“Please read the report, is all I can say.”

A RARE OPPORTUNITY

The report framed by the team of interlocutors, appointed by the Union Government towards the end of summer 2010 agitation in Kashmir, was released last week. It drew some sharp responses from all over the state. In the backdrop of this report Padma Rao Sundarji talks at length with Radha Kumar, member of the team of interlocutors, exclusively for Greater Kashmir 

Ms Kumar, you were one of the interlocutors appointed by the Govt of India, your report has just been posted on the Home Ministry’s website. It has unleashed a slew of reactions ranging from critical to guarded, but none euphoric. Given the high level of cynicism in J&K about the Center which appointed you, that is no surprise.  Would it have met with greater appreciation had yours been a private delegation of intelligentsia drawn from civil society ?
Our mandate was to have the widest possible interlocution with the widest cross-section of public opinion in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.  We needed outreach, access and visibility. No private delegation could have had those. At the end of the day, there would be no need for anyone to react to a report by a private group. Whereas, a team appointed by the government is bound to elicit reactions.

But even the Home Ministry which appointed you, has been hooded in its response. So far, there has been no public assurance that it will follow up on your report. Yet another document on J&K that is destined to sink and join earlier ones at the bottom of the ocean?
 The Ministry has said that the Center will take a call only after there is debate and feedback on our report. In a way, the ball is back in the court of public opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. If they find it useless, of course it will sink and the government will not take any action. But if they come up with constructive criticism – this, or that must change, this, or that must go, or be added, etc.- and there is wide-ranging debate, then the government will have to look at it.  The people of J&K may not want to hear this, but this seems to be the approach of the Center. If they say there is something in the report that they want, surely there will be movement on it.

However, the oppositional Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) has reacted quite positively to your report. The ruling National Conference (NC), which will take a stand after reading it, has not expressed reservations about it either. Does that give you some hope for the reception of your report in the state?
 Yes. The PDP’s reaction to the report was very nuanced and gave me a lot of heart. I hope the NC too will have a similar debate. I have no right to ask this, but what I would like most is for the intelligentsia of J&K to seriously discuss the report, bearing in mind that they have the right to reject many parts of it, while talking about those that could be developed positively.  As you know, there is huge debate in India right now on federalism, state-center relationships, etc. Much of the report feeds into that debate. There are opportunities for J&K right now which may not last for many years. It would be wise to seize them. Other than Syed Salahuddin condemning the report – incidentally, to be expected also from all hard-line elements in Pakistan who have supported militancy and engineered it - I am not sure how much opposition there will be from the wide range of political opinion across the border. This is a useful moment, J&K should seize it.

The two extreme ends of the political spectrum in the state and center are ironically on the same side of the fence. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ‘completely rejected’ your report and even took out a protest march in New Delhi.  The Hurriyat factions in the Valley have denounced it too..
 The BJP’s reaction completely puzzles me. When it comes to J&K, the party seems to change its position every other day. Their rejection of the report is completely different to what their leadership said when we met them.  We met BJP groups and delegations in J&K, in Jammu districts in particular. They made many local demands, which are reflected in the report. After our mission had ended in October last year and just a few months ago, I organized a meeting of legislators under the aegis of the Delhi Policy Group (DPG). There were several BJP legislators present and they had a very different view from what is being expressed today.  On the political side, they seemed to think that the process was adequate and had no major problem with our interlocution. Importantly and on the issue of devolution –centre to state, state to region, etc. – they were very much on board.   At the Center, we met Mr Arun Jaitley, Mrs Sushma Swaraj and Mr L.K. Advani. They, too, seemed in sync with the bigger picture.  I don’t know whether this official reaction of the BJP to the report is political posturing. But a meeting, a resolution and a statement condemning the report, within hours of it being made public?  After all those lengthy discussions with the BJP, this is very puzzling. As for the Hurriyat : we expected that they would either ignore, or criticize this report. Given that it discusses political measures based on the discussions we had with people, and that the concretes we describe have come  out of  present discussions of which they were not part, what else could the Hurriyat have done but reject it?

Mr. S.A.S.Geelani of the radical Hurriyat-G – who refused to meet you, says your efforts  were a mere ‘diversion.’  As only an eloquent Kashmiri can, he uses the evocative and crushing description of the report being a ‘dead mouse found after digging up a mountain’.
 I must say I have a different yardstick for Geelani Sahib. He is much older, has been a statesman, involved in matters of governance and endowed with a lot of knowledge of how states work. It is sad that he does not wish to use that knowledge of state-craft which only he is endowed with, to move forward. I don’t see any statesmanly qualities in what he is doing or saying. Do take responsibility for what you want to see happen, by engaging and directing us. But simply saying "diversion", when you know perfectly well that policies are not based on slogans but on substantive proposals? It is a great pity. But I must say this to all of the Hurriyat: If you will not enter into dialogue, a large number of people will not do so either. You are therewith blocking any process that could lead to a resolution. You are holding the state in limbo. That can only encourage violence, lumpenization and anger, rather than logical thinking on the basis of aspirations. You want a peace process but don’t want a dialogue, at least with no-one below the level of PM or HM. Yes, you could talk the big picture to them, but you would still need small people like us to flesh out the details and for implementation on the ground. The Mirwaiz rightly says that dialogue is essential.  One doesn’t dialogue with friends but with opponents, so please dialogue! But the Kashmiris are not alone in this view. Everyone in our country appears to think that you should not talk to opponents or adversaries.

Several commentators in the state slam the report for advocating regional devolution. They say it could fracture communal harmony in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
This is what surprises me the most. After all, it is axiomatic for a democracy, that the greater the degree of devolution of powers and of public participation in the application of powers, the better it is. As a general principal, devolution is almost always a good thing. So for them to feel that regional devolution is communal and could lead to tri- or bifurcation of J&K makes me uneasy. Over the past 10 years, communal polarization has increased steeply. There is distancing between parts of Jammu and those of the Valley and Ladakh. That gap is widening. These critics of devolution obviously feel that devolution will institutionalize that polarization and be dangerous. But we gave careful thought to this suggestion. We felt devolution may help the state bridge  communal and regional chasms and help the state reintegrate itself. I must stress that everything in the report was based on suggestions made to us. They didn’t come out of our brains, we merely summarized them. If there is a consensus among the parties in Jammu and in Kashmir and Ladakh that regional devolution will be harmful – and that would be rare and happy consensus on any given issue in the state - we would publicly recommend removing that entire section from our report. But this must be stated and recorded clearly for posterity to ensure that this demand will never be brought up again.

Traditionally, most of the dissonance and dissatisfaction with the Center has emanated not as much from Jammu or Ladakh, as from the Valley. How would the Valley stand to gain from regional devolution?
 They know it better than we do – right now, every area complains of discrimination by the other part. In Jammu and Ladakh, the complaints are mostly administrative: jobs, funding, infrastructural development, allocations perceived as not given even-handedly to them as to the Valley. If you make allocation from every plan routine for every region, the perception of discrimination – that the Valley gets all and we get nothing – may end Thereafter, it would be up to the people to pull up their regional administrations directly, if they did not deliver. Finally, regional devolution would allow the people of J&K to deal with the core political issue on its own, without the complications of all these regional and community-based complaints.

Media commentary in the Valley, too, has attacked the report on several counts. Your suggestion to replace the word ‘temporary’ before Article 370 with ‘special’ is just window-dressing, the report in no way addresses the ‘core political issue’.
 From stone-pelters, to supporters of the Hurriyat-G and M factions, NC, PDP, independent intelligentsia and others, people across the spectrum talk about the promises that were broken through the vitiation of Article 370. Art. 370 flowed out of the instrument of accession. So it seemed very clear that the relationship between J&K and the Center was based on Art.370, which was therewith the natural starting point for discussion. I criticize the fact that India has always retained the word ‘temporary’ ahead of the Article. After all, that implies that the relationship would be reviewed in a couple of years. But we are 60 years down the road, J&K still has ‘temporary’ status, and nobody ever discusses it. It has left a terrible question mark over this relationship between state and center and allowed people to call for abandoning it altogether. There are several states that have different relationships to the union. 371, which follows 370, actually includes a range of nine others with ‘special’ statuses including Maharashtra , Goa and Daman and Diu.  Of course and in each case, the status depends on what’s been negotiated. The J&K relationship is unique and actually endows more powers to the state than to any other, on paper. For the sake of clarity, it made sense for J&K to be also afforded the ‘special’ status. If the general public could understand that this is a special status just like other states have and in no way weakens the constitutional growth of India, there would be greater acceptance.

Veering away from your report a little, the slogan of “Pakistan Zindabad” which we journalists heard repeatedly at the peak of the insurgency in the Valley, has slowly died out – even among the young stone-pelters of 2010 – and partly replaced by a call for ‘Azadi’. Quite clearly and not least because of geo-political developments,  support for Pakistan has waned in the Valley. How much of this did you sense during your research in J&K?
: On azadi,  a  sentiment mostly concentrated in parts of Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Pulwama, there are different views, ranging from independence to the freedoms that are listed in our report. Also, when you ask those who want independence about those in Jammu and Ladakh who don't want it but want to remain in a unified J&K, the answer is, it is the majority who count, even if that majority are concentrated only in some parts. That seems undemocratic.  J&K is at a crossroads. It can either move decisively out of violence and towards a solution or do nothing and therewith not move decisively away from violence. Their argument that it was India’s failure to find a solution that has allowed this violence is partly true. But only partly, given Pakistan’s involvement in stoking the insurgency.  Everybody is tired of the bloodshed and violence, especially a whole new generation in the Valley that was born and grew up in the years of insurgency and knows nothing else. I hope that generation can grab the moment.

Last week’s release of your report coincided with Home Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan. Was this deliberate timing or happy coincidence?
 Pure coincidence, whether happy or not. We’ve been asking the Ministry to release it for many months but the Home Minister did so now because parliamentarians has asked for it in the last session. I have had no feedback on the content of the talks between the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan but I am sure our report would not have come up for discussion. Look, Pakistan did not even acknowledge our appointment. So though the Pakistan media may write about it, why would the government acknowledge our report ? To my knowledge, these latest talks were about visas and the Mumbai and other terrorist attacks.

Much of the J&K media is annoyed about your report because it alleges that journalists in the state invent stories. Some peeved reporters are pointing that there was plenty of doublespeak among you three interlocutors yourselves, during your tenure.
 One journalist pointed out quite correctly that we had been extremely insensitive in failing to note how much J&K journalists had suffered during the conflict. Many were killed, wounded or disabled while reporting on it. He was entirely right. I would like to use this interview to apologize for not reflecting that trauma adequately. On the  other hand, we did take up the continuing and uncalled-for pressure on the Valley media in our monthly reports to the Center.  Our final report should have also expressed our appreciation of the state’s flourishing media. To create that in a conflict situation is no mean achievement. We respect that. But I am surprised by some of the criticism. We said the national media has hardly ever reported on Kashmir except in moments of violence and that the local media is much better because they do a lot more peace process reporting. However, there are some amongst them, some, I will stress, who tend to be biased and even manufacture events. I stand by that statement. Yes, the three of us – Mr Padgaonkar, Mr Ansari and I - did argue and squabble, I can’t hide that. But we are three old and fairly opinionated individuals from different backgrounds. We sorted it out though - otherwise the report would not have been possible.

But biased reporting is true of the national media as well.
Of course, but our mandate was J&K. In every conflict situation, sections of the media tend to take sides. But journalists are not supposed to conjure up events. I have been at the receiving end in the J&K media myself.  I would never stand up for a fellow-academic who plagiarizes. So I don’t understand why the entire journalistic fraternity of Kashmir feels slighted? More importantly, why are you assuming that our criticism is directed only at journalists in the Valley, when it applies to others in the state like in Jammu, who accused us constantly of being too Valley-centric ?

In recent months, there has been a slow loosening of the stranglehold on the Valley’s media. Is that related to your backroom efforts?
We did ask that advertising should not be selective but even-handedly given across the board to those with the largest circulation, and not on the basis of political determination. Also that if the Center wants good journalism, then to identify those publications who are factually correct and support those media. It is a bad thing for democracy if curbs are put on the basis of political consideration. But it wasn’t due to our efforts alone. I think the major effort to do away with curbs came from the J&K media itself, specifically those in the Valley who were always subjected to the worst curbs. Those in Jammu were subjected to none, despite reporting that was as biased and fallacious as others in the country. We must focus on encouraging a responsible media that checks facts and gives you accurate information. It doesn’t matter whether that information goes against you or not. You don’t stop it from going to press but you learn from it. That is true democracy.

There is also criticism that your report makes little mention of Pakistan’s role and on which separatist leaders in the Valley should be seen as the major stakeholders...
 Please read the report, is all I can say. We have a huge section reviewing all peace processes in the very first chapter featuring Pakistan. Then there is the road-map section and a whole chapter on harmonizing relations across the Line of Control (LoC), which is all about Pakistan-held Kashmir. In fact, one of my grouses is that other than in some areas of Jammu and Ladakh, we hardly hear anyone in J&K talk about Kashmiris on the other side -their opinions, their sentiments, their troubles, their problems. Finally, it is not up to us to decide who among the hardliners in J&K are major stakeholders – surely that is for the people of J&K to decide! And when they do, it is up to them to persuade them to join the dialogue. To be fair to J&K’s media, they did try to do that during our tenure and I express our gratitude.

Surely a panel of interlocutors on Kashmir should have had at least one Kashmiri, and not, as some would call him, a ‘token Muslim’ like Mr Ansari ?
I have no opinion as I did not choose the interlocutors and was surprised to be selected myself. Sure, it would have been great to have a Kashmiri along with us. But can the people of J&K agree on one person? Whenever any Kashmiri from one quarter has been asked to do anything on behalf of the state, there have been howls of protest from another.  
There is also an allegation that you were paid huge salaries and endowed with many privileges and benefits.
 I was paid pretty much what I earned as a professor before and we were given a status almost at par with Secretary, because we needed it to be heard at all. As it is, people called us lightweights. So whatever could be done to shore up our credibility was necessary. But we also incurred costs, which were not reimbursed. For six months, the DPG acted as our informal office. We were not given any reimbursements for meetings, lunches, costs of our staff, electricity, phone calls, etc. My phone bills ran into lakhs and I paid them. I don’t grudge that. While the cost of air-tickets was high, the actual cost of our engagement was not. 

In the beautiful Valley, the flowers are out, tourists are thronging the state, shikaras are overworked, business is booming, the army and CRPF are increasingly invisible, there are no hotel rooms or houseboats to be had for love or money. What does this tell you about Kashmir, but also about Indians from all walks of society and all corners of the country, travelling there in hordes?
 I hope that both Kashmiris and Indians take big points out of this and build on it. That Indians are not hostile to Kashmiris and vice-versa. That there is no ill-will on either side. If there were, these thousands of Indians from other parts would not travel to your lovely state and you would not be welcoming them. Please engage each other and win hearts and minds for whatever you seek from the government. There were 20 years of conflict. Somehow, the state survived and fed its people, certainly with aid from GoI but also on its own strength.  Kashmiris fiercely want to survive. They want their economy to grow. That is why there are hardly any hartals any more – because the people of J&K don’t want them. For the public, enough is enough. 

Ms Kumar, what would be your personal postscript to your interlocutors’ report for the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh ?
I imagine the aam admi won’t have the time to read the report and will get it largely from the papers. But to all those interested in a resolution, please read it.  If there is anything in it that you feel can be taken further, dropped, amended or added, please say so. If nothing else, our interlocution gave the Kashmiri public a direct channel to New Delhi, one they never had before. No immediate follow-up action by the government over the past years may have been a failure.  To be fair and in a conflict-affected situation where institutions don’t work, it is not so easy to take rapid action.  But please don’t underestimate the channel you have to New Delhi. The government has asked for your views and once your views come in, it will be difficult for any government to take no action whatsoever. Here is a small window of opportunity, perhaps for a maximum of three to four months. If you can come up with strong responses before the next parliamentary session, there is some hope of some action. For once, you have an agency, a tool in your hands to make something happen. Please use it.

Lastupdate on : Mon, 28 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 28 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 29 May 2012 00:00:00 IST




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