After a yearlong exercise of interacting with ‘all shades of opinion’ in Jammu and Kashmir, the three interlocutors employed by New Delhi in the aftermath of the 2010 uprising presented their report they expect to guide government in finding a permanent solution to Kashmir issue. Iftikhar Gilani reports on how the report exposed fault lines within the government even before it is made public.
Just as Kashmir interlocutors were done with giving sound bites, outside the headquarters of Indian Home Ministry, after presenting their report to Home Minister, P Chidambaram, government officials went overboard to douse chief interlocutor Dileep Padgaoankar’s diatribe against separatists. Select reporters were called to record comments of a senior official, as government had gotten worried at the televised sound bites of Padgaonkar taunting separatists that they had missed the bus.
The fire-fighting exercise by the Home Ministry was enough to suggest that the government was preparing a stage for the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to resume talks with Kashmiri separatist leadership. Padgoankar earlier had told waiting reporters that separatists had missed the bus by refusing to meet the Panel led by him. The Home Ministry official discounted the belief, saying the report was not an end to the road, implying that doors of dialogue-vehicle were still open to carry separatists.
“The report is not an end of the day. We have to acknowledge the reality. It is an ongoing process,” said the official. He however, termed the report an important milestone in the journey of peace process. Refusing to share the contents of the report, both the officials of Home Ministry and the panel members said, the recommendations would be put before the all-part delegation, which visited Kashmir last year in September.
“The panel was constituted as an outcome of the visit of the all-party delegation. Therefore, they will be presented the report to evolve a widest possible consensus,” the Home Ministry sources said. They maintained that the government was looking at some radical recommendations but something which could satisfy the widest possible political spectrum.
Significantly, the panel, which has mostly hovered over administrative reforms has asked the Central government to permit Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to debate the Presidential References and the Constitutional Application orders issued by New Delhi time and again to curb powers of the State. This indirectly means to empowering Assembly to review all the Central laws extended to the State though the Presidential Reference of 1954, violating the essence of Article 370.
Analysing the reality of the ‘special status’ of Jammu and Kashmir, the panel maintains that while in regard to rest of India, if a state’s powers are to be curbed, and correspondingly those of the Union enlarged, the elaborate procedure laid down in Article 368 will have to be followed. But, in case of Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government has to issue a mere executive order made by the President under Article 370. Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda in 1964 had concluded, “What happens is that only the shell is there. Article 370, whether you keep it or not, has been completely emptied of its contents. Nothing has been left in.” The group has, therefore, demanded strengthening the Article 370.
It is also believed that stalled dialogue between the government and moderate faction of separatists since 2005 may be revived to back up talks with Pakistan. If all goes well, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh may undertake a visit to Islamabad sometime next year before he demits office. Sources here believe that an understanding reached betweenDr Singh and then Pakistan President Pervez Musahrraf between 2004 and 2006 was not entirely a dead letter.
“We can certainly revive it, depending on political situation in Pakistan and to name it something else rather Musahrraf formula,” said a source, associated with backchannel and Track-II diplomacy.
Earlier, while receiving the report, Chidambaram told the panel to remain available to the all-party delegation that will deliberate on the report. The 38-member delegation headed by Chidambaram himself, that visited Kashmir last year on September 20 at the height of tensions, included BJP leaders ArunJaitely, SushmaSwaraj, Left parliamentarians SitaramYechuri, Gurudas Gupta, Mohan Singh of Samajwadi Party, Nageswar Raoof Telgu Desam Party (TDP), RamvilasPaswan , Hyderabad MP AsadudinOwasi and others. Baring BJP and government members, others also metseparatist leaders.
Padgoankar pleaded political parties not to comment on the basis ofspeculative stories appearing in the media. “I would counsel patienceto anyone who wants to comment,” he added.
The panel has asked the Home Minister to put the report in the publicdomain for a debate. “We would like that report be debated across thecountry particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. The minister told them tocarry forward the process and recommended he would first like itto be made available to the all-party delegation. He also asked us tobe available. We have accepted the offer,” he said.
Padgoankar flanked by other members, academic Radha Kumar and bureaucrat M M Ansari said the panel respected the time frame of completingthe mission in one year. He said the report was an outcome of aninteraction with 600 delegations in all 22 districts and three roundtable meetings involving women activists, scholars and culturalactivists of all the regions of Jammu and Kashmir. He said views gathered at three mass meetings involving ordinary persons have alsobeen incorporated.
“This report is as accurate and as comprehensive and a reflection of broadest possible spectrum of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. The mandate was to try and trace contours of a political settlement. Thisis what we have proposed. We have traced that contours. We have madecertain number of recommendations which aim at permanent settlement ofissue of Jammu and Kashmir,” said the panel chief.
He also added that in order to buttress political settlement, thereport also contains recommendations on host of other issues affecting the state regarding its economy, social infrastructure and culture.
He hoped that process will be accelerated and all stake holders in Jammu and Kashmir and the nation at large will come together and arriveat a census that will bring peace, stability and prosperity to thestate. He said a key to their recommendations was to focus on thewelfare of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Asked about refusal of separatists to meet the panel, Padgaonkar saidtheir stated positions have been reflected in the report. “The fact ofthe matter is, we tried and tried again and they refused. I believethey have missed the bus,” he said. On the issue of hisrecommendations on repealing harsh laws like Armed Forces Special
Powers Act (AFSPA), Disturbed Areas Act etc, the panel said theirinteractions with general public, police and paramilitary forces havebeen incorporated in the report.
(Iftikhar Gilani works with Tehelka newspapers.com)