In conversation with Radha Kumar: ‘Modi does not believe in introspection on Kashmir’

After the 2010 street upheaval resurged the demand for right to self determination in Kashmir Valley, the Government of India led by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed a three-member team—journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and former information commissioner M.M. Ansari—to document the defiance and demand on the ground.

The trio came as emissaries, who were supposed to break ice with seething commoners on the street, but they ended up meeting only a select few — as has been tradition of New Delhi-appointed “fact-finders” on Kashmir.

Nevertheless, the much-reported exercise was supposed to achieve a ‘breakthrough’ on Kashmir.

On October 12, 2011—precisely a year after the summer uprising had thawed—the interlocutor troika submitted their report to Manmohan Singh’s government. It was made public for a debate on May 24, 2012.

However, as another ‘normalcy’ period ensued in the valley, the report was forgotten and never implemented. Dusted, it stands binned now. 

Then as another street upheaval erupted — this time, over the passage of popular militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 summer, Narendra Modi led NDA government appointed the former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as a new interlocutor in Kashmir.

The ex-spymaster was to carry forward the dialogue process. But like previous interlocutors, Sharma too failed to break the ice and suddenly disappeared from the public scene.

Following his unceremonious exit, interlocution on Kashmir once again became questionable and a time-buying exercise. Even the former interlocutor and Kashmir’s onetime controversial Divisional Commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah lately told Free Press Kashmir that “appointing interlocutors is not the way out”.

Like Sharma, Radha Kumar’s Kashmir interlocution never saw the light of the day.

In an interview with Free Press Kashmir, the academician spoke about the Politics of appointing the interlocutors, their report on Kashmir and the possible solution for the Kashmir dispute. 

Radha Kumar (right) with other two interlocutors.

Recent Lok Sabha polls saw an abysmal turnout in Kashmir. Doesn’t it demand that New Delhi should introspect on its Kashmir handling?

Well, PM Modi does not believe in introspection on Kashmir. He says he knows everything but I think he needs to know about Jammu and Kashmir.

But given the poll outcome, do you think elections are just a futile exercise in Kashmir?

No, I think elections could be a much-needed injection of democracy for the state, if they were combined with a ‘result-oriented’ peace process and a genuine thrust towards good governance.

Even when regional parties here allege that New Delhi uses Kashmir for their electoral purposes, do you still see an electoral hope for the valley?

Well, yes. Just because the BJP misused Kashmir in their just-concluded election campaign, doesn’t mean there’s no hope. We must acknowledge the fact that other Indian parties have not misused the issue.

Well, it’s quite intriguing. BJP, on one hand, relied heavily on Kashmir in recent elections, but at the same time, Modi government’s Kashmir policy doesn’t seem to have restored the so-called ‘normalcy’ on ground. What’s happening?

We need to understand that military counter-insurgency can at best contain violence. Bringing peace is a political exercise, not a military one. And yes, I do not use the word ‘normalcy’ for JK, or for our whole country either.

Do you think youth are joining militant ranks because of the martial approach adopted by Modi government on Kashmir?

Well, that’s certainly a major reason. Another is the hate speech coming from national political actors and the electronic media. But I’m afraid, it won’t bring peace. It has already brought more hatred and violence and will continue to do so.

New Delhi also arrested and shifted hundreds of Resistance leaders and activists outside Kashmir. Do you think this will work for Modi? Or was it just an election stunt?

I don’t know the answer. But Kashmiris are extremely well networked, so I’m not sure a change of prison venue will have much of an impact. But I’m puzzled why didn’t many Kashmiris go to court in Delhi to challenge their imprisonment.

But did the appointment of interlocutors serve any purpose? Or New Delhi was just buying time?

Buying time is also a purpose, I am sorry to say. I think our mission did bring some degree of calm but the hope, that the UPA and JK state governments would build on that to develop a sustainable peace process, was betrayed.

Why didn’t New Delhi act on your recommendation?

I think there were several reasons.

The UPA was weak and feared BJP opposition. Already we had been attacked for recommending multi-track talks, with the elected state leadership, the Hurriyat and Pakistan.

The NC-led state government also did not support us – in fact, they criticized our report and asked us to return to the Justice Ahmed Centre-State Relations report. But the fact remains, we had gone much further than that report.

What had you suggested in your report, which never saw the light of the day?

We made over 200 recommendations, including:

(a) Talks for a lasting political settlement (with elected leaders, the Hurriyat and other dissident groups and Pakistan), including the establishment of a Constitutional Commission to examine which aspects of Article 370 needed to be restored and which amended.

(b) A political settlement based on the framework that had emerged from the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf (Lambah-Aziz) back channel, which can be briefly summed up as ‘autonomy plus’, i.e., autonomy for all parts of the divided state plus the right of all parts to work together on economic, environmental and human security issues (making the LOC invisible). Concrete elements for autonomy were drawn from NC, PDP and PC documents, which had several overlaps, as well as from civil society groups.

(c) Upholding human rights, including amnesties for political prisoners (who had not been involved in heinous crimes), stone-throwers, juvenile justice, dissolution of AFSPA (and its replacement with norms as laid down by the Supreme Court in a revised Army Act), revocation of PSA (and replacement with far more limited state law), strengthening of independent bodies such as the state’s Human Rights and Women’s Commissions. 

(d) Revamping security, for example removing installations from populous areas, provision of means and retraining for non-lethal methods of crowd control and most importantly an emphasis on political measures for peace.

The report being handed over to then Home Minister P Chidambaram.

According to reports, Modi led government didn’t act on your report earlier because it was UPA government’s initiative. Do you see any chances of dialogue process now, when Modi has returned to power?

One must always hope, though reason tells me no.

How was Modi government’s interlocution exercise led by Dineshwar Sharma different from yours?

I don’t know much about his mission since few reports are available in the public domain. However, his mandate seems to have been more restricted than ours, since he was empowered to deal with only ‘legitimate’ issues and actors, whereas we had no such limits.

But despite the appointment of interlocutors, time and again, dialogue is nowhere visible on the ground. What’s New Delhi up to?

I wish I knew the answer to that. I do, however, distinguish between the Manmohan Singh government and the Modi one.

The former did have some intention of peace for Jammu and Kashmir. I think they put too much emphasis on the Pakistan channel and not enough on the Kashmir one, but then so did the state parties and even many among the Hurriyat and other dissident groups.

Dineshwar Sharma with Rajnath Singh.

Isn’t it also the fact that we didn’t see any peace initiatives during the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh?

No, Manmohan Singh continued and deepened the Vajpayee peace process in UPA-I. Unfortunately the Pakistan track, in which considerable progress had been made, was put on the back burner when internal violence in Pakistan made Musharraf turn his attention inwards.

Successive Pakistani governments – chiefly the Zardari government since the Sharif government came into power only when elections were due – feared to resume a peace process, and the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks also put a strong brake on Manmohan Singh.

It’s also a fact that then Home Minister Chidambaram did keep trying for talks with the Hurriyat and other dissident groups, and in fact there was a ‘quiet dialogue’ in 2008-09 which was abruptly halted when Hurriyat’s Fazl Haq Qureshi was shot. Chidambaram tried again during and after our mission, but I do not know what went wrong.

Nevertheless, I do believe that UPA-II could’ve taken further steps for a peace process in 2011-2013 on the basis of our report and those of previous reports. The hanging of Afzal Guru was a deplorable and desperate act.

As someone who reported the ground situation very closely, how do you see the solution for Kashmir conflict?

I believe that Autonomy is the solution. Along with that, there’ve to be reparations, whether through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or a Conflict Justice Commission.

But there has been so much pain and suffering in JK, especially over the past 19 years, it is difficult to see how all the stakeholders can be brought on board.


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