Six months since their appointment by the Centre as interlocutors in Jammu & Kashmir, the three-member team led by journalist Dileep Padgaonkar has achieved nothing tangible except recommending additional powers to the state so that it could assert its ‘independent character’. So far, all the main separatist leaders have refused to meet, let alone get involved in any kind of talks, with the interlocutors. But now, others who have been involved in Kashmir talks in one way or another have decided to rediscover themselves. Prominent among them is senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani who is all set to revive the Kashmir committee set up ten years ago by the BJP-led NDA Government to engage in dialogue with Kashmiri separatists. But that time, differences had emerged between Jethmalani and the other two members of the committee, journalists MJ Akbar and Padgaonkar (who heads the interlocutors’ team now). Undeterred by this experience, Jethmalani has roped in members of civil society who include, apart from Akbar, senior counsel Shanti Bhushan and academic Madhu Kishwar.
The committee will travel to Kashmir for five days beginning 5 May, and hopes to achieve what the Government-appointed interlocutors could not: engage separatists. It is yet not clear whether the committee has any sort of blessings from New Delhi, but the committee members have clarified that they do not intend to confront the existing interlocutors in any way.
Kishwar says the committee did extraordinary work last year in the form of a conference in Delhi where both mainstream and separatist elements agreed to a self-rule formula devised by the political party PDP (which advocates demilitarisation and economic integration of Kashmir with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). “We couldn’t encash these gains, but our channels of communication with Kashmir are open,” she says.
It seems they may have better luck than the Centre’s interlocutors, as at least two prominent separatist leaders, Shabir Shah and Abdul Ghani Bhat, have agreed to engage with the committee. Kishwar says that if the interlocutors have not been able to establish contact with some people, the Kashmir committee would be glad to facilitate this. She also says that unlike the interlocutors, the committee would not be holding durbars. She also hinted at involving mainstream politicians like Nitish Kumar later in dialogue, people with credibility in the Valley.
All initiatives on Kashmir are welcome, but, so far they have not been able to achieve much. As a Kashmiri activist tweeted recently: ‘Even if they make Geelani [hawk separatist leader] the Chief Minister, nothing is going to change in Kashmir.’