Interlocutors: Talks or no talks

By K.N. Pandit

There is one particular thing which interlocutors should say but will not say. That was also what All Party Parliamentary delegation which preceded the Committee of Interlocutors should have said and did not say. Again that is what seasoned and veteran journalists and observers want to say and do not say. There could be many reasons for this kind of torturous dichotomy; low-key diplomacy, fear of reaction, erosion of vote bank constituency, and above all inherently weak and pusillanimous character.

The thing that should be said is that movement or no movement, violence or non-violence, good or bad governance, Jammu and Kashmir will not separate from India. Any individual or group desirous of talking to stakeholders in Kashmir and starting the dialogue with this ABC of Kashmir policy will be the only entity likely to make a successful breakthrough. In all probability, as that is not going to happen in the given political culture of the Indian state, therefore the stalemate is unlikely to see an early end. 

More or less, the same syndrome prevails on the other side. Kashmir dissenters, including ambivalent mainstream political segment, know that Kashmir cannot, in any case, get away from the Indian Union.  But they will not speak it out to the people they lead. Again, there could be many reasons; cultural ghettoization, willing suspension of disbelief, sadist mobocracy and belief in aphorismics of hoary past.

Should the interlocutors be blunt? There are no two opinions. They are not bound by party and state politics or ideology. They have nothing at stake like an electoral constituency or an office of profit. They are driven by intellectual and academic persuasions, and above all, they are sincerely desirous of serving the nation by making a positive contribution. They are not the policy makers nor have they been armed with decision making authority. They can oblige none and need not favoaur one. Therefore, after a few interlocutions have been carried out, they will have to come out with the brazen truth that J&K remains integral to Indian Union till eternity.

But when they say what dissenters least expect to be told, they will have to do good fore work to put their point across. There is a very small but subtle hint to this end. In his interaction in downtown Srinagar, a youth told Padgaonkar that Kashmiris wanted nothing but aazadi. When Padgaonkar asked him to give him the road map and also explain how enormous income and expenditure gap would be filled by the “azaad” Kashmir, there was a pause.

The essential role of the Interlocutors has two main components. One is to listen and the second is to explain. Those who they listen to shall have to have the patience to hear what they have to say.

The major theme in this type of threadbare discourse will be that of secession of the state. Precisely, this should and has to come up for real discussion. It is the task of the Interlocutors to tell the dissenters why secession cannot happen. This has to be an academic debate in most part. Major thrust of the interlocutors should not be on Pakistan as a failing state; the thrust has to be on India as a developing secular democratic state. One has to explain the scope, nature and immense importance to the modern world of the experiment India is making with secular democratic dispensation in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual mosaic of Indian nation through gentle persuasion and not coercion.

In a sense, the Interlocutors have to perform a role which, in ordinary life of a civil society, falls to the care of mainstream political parties. Unfortunately, embroiled in politics of deep mutual rivalry that makes them pander to shortcuts to communal politics, Kashmir mainstream political parties have disappointed the masses of people. The Interlocutors will, at the best, lay down some benchmarks to the road map for the stakeholders in the state as well as the government, whose assignment they have accepted to fulfill. Even though they will be visiting the State every month to monitor the progress of their onerous mission, the reality is that they will not have time and need to do the baby sitting job.

If the dissenters and their sympathizers in whatever circles they are be able to carry forward the interlocution to its logical conclusion, there are fair chances of the state wriggling out of an impasse with substantial support and sympathy from the Indian nation and the state.

It is felt that ignorance of or willing suspension of belief in Indian secular democracy apparently impressed upon the mind of Kashmiris is not totally indelible. What is needed is sincere, honest and disinterested effort to put the record straight through in-depth discourses. The way Indian state is trying to raise its secular structure needs to be dealt with in fullest detail. Indian secular democracy is still in evolution; it is still passing through the stage of hiccups. Therefore no final verdict can be and should be pronounced on the basis of a few stray instance of aberration. Potentialities of this unique country should be understood without bias.

It has to be remembered that democracies elsewhere have also met with secessionist uprisings. The US had to fight and win a civil war to become the greatest power in the world today. In England, a king was sent to gallows and yet a new king was enthroned to ensure country’s unity and solidarity. In Italy, Count Cavour built his nation “out of mud” when the country was embroiled in a civil strife. India, too, in the footprints of history of great nations, has a role and will emerge as a power in Asia and the world. The bright future of coming generations of the people of J&K and of all other states of the Indian Union is testified by the great principles of human brotherhood enshrined in her constitution.

The question before the dissenters is this: do you think that refusing to talk to the interlocutors is going to strengthen your cause and stand in any way? The reality is the reverse of it. The more you interact the more strength you get for moderating your infertile stand, and, in the process, you carry more people along with you. There are groups in Kashmir and Jammu regions that have declined to talk to the interlocutors. It means they do not see eye to eye with the assignment of the team as analyzed above, and the vision they will be working for. Negative politics is a luxury which our country can ill afford to indulge in. We need to work to alleviate the suffering of the people and not complicate their hardships. If the stunt raising littérateur had studied the history of Kashmir of as late as mid-19th century, she would have known to her horror how in a major famine Kashmiris would not let the dead body be carried to the burial ground but snatch it from the pall bearers and eat up the flesh of the corpse to satiate their hunger. Today Kashmir has the highest income per capita in the country. That is what in her words “bhhooka nanga Hindustan” gave to the Kashmiris.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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