The Centre’s new interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, will head to the Valley on Monday on a five-day visit, his first since his appointment. On Saturday, Sharma held an hour-long meeting with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at her Akbar Road residence in Delhi. This was Sharma’s second meeting with Mufti ahead of his visit to the state as interlocutor.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Sharma said he was scheduled to travel to Srinagar on Monday, November 6, and from there to Jammu on November 9, and said would be back in Delhi on November 11. He also confirmed his meeting with the CM.
The J&K civil secretariat is opening in Jammu on Monday after the annual durbar move to the state’s winter capital. Senior Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader and state Public Works Minister, Nayeem Akhtar, was also present at Sharma’s meeting with Mufti.
When asked whether he had chalked out a plan for talks, Sharma said, “There is no plan, there can’t be a plan. As (Home Minister) Rajnath Singhji has clarified, it is going to be a long process,’’ he said. “I am going there to hear the views of the people, take suggestions from everybody. Let me meet people… only then will a clear picture emerge.” He said that “everybody understands that this isn’t a one-visit, one-meeting process, it is going to be long, drawn-out exercise”.
“This is my first visit and I will meet whoever wants to meet me. I will also assess the ground situation,’’ he said.
Sources reveal that Mufti, in her meeting with Sharma, told the interlocutor that this process “shouldn’t become yet another routine exercise”. Sources say the J&K government wants the interlocutor to send feelers to “those who aren’t with us” – the separatists – though the joint resistance leadership of separatists (combined Hurriyat and JKLF) has termed the Centre’s appointment of the interlocutor as a “mere tactic” and “failure of its military repression in Kashmir”.
Sources say Sharma’s ability to open talks with people in the separatist camp would be his biggest test. “At this point, it seems highly unlikely that the separatists will come forward,” a source in state government said. “We can’t offer talks to them (separatists) and simultaneously carry out raids and arrests. This is the time to pause and slow down security specific operations so that some conducive atmosphere (for talks) is created”. The sources also said the J&K government “favours a cooling down of atmosphere on the ground so that the focus shifts entirely to the dialogue process”.
During the Express Adda on Friday, CM Mufti said that to supplement the talks process, (the investigation and raids conducted by the) National Investigation Agency should take a backseat.
Sharma, a former IPS officer ( 1979 batch) of the Kerala cadre, was appointed as the Centre’s representative for J&K last month, more than two months after Prime Minister reached out to Kashmir from the ramparts of the Red Fort during his Independence Day speech, saying “Kashmir’s problems can be solved only by embracing its people, not with bullets or abuses”. Unlike his predecessors, Sharma has been given the rank of a Cabinet Secretary, thus making his dialogue mission an official initiative. In August, the Centre had assigned him to talk to Kuki organisations and the Manipur government.
Explaining the scope of Sharma’s outreach in Kashmir, the Home Minister had said that “Sharma will have full freedom to engage in talks with anyone he likes. The youth of Kashmir will be a special focus”. An official statement subsequently maintained that the interlocutor “will initiate sustained interaction and dialogue to understand the legitimate aspirations of wide cross-sections of society, particularly the youth in J&K, and communicate them to the State Government and the Centre”.