The appointment of three interlocutors on Kashmir by the Union government marks a new effort to deal with the troubled region politically. The three—journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and information commissioner M.M. Ansari —are credible choices.
Their task is a difficult one. For one, any political initiative by the Union government is always viewed with suspicion in Kashmir. Then, there is the problem of political voices in that state—irrespective of their party or ideological affiliation—adopting maximalist positions. This always boils down to one point: azaadior merger with Pakistan. This is a structural impediment, for the government cannot alter the constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) without risking a political firestorm.
These difficulties notwithstanding, a more reasonable position would be to explore the possibility of meaningful autonomy for J&K within the bounds of the Constitution. A creative convergence of minds towards this end is what the interlocutors should try. Their ability to do so, and the chances that they will get to that end, should not be prejudged by anyone, in New Delhi or Srinagar. One factor that stands in the interlocutors’ favour is that they do not belong to one of the three classes of individuals favoured for such tasks by governments: retired civil servants, policemen and intelligence officials. They occupy a different space.
The timing of their mission, too, is apposite: for stones are to be found in their right place in urban Kashmir, on the road. Across the border, Pakistan continues to scheme and plot while remaining quiescent, caught as it is in a flood of watery woes. The only disturbing sign is that of a visit by US President Barack Obama, whose advisers continue to harbour hare-brained ideas about a “deal” between New Delhi and Islamabad on Kashmir. There can be no such deal as Pakistan refuses to budge from its unacceptable position of not accepting that J&K is an Indian state.
At the same time, no time should be lost in implementing other parts of the eight-pronged agenda formulated in the wake of the all-party delegation’s visit to the state and the decisions taken by the Union cabinet late in September. One reason why urban Kashmir flares up now and then is that most people there—educated youngsters, their parents, traders or businessmen—face uncertainty about daily existence and life expectancy. Lessen the uncertainty and give everyone a stake in improving the situation, and dramatic improvements will appear on the horizon.
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