EVERY sign in the Modi government’s appointment this week of former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as its interlocutor in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) reveals the ruse. Sharma headed the IB when the valley was in revolt over Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016.
He is the person appointed by the centre to “initiate and carry forward a dialogue with elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in [J&K]”. Precisely because of this sweeping range of participants, designed obviously to sideline it, the Hurriyat had refused to participate in the roundtable conferences in New Delhi.
He will have “sustained interaction and dialogue to understand the legitimate aspirations of a wide cross-section of society”. Azadi, or even restoration of autonomy, is ruled out. He will next “communicate them to the [J&K] government and the centre”. The policeman will perform as a postman. Did either of the governments need him to tell them what the people want?
Sharma is not the person to bring peace to the valley.
On Oct 1, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said, “We have lost the people emotionally … You just have to visit the valley to realise that that they have lost faith in us.” Sinha said also that Pakistan is a “necessary third party” to the dispute, a fact that India ignores but Kashmiris assert.
Recently, at least 10 separatist leaders were arrested on charges of illegal financial transactions. On Oct 14, BJP’s Jitendra Singh said that “the militants are on the run”. New Delhi imagines that it can now strike a hard bargain before the 2019 polls. Time is on its side.
Sharma’s remit is unclear. For a dialogue to be sincere and productive, three essentials must be met — readiness to negotiate and compromise; determination to succeed; and a realistic appraisal of the situation in which the dialogue is held. The BJP is against restoring autonomy. Its determination is based on the belief that now it can dictate terms; and its assessment of Kashmiris’ aspirations is controlled by those of the RSS. What has it to offer at all?
In 2000, the Vajpayee government rejected as ‘unacceptable’ a resolution of the J&K Legislative Assembly, which sought merely a return to the constitutional position in 1952 — all in the name of ‘national integration’. In 2001, the Vajpayee government offered “a political dialogue with all sections of the peace-loving people of [J&K] including those who are outside it”. The Hurriyat was specifically invited, but the basis for a dialogue was omitted. Shortly thereafter, Vajpayee invited president Pervez Musharraf for talks. This ended in his reneging on a draft the two had agreed on.
In 2002, Arun Jaitley was asked to hold talks on ‘devolution of powers’, ie revocable at will. He went nowhere. N.N. Vohra was appointed as interlocutor in 2003, but also made no progress. A three-member team was appointed as interlocutors in 2010 “to hold a sustained dialogue with all sections of the people” and “suggest a way forward that truly represents the aspirations of the people of [J&K], especially [the] youth”. They failed miserably on both counts — in understanding the people’s aspirations and on forwarding proposals that they could accept. Read carefully. The Sharma remit follows closely on theirs and will fail as completely.
New Delhi must first take a major policy decision on how far it is prepared to go to meet the Kashmiris’ demands, and then select a negotiator with authority who can win popular support for any settlement that may be reached.
What is needed is a political approach by a senior politician. Sharma worked with a former IB head Ajit Doval, now Modi’s right-hand man, and with Home Minister Rajnath Singh when he was UP chief minister, as head of the state’s intelligence. He will not seek out the Hurriyat, only extend “an open invitation to all … who are willing to engage in a dialogue”; they have to appear before him.
“Peace must be restored in Kashmir and for that I will talk to all people in an effort to bring about a solution,’’ he said. Has he any mandate to achieve this result? This requires a political figure of standing. A former spy chief is ill equipped for the job, which goes beyond merely assessing the situation. On Oct 24, Sharma said “I have not received anything in writing from the government.” Don Quixote was more cautious. No self-respecting official should allow himself to be treated thus.
The Abdullahs — father and son — have contradicted each other. Mehbooba Mufti was ecstatic as she clutched at the reed thrown at her to save her sinking ship. She and her masters in New Delhi will blame the Hurriyat for the predictable failure of Sharma’s wild adventure in Kashmir.