Interlocutors’ Report: Some Preliminary Views
by Hari Om on 30 Jun 2012 27 Comments

The New Delhi-appointed interlocutors Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari deserve some appreciation for their candid acknowledgement that the causes of unrest in Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh are different. They can also be complimented for the suggestion that it will be desirable if three Regional Councils invested with certain legislative, financial and administrative powers are established in the State, one each for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The interlocutors submitted their report on J&K on 12 October 2011; it was made public on 24 May this year, more than seven months later.


It was perhaps for the first time that persons appointed by New Delhi to study the situation in J&K and suggest measures which could end the unrest there have diagnosed what had been ailing Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh since decades.


About Kashmir, they said: “The sense of victimhood is articulated in the most intense emotional terms in the Kashmir Valley. The reasons are all too compelling. Here, for over six decades, people have experienced what, in their eyes, constitutes a systematic denial of their democratic rights. They have been witness to rigged elections, the dismissal of elected governments and installation of pliant ones, the arrests of their popular leaders, the choking of dissenting voices through harsh laws, the detention of political prisoners without the due process of law; the failure to bring to book those guilty of violating human rights; and, not least, violence perpetrated by militants and by the security forces.


“That these alleged violations of human rights – including the deaths of 104 youth in the summer of 2010 – did not adequately figure either in the Indian media or in Parliament is seen, rightly, as India’s lack of concern for the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. Add to this the widespread allegations of mis-governance, pervasive corruption among the political and bureaucratic elites, lack of quality education and public health services; poor physical infrastructure and woefully inadequate job opportunities, especially for skilled and educated youth.


“All these factors, taken together with what is seen as a mushroom growth of religious extremism of all hues, have brutalized Kashmiri society to such an extent that today it fears for the very survival of its religious and cultural identity. This accounts for political demands ranging from ‘Azadi’ and the establishment of an Islamic State to autonomy, self-rule, achievable nationhood and such other alternatives. At the heart of all these dirges, however, is the sentiment that the woes of Kashmir are due to the emasculation of the substance of its distinctive status enshrined in Article 370 of the Constitution of India”.


As for Jammu, the interlocutors said: “The concerns, interests, grievances and aspirations of Jammu and Ladakh are of another order. People in these regions strongly believe that the Valley politicians have given them a raw deal largely due to an iniquitous delimitation of constituencies. Indeed, there is a strong sentiment in both regions that the Centre has neglected their grievances because of their robust pro-India inclinations.


“It has taken the people of Jammu and Ladakh for granted and, to make matters worse, consistently chosen to ‘pamper’ the political and bureaucratic elites of the Valley. Such ‘pampering’, they allege, accounts for the sentiments of rage and frustration, particularly among the youth of the two regions. The youth have expressed their sentiments in a peaceful manner so far. But it is only a matter of time before the protests take an ugly turn – as they have in the Valley – unless the grievances are addressed on an urgent and sustained basis.


“The anti-Valley feelings have widened the regional divide in the State, particularly between Kashmir and Jammu. On certain issues – such as the establishment of facilities for the Amarnath pilgrims – polarization has taken place along communal lines. Some sections of Jammu opinion therefore clamour for a separate State”.


The interlocutors had something specific to say about Ladakh: “The demand for Union Territory (UT) status is near unanimous in Leh, cutting across not only party, but also community lines (including the small Muslim community, for whom however UT was the least bad of options). There is also a demand for Ladakh to be made a province, on the grounds of its considerable territorial size. Indeed, territorial size is a hot issue in Leh.


“The immediate grievance is financial, that the principle of State budgetary allocations on population basis is by its nature biased in a region which is territorially large but sparsely populated. The development of infrastructure suffers severely as a result, and there is little doubt that for infrastructure development allocations need to be made on territorial requirements rather than on the basis of the population”.


The above clearly suggests that while the fundamental cause of unrest in Kashmir is the presence of India in the Valley and the alleged erosion of Article 370, the causes of unrest in Jammu and Ladakh are many. In Jammu and Ladakh, the people yearn for close integration with India, and for a system that empowers them to compensate for the losses they have suffered so far at the hands of the Kashmiri leadership. It also suggests that while the Kashmiri leadership and its supporters are extremely angry with New Delhi for its failure to accept their demands, including the demand for a dispensation outside the Indian Constitution, the people of Jammu and Ladakh are angry with the powers-that-be in New Delhi for their negative attitude towards them, as also for overlooking their unflinching faith in the Indian Constitutional framework.

It was expected that the Kashmiri leadership and commentators who vouch for greater autonomy, self-rule and limited accession of the state to India would appreciate the report and hail the interlocutors. The expectation stemmed from what the report suggested for Kashmir Valley.
The report, inter-alia, suggested (1) a review of all the central laws and institutions extended to the state after 1952, (2) limited the jurisdiction of New Delhi over Kashmir only to matters concerning internal and external security, (3) asked the Union Government to make Article 370 a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution, (4) withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act, (5) release of all rebels from jails and withdrawal of cases filed against them and against the stone-pelters, (6) directed the Indian Parliament and the Union President to refrain from bringing Jammu & Kashmir under the purview of central laws or from issuing Presidential orders, (7) revival of the nomenclatures of Sadar-e-Riyasat and Wazir-e-Azam, (8) appointment of a local person as governor of the state, and (9) preservation of the “dual status” of the state in the Union.
But the Kashmiri leaders and commentators did not appreciate the report. Rather, they condemned the interlocutors, saying they had failed to live up to their expectations. This is understandable.
The Kashmiri leadership and commentators were extremely disturbed over the idea of establishing three Regional Councils in the State, despite the fact that the interlocutors’ report clearly stated that J&K needed to be maintained as a single political unit. The ruling National Conference, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, and almost all Kashmiri commentators, took no time ganging up against the interlocutors on their Regional Councils’ formulation.
The upshot their argument was that “while disfavoring any change in the State’s present status within Indian Union, the ‘contentious’ recommendation of the Interlocutors proposing creation of three separate regional councils for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh  with equal constitutional status - legislative, executive and financial powers -  is set to revive the touchy ‘trifurcation’ debate in the state”.
Another united lament was that under the new proposition, “the central structure of governance would lose its powers in key legislative and financial matters as the same shall be delegated to the regional councils”.
They further opposed the section of the report which proposed that Ladakh would no longer be part of the Valley administratively, and will have a separate provincial status. In other words, they opposed the idea on the ground that the suggestion of regional councils, if accepted and given an effect to, would lead to the state’s “disintegration” and end the over 65-year-old Kashmiri domination over the State’s polity and economy – something the Kashmiri leaders abhor. For in the establishment of regional councils, they perceive an end to Kashmiri imperialism.
The moral of the story is that the Kashmiri (Muslim) leadership not only wants a dispensation outside the Indian Constitution, but also wants Jammu and Ladakh to continue to groan under the Kashmiri yoke indefinitely. This approach will not do. They cannot impose their regressive and pernicious will on an unwilling Jammu and Ladakh. The reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir State is imperative, and the sooner the valley leaders realize it the better.
The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research
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