Interned Interlocution

Appointed to lead a team of interlocutors after the conclusion of the 2010 unrest, journalist Dileep Padgaonker died when Kashmir was in much ferocious unrest in 2016. Since his employers skipped picking up his report for any consideration, Khursheed Wani says it pushed the point-man to join the reputations that lay already buried in Kashmir

Dilip Padgaonkar.
Dilip Padgaonkar.

Kashmir is graveyard of reputations. This cliché is time tested. While the local ‘reputations’ of the sorts are buried frequently, there is a long list of men and women from mainland India who dawn on the firmament of Kashmir with a fanfare but subsequently disappear in the dark alleys and eventually are interned in the “reputations cemetery”. Kashmir has consumed many of the best brains from mainland India who could have done much better in their life were they not pushed in to manage the sordid Kashmir affairs.

On November 25, veteran journalist and former editor Times of India Dilip Padgaonkar, 72, died in a Pune hospital. He is the most latest of these “concerned” people who attempted to burn their fingers in Kashmir and ended up utterly disappointed.

Exactly six years and two months ago, on September 25, 2010, Padgaonkar had arrived in Kashmir with zeal to find a solution to the highly complex issue but this turned out to be his biggest mistake in life. His mission became yet another testimony of the typical Delhi style of addressing intricate political issues -buying time, creating confusion and leading the stakeholders into a labyrinth of dark alleys where they fret aimlessly.

Padgaonkar headed a team of three interlocutors including the stylish academic Radha Kumar and former election commissioner MM Ansari. The intervention was necessitated after the then home minister P Chidambaram led the all-party parliamentary delegation to douse the flames of 2010 summer unrest. The delegation ensured that Omar Abdullah’s shaky chair was saved in the “national interest” much in the same style and script as the Rajnath Singh-led all-party delegation arrived in Srinagar on September 4-5 this year to save Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP coalition.

Padgaonkar was apparently chosen to lead the team because of his Congress tilt. He was upbeat when he first arrived in Srinagar and exhibited confidence that his intervention would lead to a breakthrough. The context of the group’s appointment was obvious. The killing of nearly 122 protestors and onlookers by the police and the paramilitary forces in the violence that broke out, the pouring of thousands of people on the streets with slogans of azaadi, the targeting by violent mobs of police stations and sending unionist political leaders and workers into hiding were the highlights of the 2010 summer unrest. That led to the visit of all-party parliamentary delegation to view and sense the ground situation. The interlocutors’ appointment was the medicine prescribed by the all-party delegation.

On the face of it, the interlocutors’ mission was to identify the political contours of a solution and the roadmap towards it through holding wide-ranging discussions with all sections of opinion in Jammu & Kashmir. To the interlocutor’s chagrin, instead of all shades, only a part of the political opinion decided to engage with them. The element of dissent, which was predominantly conspicuous in the 2010 unrest, decided to give the team of interlocutors a slip, despite Ms Kumar’s and Padgaonkar’s initial assurances that the periphery of the dialogue process was extendible to Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. To lure the separatists, they initially referred to the part of Kashmir beyond the Line of Control as Pakistan-administered Kashmir, expressed their desire to interact with the leadership in Pakistan and the PaK. The team even assured that the Constitution of India was amendable to accommodate the wishes and aspirations of the people of J&K.

The pro-freedom camp with an exception of former Hurriyat chairman Maulvi Abbas Ansari, categorically refused to engage with the interlocutors. Aged Ansari was later suspended, and from Hurriyat, after he explained his position to the amalgam’s executive he was reinstated. The separatists’ insistence remained that the appointment of interlocutors did not reflect the Government’s sincerity to resolve the Kashmir issue. For Mirwaiz Umar Farooq or JKLF’s Yasin Malik, who had earlier talked at the level of Prime Minister, it was not altogether sensible to engage at a quasi-official level. This was the major snub Padgaonkar and his team faced.


The interlocutors’ 176-page report — A New Compact with the people of Jammu and Kashmir —only added to the confusion that already existed in the State. However, it was more insulting for the interlocutors who submitted the report to the Home Ministry and despite repeated reminders was never picked up for any consideration.

The New Compact was prepared after visiting J&K’s 22 districts and meeting with around 700 delegations comprising 6,000 plus people. The State-sponsored meetings with select groups of people did not change the mindset of the interlocutors, who scripted The Compact after rehashing the already available material on Kashmir. The basic premise remained that the solution should be within the ambit of the Constitution of India and that the maximum Delhi can indulge in is safeguard the ‘special status’ and the integrity of the State.

The interlocutors wanted Article 370 that ensures J&K’s special status, be appended with “special” in place of existing “temporary”, bringing it at par with the status of States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Assam Manipur, Sikkim etc. They had suggested a mechanism like the setting up of a Constitution committee to reassess the extension of central laws to J&K since 1953, when internal autonomy was withdrawn after the arrest of the then State’s Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. Besides, the interlocutors maintained that bulk of the laws were “fairly innocuous that enable the State to conform to international standards, norms and regulations”.

The interlocutors suggested retention of the jurisdiction of Supreme Court and the Election Commission besides the autonomous commissions like National Human Rights Commission, SC/ST Commission and National Commission for Women in the backdrop of “the vastly changed situation in the world since J&K acceded to the Indian Union”.

They said the State’s economy was intractably linked with the economy of India, especially on the strategic, economic, technological and cultural fronts. For attaining the larger goals they suggested to revisit the innocuous nomenclatures indicating heavens would not fall if Chief Minister is referred to as Wazir-e-Azam (only in Urdu) and Governor as Sadr-e-Riyasat.

Ironically, Padgaonkar and his team embarked more on indirect approach and suggested much-maligned confidence-building measures than concrete solutions to the problems plaguing the State. Setting up of regional development councils was projected as a means to devolve power of governance. It was suspected as a prelude to the design of laying foundation to the formal trifurcation of the State on communal lines. Despite being himself a journalist, Padgaonkar could not conceal his disliking for the local press. His team suggested encouraging national newspapers to start their local editions, obviously, to offset the impact of local press. Perhaps, taking cue from the suggestion, a regional newspaper started its edition in Srinagar and interestingly Governor NN Vohra, who is the trustee of the newspaper management, took special interest in ensuring the edition’s launch.

The interlocutors’ intensions became more suspect when they sought to almost parry the external dimension of Kashmir or restricted it to various initiatives on the LoC like trade and enhanced interaction between divided families. The involvement of Pakistan into political settlement was trivialised.  “The agreement on a political settlement should not be made contingent on whether Pakistan is willing to enter into it. If the people of the State are willing, then the door can always be kept for Pakistan to join”, the report reads. This was in total contrast to what the interlocutors had suggested when they first arrived in Kashmir. Perhaps this was bait for the pro-freedom leadership, which they refused to take.

Padgaonkar had only a little experience of Kashmir before plunging into a bigger role. As editor of the largest circulated English newspaper, he knew the sensitivities and had dealt with several crucial issues on news reporting from Kashmir. In 1998, he plunged into a commercial venture when his company Asia-Pacific Communications Associates (APCA), a multimedia organization active in news and current affairs on TV and in print journalism, entered into a pact with Doordarshan to host a morning show Subhai Subhai from DD Kashir.

Padgaonkar and his team waited for months and years for Delhi to pick up their report for political interventions in Kashmir. But that did not happen. The Kashmiris were proven right because they suspected the mission from the first day. Padgaonkar, however, was upset and he could not recover from the humiliation. The ailments in Kashmir deteriorated further. Irony remained that interlocutor’s prescription was not even discussed leave alone whether the medicine was sub-standard or the diagnosis was relevant.

(The author is a senior journalist with The Pioneer)


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