Interlocutor’s second visit: Valley begins to see some method in his madness
The Centre’s new interlocutor on Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, is on his second visit to the state in a little over a month since his appointment.
On this visit, he did two things differently –
He first went to Jammu and met the Kashmiri Pandits and the West Pakistan Refugees who demanded rehabilitation and financial packages. Their demands generate anxieties in Kashmir as granting these is seen to have demographic implications which are detrimental to the Muslim majority in the state.
But such anxieties were put to rest when a news, which came to light on the same day, revealed that the Union Home Ministry had no plans to set up composite townships for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits. The Home Ministry had said this in response to an RTI application.
In another major development, the state government decided to grant amnesty to the first-time stone-pelters.
The measure was recommended to the government on the suggestion of Sharma, apparently to facilitate his outreach to the youth, more so, in South Kashmir. And it did.
Sharma spent a day each in Pulwama and Anantnag, two volatile south Kashmir districts where he met many student delegations. In Anantnag, many of these delegations had come from the local degree colleges of Kokernag, Dooru, Bijbehara and Utersoo-Shangus. Many students from the higher secondary schools also met him
And their demands ranged from the withdrawal of cases against them, the release of the political prisoners, an end to the human rights violations, protection of the J&K special status to the resolution of the larger issue of Kashmir.
Interestingly some of the youth delegations also sought the return of the power projects, a longstanding PDP demand.
“We apprised him of the disturbing state of affairs in the state and urged him to put an end to the human rights violations,” said a college student not wishing to identify himself.
“We also told him that New Delhi should take steps to resolve Kashmir. And only that will usher in peace,” he added.
The refrain was repeated by Nafeesa, who led the delegation from the Women’s Degree College Anantnag. “We also demanded a permanent resolution of Kashmir,” she said.
However, in the Valley, Sharma’s activities remain too familiar to generate any public interest. Even the National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah termed Sharma’s meetings in the state as little more than “marking his presence”.
“Does he come here just to fill his books or he has anything to offer?” Abdullah asked while talking to reporters at a function in Jammu.
At the same time, the media in Valley has begun to see some method in Sharma’s familiar initiative. It is seen as part of the Centre’s incremental and multi-pronged strategy to deal with Kashmir – 'A tough military response to the militancy, a sustained effort to choke the funding of the separatist movement and the militancy through action against Hurriyat leaders and the people allied to them and a political outreach directly to the youth and civil society'.
“His (Sharma’s) seems just one part of a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the Kashmir turmoil. It goes alongside the ‘Operation All-out’ and the NIA investigation against Hurriyat leaders. It is a combined security, economic and political approach to tackling the situation in the state,” wrote an editorial in a local daily.
The noted Jammu-based academic Rekha Chaudhary also sees Sharma’s initiative as part of a step by step process to tackle Kashmir.
“If we look back at the way the Centre has handled Kashmir over the past three years, there is some consistency in their policy on the state. The Centre is not giving up on the hardline approach but supplementing it with some political outreach,” Chaudhury told Catch.
“It is just the beginning. We don’t know how much will be it broadened and expanded it in future,” she added.
The Valley, on the other hand, would want the interlocutor to grapple with the larger political issues underpinning the turmoil in the state, than just go about meeting irrelevant groups of people.
“The Indian government is using dialogue to divide the people of Kashmir. We are not against dialogue, but what will be the outcome of such talks is important,” said Prof Hameedah Nayeem who teaches English at Kashmir University.
“But as of now, there are indications that it is just another round of talks without any purpose. Indian analysts, former ministers and politicians have already raised questions about the exercise. They too are sceptical,” Nayeem pointed out.
The opinion of the noted businessman Shakeel Qalander is no different. “Appointing a former spymaster as an interlocutor will make little difference. They expect the Hurriyat to talk and on the other, the BJP’s ministers and leaders are issuing contradictory statements. No formal invitation has even been extended to the Hurriyat,” Qalander said.
“New Delhi should realise that holding talks in the absence of the Hurriyat is futile because they are the real representatives of the separatist sentiment in Valley. Kashmir is neither economic or development issue. The interlocutors may come and hold talks with shikarawalas, traders and civil society, but all that will achieve nothing,” the businessman said.
However, not all in the Valley show despair. According to Kashmir University professor Dr Gull Wani, the interlocutor has begun well by getting the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar to announce an amnesty for the stone-pelters.
“Sharma has started modestly but he has started off well. The amnesty to youth is a good Confidence Building Measure (CBM). He can build on this. If he enables more such CBMs in future, it can generate confidence in his initiative and hopefully lead to a bigger dialogue which will tackle larger political dimension of Kashmir,” Wani told Catch.