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J&K Lens: Interlocutor representing dialogue on Kashmir dies, an era of talks ends

5/12/2020 at 5:28 PM

By Arun Joshi

On Friday evening came news of the death of former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma and the condolence messages started pouring in from Jammu and Kashmir for he was the last interlocutor on Kashmir before his appointment as  Administrator of the  UT of Lakshadweep.

His period as interlocutor was brief but eventful. In fact, his tenure came to an end  on August 5, 2019, when the Centre did away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and its statehood, for there was no reason left for him to pursue his mission of opening dialogue with the elements annoyed with the country. The August 5, the Central government said had corrected all the constitutional wrongs. 

Dineshwar Sharma’s tenure as interlocutor gives a deep peep into how Kashmir situation is getting more and more complex. These complexities existed much before he was appointed as the interlocutor and all those who worked as interlocutors before him also had similar experiences as and when they tried to untie the knots of one complex situation. That status of Jammu and Kashmir remains unchanged.

At present, there are two questions: why interlocutors on Kashmir did not succeed in their missions to open the dialogue and get the desired results. Second  why the situation is as complex as it was before the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A of the Indian constitution under which the J&K, as a state, had special status and its permanent residents  had  exclusive rights to own the land and jobs.

The Centre, when confronted with armed militancy in late 1980s, and particularly from the beginning of 1990, which many regard as the zero years on the calendar of militancy, could think of military approach only. It sent more troops and also gave them extraordinary powers under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to deal with an uncontrollable situation. The militants were reigning supreme and they were the favourites of the people who trusted that their guns and grenades would deliver “freedom” to them. The military approach was not working and the government’s writ did not run beyond Raj Bhawan- J&K was under the Central rule.

It was in early 2001 when the Vajpayee government appointed then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission  K C Pant  as interlocutor. But his efforts to open the dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference, a separatist conglomerate  and regarded as holding the key to calm militancy, did not go beyond meeting separatist leader Shabir Shah  who wanted to prove his dictum of talking to everyone who could open the dialogue. His mission faltered and nothing  was heard of that thereafter as India got busy with managing tensions with Pakistan following terror assault on  the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001.

Soon after the then Prime Minister  Atal Behari Vajpayee  surprised everyone by “extending hand of friendship to Pakistan” from Srinagar in April 2003, former bureaucrat N N Vohra was appointed as interlocutor. He started his mission by holding talks with the mainstream parties  like People’s Democratic Party, National Conference. But his reach to the Hurriyat Conference was limited.

Once the government of India and Pakistan started composite dialogue to discuss all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, the scope of interlocutor’s  reach was limited.

The UPA government that succeeded Vajpayee  retained Vohra  as interlocutor but his efforts did not move beyond a point as an intense debate began over the relevance of AFSPA. There was a political turmoil between PDP and Congress coalition government, and on the other hand, the Indian and Pakistan governments had embarked on  improving ties on their own. Pakistan under Gen. Pervez Musharraf had discarded the hardliners and  stood by  moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference. Vohra’s role as interlocutor almost ceased to exist when he became Governor of J&K on June 25, 2008.

A team of three interlocutors headed by veteran journalist  Dileep Padgoankar was appointed after the 2010  street protests, after about two years of their work, the interlocutors submitted a report in which they had  recommended greater autonomy to J&K. That report is gathering dust in the ministry of home affairs.

In October 2017, Sharma was appointed the interlocutor and most of his recommendations were also lost in translation. But with August 5, 2019, came to an end the era of interlocutors in Kashmir.

About the Author:

Arun Joshi

Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express and The Tribune.

He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.

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