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Kashmir Interlocutors: bouquets and brickbats

New Delhi: “And miles to go before I sleep – miles to go before I sleep”...What Robert Frost wrote almost five decades ago seems to be the fate of the three interlocutors charged with the responsibility of beginning the dialogue and fathom the feelings of the agitating masses. It would be too naïve to believe that they would be given a rousing reception or they would return with a bagful of prized trophies.

Even before they left there was mixed reaction ranging from reserved (and tongue-in-cheek kind) opinions to cynicism at New Delhi as well as at Srinagar. Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari have diverse backgrounds - journalist, academics and bureaucracy. While some felt that they were not persons from the powerful elite with powers of bargaining - of give and take. The three had, of course, no such misgivings either. They felt themselves like the road makers or bridge builders on which some one else would provide the infrastructure. Seema Mustafa (Sunday Guardian) reported Srinagar’s cold response. Quoting J.K.L.F. Yasin Malik’s dismissal of their mission “as a joke on the people” she conveyed people’s dismay who expected “a senior political team.” By entrusting such delicate issue to them the government has shown its indifference to Kashmiri’s plights. Even a Congress leader described the team as “government employees”

The cold shoulder treatment from people was quite obvious. Riyaz Wani from Srinagar reported that the team found itself “low profile.” Mirwaiz decided not to meet “New Delhi’s new pointmen.” Hurriyat thought that a Kashmir committee comprising senior representatives of all political parties could engage them and this would have ensured a reciprocal participation from the Pakistani side as well.

Since BJP is strongly opposed to any peace initiative that crosses the limit it has imposed, all initiatives are not only suspected but strongly condemned. It is for this reason the autonomy proposal that was about to be finally clinched by all during Atal Bihari Vajpaye’s tenure was given a fine burial. Hence the moment the interlocutors tried to speak BJP indictment pounced on the person. When Padgaonkar expressed willingness to discuss issue with anyone including Pakistan; BJP’s tirade for internationalising the issue assumed gigantic proportion. When Omar Abdullah and Ministry of Home Affairs tried to defend interlocutors BJP onslaught assumed threatening dimension. Pioneer declared Omar’s defense of Padgaonkar to ensure his own credibility among his people. BJP wanted to ascertain whether the interlocutors were speaking their own minds or they were expressing what the centre wanted them to say.

Radha Kumar’s appreciation of Indian Constitution’s flexibility received flaks from one and all. A Constitution which on so many occasions accommodated fresh amendments is strong enough to admit a few more. But this again was over hyped and the team had to devote more time to defend itself than to devote to constructive agenda entrusted to it.

All this led to a kind of disciplining them with suggestions like – ‘do the job not make noise’ or ‘to speak less.’ The opposition began pitching for ‘quieter team.’ Hold your tongue or lose the public goodwill (read Indian politicians).

In addition to meeting the officials and executives from the Chief Minister and governor, the committee met not only those who were willing to talk and suggest but also succeeded in convincing those who initially were reluctant. When the team met the militants for the first time they were cold shouldered. However, the militants themselves came forward with a desire for a second meeting that lasted an hour and a half in which some plans were hinted and a possible “road map” was promised. This peace offer by the militants should be firmly clinched, conveyed and sincerely pursued. The team also met students and apprised itself of their woes. They made a “modest” beginning to “a long and arduous” journey. The inputs they received during their six-day-stay shall enable them to “tell political leaders back in Delhi what we have gathered.”

Radha Kumar explained that the purpose of her visit to prison was to meet young detainees “stone-pelters.” It was during such visit the peace got a chance resulting in an “interesting meeting.” The views of terrorists are unpalatable but we must listen to them.” She added.

Their interaction with different cross sections of people apprised them of ground realities. After a visit to the ailing mother of jailed separatist Shabir Shah they met a group of students. The meeting was held in a frank atmosphere and they tried to assess the students’ sense of anger. At the end of the meeting the youth were ready with a three point formula for generating confidence - withdrawal of forces, repeating of draconian laws like AFSPA and release of the arrested youth. They also had a meeting with former Dy CM MH Baig (PDP) followed by noted Kashmiri educationist Agha Ashraf.

It is meaningless to enlist those who declined to meet. Hurriyat leaders of both the factions neither trusted them nor did they take the team seriously. A plan to meet Masarat Alam Bhat – who spearheaded the current round of unrest fell through as police raised some kind of excuse or the other. The Bar Association also declined to meet them.

Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, peace cannot be discovered by shouting “Eureka, Eureka.” It is too early at the initial stage to involve “a hard nosed politician” or a person of too tall a stature like A.P.J. Abul Kalam because failure of the dialogue (or betrayal by either party) would further ossify the fragile process. At the present juncture one can simply say well begun is half done. It would be rash to declare the committee failed to cut ice.