The three interlocutors-Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari- appointed by New Delhi to prepare a roadmap for finding a political solution to Jammu and Kashmir have met one obstacle after another. At the height of political unrest in Kashmir last year, the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram announced an 8-point package of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to address the simmering discontent on the streets of the valley. The decision was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs chaired by Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.
“Ansari had felt from day one that the two high profile members overshadowed him. His “patience” crossed limits in Jammu on July 12 during a roundtable conference when Radha Kumar asked him to cut short his speech.”
Chidambaram admitted that the Jammu and Kashmir situation was unique and needed a unique solution. So the appointment of interlocutors was more significant since they were picked up by Chidambaram himself and given the task of holding sustained dialogue with all sections of the society. It is a layman’s guess that for any worthwhile solution to the Kashmir problem, involvement of separatists is mandatory, since they represent largely, the dominant sentiments of the Valley. But they refused to engage with the interlocutors citing past experiences that have shown, “New Delhi is not sincere and wants to buy time”. Whether their arguments stand the testimony of facts is a separate issue but their absence gave the first jolt to the process.
Nevertheless, their work started in October last year after 117 civilians had been killed mostly by the bullets of Police and Central Reserve Police Force last summer. By their own account, they met over 600 delegations during their ten visits to the state. Surely, they met a large number of people and held detailed discussions on politics and development but the way they conducted themselves in the media ended up creating more confusion than clearing it. Much before they submitted their report, they divulged its details in the media creating misgivings about their credibility. For example, Padgaonkar told a Kolkata based newspaper that it was a battle of victimhood between Srinagar and Jammu, thus pushing the real political problem into the background.
The frequent war of words and ego clash among the members had already cast a shadow over the group even before they commenced work but the arrest of pro Pakistan Kashmiri lobbyist, Ghulam Nabi Fai in the US further aggravated the situation. Ansari asked Padgaonkar to come clean on his participation in one of Fai’s conferences and also took on Radha for attending a similar conference in Brussels that was organized by Fai’s counterpart in Belgium, Majid Tramboo. Though the Home Ministry tried to defend Padgaonkar saying that he attended the meeting in his capacity as a journalist, that too six years back, but the disclosure continued to haunt the panel. The final setback, however, came when Radha resigned from the panel.
This put the Centre in a tight spot. Now the credibility of the panel members is on stake. Chidambaram has intervened and asked Radha to withdraw her resignation. However, an RTI application filed by someone from Mumbai continues to put a question mark on the whole process. Now the challenge before the panel is to compile a report, which should at least show a semblance of consensus among the three. Radha has agreed to complete the report.
Ansari had felt from day one that the two high profile members overshadowed him. His “patience” crossed limits in Jammu on July 12 during a roundtable conference when Radha Kumar asked him to cut short his speech. This enraged him and he took on her, which culminated in his scathing attack about the “conference business”. Feeling depressed, Radha wrote to the Home Minister that there was no male member in her family to defend her from Ansari’s “smear campaign”. The feeling of one being “more important and informed” than the other, had plagued the panel right from its inception.
The decision to handover interlocution to an apolitical panel was to keep it free from any political baggage and set a smooth roadmap for a peaceful resolution. Interaction with people from different sections of the society was an opportunity to get a fresh perspective about governance and people’s expectations from it. However the series of controversies makes one wonder whether an apolitical panel was a good idea after all!
The panel is supposed to be wound up by the end of October. With the date of submission of the report drawing closer, it remains to be seen whether it offers anything worthwhile.