The Centre’s Special Representative Dineshwar Sharma, a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, made his first visit to Jammu and Kashmir last week, and held talks with nearly 85 delegations. The appointment of Sharma, a man with vast experience in Kashmir, comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in the summer of 2016, and apprehensions over the outcome of ongoing challenges to the state’s autonomy in the Supreme Court.
Sharma, who is mandated to “initiate and carry forward a dialogue with the elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in the State of Jammu and Kashmir”, follows in the footsteps of several earlier committees and interlocutors appointed by the Centre since 2001. These committees made a series of recommendations, most of which did not, however, yield significant results. Sharma has a higher profile than the earlier interlocutors in that he has the rank of cabinet secretary, and his appointment has been ratified by the President.
K C Pant Committee, 2001
In May 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government announced the appointment of K C Pant, former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, as its interlocutor on Kashmir, with the brief of talking to various groups in the Valley and recommending ways to ease tensions between the Centre and the state. Months after the appointment, 39 people were killed after fidayeen attackers belonging to the Jaish-e-Muhammad rammed an explosives laden vehicle into the gate of the state Assembly in Srinagar.
At the time of Pant’s appointment, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference government was in power in the state, and former R&AW chief Girish Chandra Saxena was Governor. Pant’s mandate was limited, and there was no timeframe for him to submit his report, which meant the deliberations went on for long. In a written reply to Parliament, then MoS (Home) Ch Vidyasagar Rao said, “Pant has been nominated to hold political dialogue with all sections of peaceloving people of J&K including those who are outside it, in order to promote a vigorous movement towards establishment of peace and tranquility. Though a broad agenda, ‘peace and how it may be attained’, and all aspects bearing on this theme has been given, no definite timeframe has been prescribed.”
Pant made his first visit to J&K from May 28 to June 2, 2001. He had interactions with various individuals and representatives of political parties, NGOs, the local media, human right bodies, and religious heads. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) was cold to the Centre’s outreach.
Pant recommended broader autonomy for J&K, largely on the lines of the National Conference. He noted that support of the local people was crucial, and security forces should win the confidence of the people by exercising utmost restraint while launching search and combing operations. He also said that increased pressure from human rights organisations on the Special Operations Group of the state police had led to a loss of initiative, and observed that the flow of actionable intelligence was sluggish. Pant suggested an urgent ramping up of both intelligence and security operations in the Valley.
Arun Jaitley, 2002; Ram Jethmalani, 2002
A year later, the Vajpayee government tasked another committee, led by Law Minister Arun Jaitley, with the job. Its mandate was to explore the scope for “greater exclusivity” for Jammu and Kashmir, but the specifics were unclear. In the same year, an unofficial Kashmir Committee, headed by Jaitley’s predecessor in the Law Ministry, Ram Jethmalani, held several rounds of talks with separatists to try to persuade them to join the J&K Assembly elections of 2002. The Jethmalani committee recommended that the elections be postponed to give the separatists time, and that polling be conducted under Governor’s Rule. The Centre rejected the recommendations, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) formed a coalition government with the Congress with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as Chief Minister.
Both these committees discussed the role of Pakistan in the Valley, and concluded that it was aiding, abetting and financing terrorist activities in the state, and pushing in well equipped and trained mercenaries to carry out so-called jihad against India.
N N Vohra, 2003
A seasoned bureaucrat, Vohra, the current Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, held discussions with a wide range of groups in Kashmir and submitted his report to Home Minister L K Advani. On his suggestion, Advani hosted a Hurriyat delegation in New Delhi in January 2004. The talks, attended by the Hurriyat’s moderate faction, remained inconclusive.
On the scope of the committee, Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Harin Pathak, told Parliament in a written reply that Vohra had been appointed “to initiate and carry forward a dialogue with the elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in the state… and not with any specific individual or organisation…”
Based on Vohra’s recommendation, the government announced a three-pronged strategy in J&K: strengthening border management, with proactive action against terrorists; accelerating economic development; and pursuing sustained dialogue with all groups and shades of opinion in consultation with the state government.
The government held two rounds of talks with the Hurriyat in January 2004 and March 2004. But the NDA lost the elections in May 2004, and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress came to power.
Under UPA I, 2004-09
On September 5, 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met a Hurriyat delegation led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The Hurriyat agreed to call off strikes and bandhs in the Valley, and shun all forms of violence at all levels to carry forward the dialogue process in which all regions and all shades of political opinion in the state could be involved. A Joint Screening Committee was set up in Srinagar on October 3, 2005, which reviewed the cases of persons under detention under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978. The Committee recommended the release of 44 detained individuals.
Subsequently, on January 14, 2006, Prime Minister Singh held a meeting with a six-member delegation led by People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone. Singh also met with another delegation led by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik on February 17 that year.
In February 2006, Singh announced a Round Table Conference, which was welcomed by all Kashmiri mainstream political parties. The roundtable on Centre-state relations, led by Justice Saghir Ahmed, a former Chief Justice of J&K High Court, cited representations on autonomy and self-rule, but did not spell out its recommendations. It did not elicit a clear response from the government.
Dileep Padgaonkar, M M Ansari and Radha Kumar, 2010
Following the summer of unrest in 2010, when more than 100 civilians were killed, an all-party parliamentary delegation visited Jammu & Kashmir between September 20 and 22. The following month, the UPA II government appointed a committee of three members — journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, former Information Commissioner M M Ansari, and Delhi Policy Group trustee Radha Kumar — to hold wide-ranging discussions with all sections of opinion in J&K in order to identify the political contours of a solution and the roadmap towards it. The group, which was asked to spend about a week every month in the state, interacted with more than 700 delegations and organised three Round Table Conferences. Its report was submitted to Home Minister P Chidambaram in October 2011, and was made public in May 2012. Among the committee’s suggestions:
– Set up a constitutional committee to review all central Acts that have been extended to J&K since 1952. The committee should review whether, and to what extent, the application of central Acts to J&K has led to an erosion of the state’s special status, and come out with its findings within six months.
– The word “temporary” in Article 370 should be replaced with “special”, which has been used for states such as Assam, Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh. Central laws shall only be made applicable to the state if they relate to the country’s security or a vital economic interest, especially in the areas of energy and water resources.
– Instead of the current practice of the President appointing the Governor, the group recommended that the state government shall give three names for consideration of the President, even though the appointment shall ultimately be made by the President.
– Separate Regional Councils should be created for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and certain legislative, executive and financial powers should be devolved to them. The subjects that could be transferred to the Regional Councils include prison reforms, public health, roads and bridges, and fisheries.
– An expert committee should be constituted to review the state’s financial needs.
– Industrial establishments and other buildings occupied by security officers should be vacated.
– A financial package of incentives on the pattern of the Northeast should be given to the state. Hilly, remote areas should be declared as special development zones.
– Restrictions on the Internet and mobile phones should be reviewed.
– “Stone pelters” and political prisoners against whom no serious charges have been framed should be released. There should an amendment and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990 and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978.
– The state policy should provide for the return of Kashmiri Pandits. A judicial commission to supervise the identification of bodies buried in the unmarked graves should be established.
Not much headway was made with the recommendations of the committee. Both the Centre and the state had reservations, and the intiative, though launched with much enthusiasm, largely fizzled out.