SEEMA MUSTAFA | 25 OCTOBER, 2017
Alice in Wonderland, Sharma in Kashmir
NEW DELHI: Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
There is a sense of deja vu. In Jammu and Kashmir. The Chief Minister embraces the Centre’s offer of talks, the Opposition leader does the same with the proviso ‘at least they have realised that force does not work’, the separatists remain silent waiting to be approached, the common Kashmiri is indifferent, and the people of Jammu and Kashmir quibble, and even war, over the social media about the pros and cons of the move.
And no one has really questioned what the government of India seeks to achieve by appointing a former Intelligence Bureau Director Dineshwar Sharma as the key interlocutor to open talks with “all stakeholders” as he has declared, again predictably so. He is handling talks with some of the insurgent groups in the North East, but this is completely different from what his mandate is, or at least should be, in Jammu and Kashmir. In the North East the talks are with specific groups, in Jammu and Kashmir the expectation is that he will preside over a political dialogue that will explore the resolution of the issue in keeping with the aspirations of the people.
Well that has been the phrase used by interlocutors in the past. The common wisdom applied to the border state on the west, with the level of interlocutors steadily dropping from former Minister KC Pant to IB’s Sharma now. Clearly along the way the question of Kashmir has been moved out of the political domain to that of intelligence and law and order, a message that might have been lost in the current translation but is really written in bold red letters.
The interlocutor has to be married to the current approach and politics of the ruling dispensation. Just as the three interlocutors appointed by the Congress government --Radha Kumar, late Dileep Padgaonkar, MM Ansari--reflected the thrust of policy then that was basically to use them as diversionary tactics, buy time, and do nothing. All three objectives were achieved with the government brandishing the team like the proverbial fig leaf, insisting it was concerned and studying the report that remained consigned to waste. The Congress government did like to demonstrate its commitment to civil rights, and hence the three eminent persons fitted the bill of ‘liberal experts.’
The BJP has no such compunctions. The policy has been clearly defined over the past three years. Amidst the pellet guns and the braid chopping this can be summarised into the following points:
Special status for Jammu and Kashmir is very temporary; that includes Article 370, demography, and other such issues;
So this interlocutor will have to work within the set framework. In three years, the parameters have been defined. Kashmiris in the Valley might have resisted, but as the braid chopping hysteria generated has demonstrated, it is a fragmented society that can be controlled through diversionary tactics as well. Sharma is a good choice, as he comes from the Intelligence Bureau that is deeply entrenched in the Valley and will work to the above agenda without question. His loyalties lie with New Delhi and not the people, and given his record, he will carry out instructions from the Prime Minister's Office without demur.
Sharma’s appointment really kills two birds with one stone. Mufti and Abdullah both can be happy that ‘talks’ have begun; while the Centre has the advantage of a dispensable and loyal official in place for overt talks that are sometimes are of as much strategic importance as covert operations.
Who will he speak with? He has said “Let me make it clear that peace is the priority and for that my doors will be open to everyone.” And even those who are critical of the appointment, are secretly relieved as it had begun to seem that New Delhi will not give the reprieve generally associated with dialogue. As the CM said “People are caught between so many guns right now & they want to come out of. It is a good initiative & should be a success.”
Really? Perhaps, Lewis Carroll said it best in Alice in Wonderland : “I don't think..." then you shouldn't talk, said the Hatter.”