- Home ministry quietly puts up report filed by Padgaonkar, Kumar and Ansari (with Chidambaram above) on its website
- They were to interact across the political spectrum in the wake of the 2010 agitation in J&K
- Their report has been widely rejected in the state
- Critics say proposals for regional councils can deepen schisms
- Reservations expressed over proposal to review central laws extended to J&K after 1952
- Disappointment that the panel hasn’t recommended revocation of special powers for armed forces
India has set some of its most intractable problems before committees, which have predictably produced reports but rarely found solutions. It has turned out no different—in fact, even worse—with the three interlocutors appointed by the government in October 2010 to study the Jammu & Kashmir problem, “identify the contours of a solution and draw a roadmap towards it”. The map they have come up with—a 176-page report—isn’t one anyone in Kashmir wants to follow. As if aware of the report’s lack of appeal, the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) put it up on its website two days after Parliament adjourned, almost surreptitiously, some would say.
When the panel—headed by journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and with academician Radha Kumar and former information commissioner M.M. Ansari—was set up in October 2010, the streets of Srinagar and other towns in the Valley were filled with stone-throwing protesters. The interlocutors were tasked with holding discussions across the political spectrum. They generated considerable controversy even while they went about their task; their report, now it is out, has been received in the state with disappointment. Many think it will only add to the trust deficit between the Centre and the range of political elements in the state.
It’s not just the contents of the report. “Even though I and other MPs demanded that the report be tabled in Parliament, the government did not—instead, it quietly put it up on its website,” says Mehboob Beg, the National Conference MP from South Kashmir. “Without giving any reason, the government chose not to make the report public for almost seven months. The question is: is this the original report, or has it been fine-tuned in the intervening period?”
The website bears a caveat that the views in the report are those of the interlocutors and that the government welcomes informed debate. So far, the debate has gone against the government; some critics even ascribe to the report the role of agent provocateur. It can’t be forgotten that both moderate and hardline (Hurriyat) separatists had refused to meet the panel. “It hobbled the exercise from the beginning,” says Javid Iqbal Kashmiri, a columnist-activist. “Input from key stakeholders was absent.”
To be fair, the panel did make attempts to open discreet discussions with the moderates and Maulana Abbas Ansari, a former chairman of the Mirwaiz group, went to meet them. But the interlocutors bungled by crowing about it at a press conference. That made separatists shut the door. As Beg says, “The separatists haven’t resisted dialogue but are wary because the government always leaves them in the lurch. We’ve lost prominent people like Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and others; they were killed for their pro-dialogue stance.” In this matter, the panel displayed surprising naivete. The Kashmiri media routinely reported on the members’ public squabbles, diminishing the seriousness of their endeavour.
Some of the recommendations of the panel that have caused concern are:
- Three regional councils (for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh) with some legislative, executive and financial powers
- A constitutional committee to review central laws applicable in the state since 1952 and perceived as diluting its special status. (Exception has been made for matters related to internal and external security and vital economic interests, such as natural resources and energy.)
Gul Mohammed Wani, a professor of political science at Kashmir University, says, “If I were to situate myself in Kashmiri society and view it, I see it as an attempt by the Indian state to marginalise Kashmiris from the power structure of Jammu & Kashmir, to restrict us to the Valley. After the formation of autonomous hill councils in Ladakh, we’ve seen fissures between Leh Buddhists and Kargil Muslims. If the regional councils are formed, such conflicts will worsen.”
On the other hand, the BJP sees the report as appeasing separatists and Kashmiris because it calls for reviewing central laws. This is a basic weakness, says Dr Rekha Chowdhary of Jammu University, for it can create permanent fissures. “The creation of regional councils does not suit Kashmiris as it will restrict their administrative influence,” says Chowdhary. “Yet Jammu and Ladakh are occupied more with what is on the Kashmiri plate than pleased with the autonomy separate councils will give them. There is a clear assumption that the political divide is irreversible.”
Another sticking point is over the exclusion from review of laws related to security, energy and natural resources. “The question that comes to our mind when the report says central laws will be reviewed only subject to them not affecting the security of India and the country’s energy requirements is: is the security and energy of people living here not important?” says Kashmiri. “People in Delhi or other parts of the country do not have troops on their streets everyday. We need protection from them and their excesses. We want peace too.”
The exclusion of matters related to energy requirements and natural resources has particularly angered people. “We are already short of power and have got a raw deal from NHPC (a PSU involved in hydroelectric power generation). Today, we have to buy electricity that is produced in our state,” says Kashmiri. “That the natural resources of our state should be used by the rest of India to our detriment is not acceptable.”
Though the ruling National Conference has not yet commented, MPs like Beg have expressed reservations over the report. As yet another central initiative falls by the wayside, there is a sense of weariness. “One of the recommendations is to make the LOC irrelevant and movement hassle-free. This has been said by many other committees, but no action has been seen so far,” says Beg. “The PM’s working group on centre-state relations, headed by a SC judge, had recommended autonomy to the extent possible. This was also not implemented.” That is why, he says, he calls the central initiative a skewed exercise.
At a time when the Kashmir valley is overflowing with tourists, residents feel that the least the panel could have done was to recommend revocation of special powers for the armed forces. “There will be stray incidents, but they also happen in Mumbai and Chattisgarh. The report only talks of reviewing the AFSPA, not of removing it,” says Wani. Overall, the impression going around is that appointing the interlocutors was an attempt to douse the flames that flared up in 2010. Once that was done, the panel became irrelevant; its report did not even merit being tabled in Parliament. It’s hard to see how such adhocism could yield anything worthwhile—especially in a troubled state like Jammu & Kashmir.