We need not be pessimistic about the role of interlocutors though it’s too early to comment on the results.
Interlocutors in political parlance are people who informally, in plain words put the views of administration with masses and also communicate messages back to the government. Interlocutors are appointed and agreed upon in exceptional situations, necessitating restoration of trust and confidence within discontented populace. While fairness is essence of interlocution, informality remains the most distinctive attribute of it and any intrusion on this account will reduce the whole procedure of interlocution to deception.
For long Kashmir has been simmering with discontent and facing situation of mistrust and turmoil, all through last three summers the situation has become more perilous, inviting death and destruction in every corner of valley. Particularly, the year 2010 witnessed most of the violence and at one point of time anarchy had become rule of the land. Hundreds of budding young people got killed and thousands maimed. With decrease in levels of conflict and disorder administration shifted to damage control mode and started numerous measures of confidence building and restoring trust among the people. With the visit of all party delegation of parliamentarians and politicians and several other political and administrative initiatives the confidence building process were set off. Further strengthening the process of reconciliation and seeking amicable solution of vexed Kashmir issue, the political leadership of union government appointed interlocutors, journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, bureaucrat M. M Ansari and academic Prof Radha Kumar, entrusted with the task of reviving barren channels of communication with annoyed Kashmiries. The dovish agenda of interlocutors was to initiate a meaningful dialogue with every section and opinion of Kashmiri population, to find out a long-lasting and amicable solution of Kashmir problem. For last many months interlocutors have visited Kashmir and other parts of the state many times and interacted with different shades of people except separatists, the crucial stake holders of Kashmir issue. At the time of their appointment Home Minister P. Chidambaram moving few steps away of his rhetoric approach on Kashmir, said, “They (interlocutors) will begin the process of ‘sustained uninterrupted dialogue’ as early as possible and with all shades of opinion to resolve the Kashmir problem”. After many months now, this sprit and enthusiasm of both home minister and group of interlocutors appears dying down and on ground either, the interlocutors had gone off track, unknowingly or are pursuing an agenda of delay, willingly, with some ulterior motives. Messing up with foggy situations and muddy waters is now their preferred agenda. Instead of exploring and opening channels of communication they meddle in irrelevant issues of reservations, employment and several other extraneous issues. It appears that in an attempt to undermine the real issue, Dileep Padgaonkar on December 19th said, “People of Rajouri and Poonch have different demands like schedule tribe status for Paharis and political reservation for Gujjars”. By such insubstantial conclusions they are occupying themselves with the ethnic, social and geographical discord of the state to wrap up a predesigned agenda of delay on Kashmir. Chidambaram’s ‘sustained uninterrupted dialogue’ appears eluding these, otherwise, doves of peace and reconciliation as they have chosen an unlike tread on the bumpy path of illusion and fantasy. Their messing up of many issues, remotely related to one another is either, indication of their ignorance of the situation in Kashmir or their intentions of prolonging the matter to the extent where it will die its own death.
Interestingly, Dilip Padgaonkar and his team’s communication with mainstream politicians have not been as smooth as expected. At one occasion an influential leader of National Conference Dr. Mustafa Kamaal cast aspersions on the authority and concept of interlocutors and their masters by saying “Delhi has always betrayed us. The accords and promises made by Delhi were never kept. They always back stabbed us. Now some new persons have been appointed as interlocutors and given the Kashmir task. They are strangers. We don’t know them and we will not talk to them,” “Time and again, some political persons were appointed by New Delhi to hold talks on Kashmir issue. But today they are altogether new faces.” On 21st December Dr. Kamal continuing with his tirade against interlocutors, undermining their authority and passing judgment on their style of functioning said, “Interlocutors are only creating confusion. The recent meetings held by the interlocutors prove my point. Instead of meeting with representatives of public, they are directly talking to the people. Such moves will only create confusion among masses,” On the other side of the fence Jammu and Kashmir’s main opposition party Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti reacted to appointment of interlocutors by saying “Nomination of Kashmir interlocutors has dampened the hope, It is more or less a useless exercise,” Another prominent opposition party in state assembly, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) at national level opposed the basic concept of interlocution on Kashmir by making accusations of internationalizing the Kashmir issue. No doubt these voices were made to mellow down by their masters within the corridors of power but after much damage to the character and sprit of interlocutors and process of interlocution. Any conduit of communication working under such hostile atmosphere and extreme pressure within its system of existence will either end up with miscarriage of its objective or will get compelled to deliver against its wishes.
With strain from many quarters, split authorization and unclear terms of reference interlocutors have got plagued with ‘foot and mouth disease’ otherwise, very common with our politicians. Immediately after their first press briefing interlocutors got a good dressing down from home minister by asking them to refrain from giving a “ball-by-ball commentary” about the progress made in their dialogue. Many other statements of interlocutors invited criticism from several political groups and at occasions they were pushed to the wall by parties like BJP and National Conference. After many months of interaction and deliberations their approach and mandate of interlocution has failed to convince the state and central administrations to create an congenial and conducive atmosphere for restoration of trust and confidence amid aggrieved people of Kashmir. And, thus at the end of their third visit they were compelled to say, “Governance in the state has to be transparent and accountable. Due process of law must be observed to resolve human rights related problems,” —— “A visible difference on the ground would create a congenial atmosphere to explore various options for a political settlement acceptable to all the regions of the state and to all communities within every region,” 23rd December.
Disregarding any endeavor of interlocution a failure at its outset will be unjustified but continuous failures on all fronts after devoting much of efforts and time can be termed nothing less than a misbegotten scheme of convincing and getting round a bigger population of pained people by resorting to age old procedure of ‘carrot and stick’. Ridiculed by their own masters, out rightly disowned by detractors and brushed-off by common people as irrelevant, the interlocutors have lost their standing as an outfit to break the ice and deliver as informal but vital channel of communication. With lack of fairness, their needless meddling with murky waters of irrelevance is nothing but the illustration of a blind man catching at a straw.