Uncertain and Adrift *Interlocutors leave Kashmir as they had found it

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By: Riyaz Ahmad
It was a horrible sight watching the senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan being ruthlessly beaten in his chambers over his Kashmir remarks. The resounding first slap on his unsuspecting face followed by kicks, punches and dragging through the room with no one intervening to save him was a chilling reminder of the raw passion Kashmir can evoke in the country. Bhushan had only reiterated his long-held principled position on Kashmir: that New Delhi should hold a referendum in the state and allow the people of the state separate from the union if they so choose. A lone voice arising in favor of Kashmir plebiscite in New Delhi was too galling an exception to be tolerated.
However, the aim here is not to defend Bhushan or hail him as the hero for speaking his mind on Kashmir but relate his example – however far-fetched this may appear to some – to the interlocutors report on Kashmir. Were interlocutors conscious of this nasty public reaction if they crossed the rubicon on the state? Did they think that even autonomy – the minimum settlement formula in circulation – would be unacceptable under the circumstances? Or their boundaries were set by the evolving Kashmir and geo-political situation in the region?
Bhushan’s grim plight after going public with his opinion is something that makes one take the first possibility very seriously, albeit not as the exclusive determinant of the contents of the report. After all, it is said that they didn’t want to stoke controversy by citing a specific political solution. This is not to say that the fear of being beaten by a lunatic can dictate as momentous a report as the one the interlocutors were charged to prepare. But what Bhushan’s example does underline is that there is little accommodation for a radical Kashmir solution in India. Or we can say that the constituency for it has only further shrunk.
And this is what persuaded even Team Anna to promptly dissociate from Bhushan’s Kashmir remarks with Anna almost indicating a move to throw him out. New Delhi’s boiler-plate statement that Kashmir is an integral part and its ad nauseum reiteration in the political discourse is backed wholesale by a wide constituency stretching through the country and for whom any detraction from this position is an absolute heresy.
Viewed in this context, the whole year-long interlocuting effort seems to have been anything but an initiative to resolve Kashmir. The task for the three-member group of the interlocutors comprising Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Anasri was unenviable. They had to keep up a pompous pretence of being here to resolve Kashmir but actually had to account for even the harmless observations they made about the nature of the dispute. Padgaonkar’s earliest remark that Kashmir solution has a distinct Pakistan dimension raised the hackles of BJP. The party accused Padgaonkar of foraying into a forbidden domain and sought an explanation for this tresspass from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Even though Padgaonkar stuck to his guns and went ahead to term Kashmir a dispute as against an issue, the process failed to move. That was because the narroweness of their mandate from New Delhi was only matched by the absoluteness of the separatist demand in Valley. While centre at the maximum wouldn’t want to go beyond some phraseological re-adjustments on Kashmir – and here even this has not been done – separatist constituency in Valley wants a fundamental shift in the relations between the state and the Union. And the interlocutors were in no position to bridge this vast chasm.
There is also the changed geo-political context of the region which seems to have outstripped the efforts for Kashmir. We have now a resurgent India versus a weak and embattled Pakistan with Kashmir hanging in limbo between them. There is also the growing closeness between India and America with their interests, for once, decisively aligned against Islamabad. Such situation forecloses the option of early Kashmir settlement, atleast in favour of Pakistan. And in this context, submitting a report that suggests a specific solution would for New Delhi have unnecessarily pushed the debate on Kashmir settlement. More so, at a time, when Kashmir movement itself has lost momentum. Where does this leave Kashmir? Uncertain and adrift as always.

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