With prominent Congress leaders reluctant to act as a bridge between Delhi and Srinagar, the government on Wednesday went ahead to appoint a three-member group of interlocutors to hold a “sustained uninterrupted dialogue” with all shades of opinion in J&K including the separatists.
The group would comprise eminent journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, Central Information Commissioner Prof. MM Ansari and Prof. Radha Kumar of the think-tank, Delhi Policy Group, Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced on Wednesday.
A home ministry order said Padgaonkar would chair meetings of the panel. But there was no reference to who would head the group.
Besides Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh, the government had sounded out three senior Congress leaders including Ministers of State Prithviraj Chavan and Salman Khurshid to take on this responsibility. “But they indicated their reluctance to take up the assignment,” said a government source, hinting that the continuing search for a political face for the group would focus on senior Congress leaders who were not in active politics.
Padgaonkar said the absence of politicians in the group would give them a distinct advantage as they would not be bound by party ideology and have much more latitude.
But the Kashmiri separatists weren’t impressed.
“It’s a non-serious effort. We thought engagement will be at the highest level… That India must have become sensitive about the Kashmir problem by now,” moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said he wouldn’t talk to any group of interlocutors.
Padgaonkar acknowledged the enormity of the task ahead. “It is going to be a long haul and complicated task,” he said, pointing that the group would visit the state with “an open mind and a big heart” to be receptive to different ideas and have the heart to understand a different point of view.
The group has been told to stay in the state for at least a week every month and could make their first visit by this month-end.
Government sources said the group was expected to indicate the way forward and the confidence building measures that Delhi needed to take.
This is the second effort by the UPA to open a channel of communication with separatists in the last one year. The first ended last year when Pakistan-based groups attacked a moderate leader. “It was probably too quiet,” a source said. Mediators for J&K