K, viz. that it is a constituent unit of the Indian union and it also enjoys a special status in the Indian union as enshrined in the article 370 of the Indian constitution’. The review will, therefore, have to determine whether-and to what extent-the Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India, extended with or without amendment to the state, have dented Jammu and Kashmir's special status and abridged the state government's powers to cater to the welfare of its people. If there are any takers, another feature of the constitution committee, recommend the interlocutors, should be its future orientation so that the review is conducted solely on the basis of the powers the state needs to address the political, economic, social and cultural interests, concerns, grievances and aspirations of the people in all the three regions of the state - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh - and all its sub-regions and communities. This is another reason inspiring confidence in the work of Padgaonkar, Kumar and Ansari. But, in the given background, does this really help? This is anyone’s guess!
Ironically, having read this and many reports in the past, one just wonders what, after all, is the Kashmir issue? Is there is a single statement which really captures the situation and attracts a nod of affirmation from a variety of stakeholders saying ‘yes, this is the Kashmir issue’. Unfortunately there is none and there is not likely to be one in future.
As one of the senior separatist leader famously says ‘conflict produces grocers and grocers sell different things to different people at different times’, the definition of Kashmir issue is really one like that. To commission the missions to find out what the problem is and what could be remedial measures is just a typically bureaucratic order and not the political wisdom. Making public a cautiously written report which it received seven months ago and which has already been in public through unexplained leak, the Home Ministry says that the opinion expressed in the document is that of interlocutors (and not that of the government).
Once again, it leaves a millions of people, including a majority of those who have long ago sought closure to the ‘Kashmir issue’, in a state of confusion. Here is an official mission of interlocution and the findings still don’t have official sanctity. If this report has been regarded as an opinion of the interlocutors and not of the institution that mandated the mission then why not one get a take from one of the books of Radha Kumar or from one of the articles of Dileep Padgaonkar? Even as the government as called for public debate on recommendations in the report, it is time that the government of India, the political parties in the state and people of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the proverbial constituency of dissent, prepare for a decade-long interregnum on the resolution of Kashmir issue and seriously think of settling what all has been unsettled by destructive ambiguity maintained by all the parties.
Creating new languages and lexicology may inspire a hundred more authors and scholars to write books and papers but this will not make any difference to the life of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are taught by the elites within and outside the government that they are living a life in conflict which is very difficult to revolve.
Zafar Choudhary is Director of Indus Research Foundation and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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