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Kashmir talk show?

Not having politicians as interlocutors for Kashmir is not the real issue. The question is one of laying down workable terms of reference.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2010 00:59 IST
Toufiq Rashid

"The political input is missing in the names (of the Kashmir interlocutors) approved," said Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, the main opposition party in Jammu and Kashmir.

Last month when the Centre announced it would appoint interlocutors as part of its eight-point package for the Valley, there was all-round optimism.

But after the Centre gave out the names of journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, academic Radha Kumar and Information Commissioner M.M Ansari for the job of finding a meeting ground with all political and social groups in Kashmir, the news seemed to be a dampener because none of the three was a heavyweight politician or a retired senior bureaucrat.

Mehbooba Mufti added: "It has nothing to do with their capabilities but there should have been some reflection of the all-party delegation (which visited Kashmir last month as a confidence-building measure)." The fact that big names such as Home Minister P. Chidambaram and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri were part of the all-party delegation gave "weight" to the process, she said.

There was a great deal of speculation as to who the interlocutors would be. Yechuri’s name was doing the rounds. Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who was an IAS officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, was thought to be another possible candidate.

The absence of a known political face has given the impression the interlocutor trio lacked the "mandate" needed to take forward the political process in the Valley.

Though the ruling National Conference is silent on the issue, the party is not happy with the choice of the people. Highly-placed sources in the party said they had recommended former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s name. "When suggestions were sought from the party, party chief Farooq Abdullah, in consultation with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, suggested Somnath Chatterjee’s name," said a National Conference leader who did not want to be named. "Chatterjee has always risen above party politics and has put the national interest first," the leader added.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress President Saifuddin Soz neither criticised nor defended the decision. "I don't want to dabble in things that are beyond me," Soz said.

Separatists are, predictably, disillusioned.

"New Delhi is not serious, the effort is a mere eyewash," hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani told Hindustan Times.

"After our party (All Parties Hurriyat Conference) gave a five-point demand charter, we thought New Delhi would act. The ball was in their court."

Some criticism centred round the home ministry.

"The home minister chose to deal with Kashmir more like a bureaucrat than a politician. One needs some sensitivity to deal with an issue like Kashmir," a Kashmir expert said.

However, some do see merit in the Centre's decision. "How could a BJP or a Congress leader have been different from what his or her party stands for," said a source close to the chief minister. He said it was a good decision not to have a politician. "The interlocutors are fair and objective. Besides, they will just facilitate the process and not have any decisive role."

In 2003, the NDA government appointed the current J&K governor, N.N. Vohra, as its interlocutor. Nothing much came of it. Having a "heavyweight" is not enough if workable terms of reference are not laid down. In this respect the ball is very much in the Centre's court.