It is exactly a year since the Home Ministry announced the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma, a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) director, as special representative for dialogue in Jammu & Kashmir. In the nearly three decades of insurgency including the recent phenomenon of stone-pelting in Kashmir, many central governments have sent interlocutors, some of them appointed behind the scenes and others announced publicly; these moves have seen varying degrees of effectiveness. Sharma’s appointment was significant because it marked the first time that the current NDA government had acknowledged the need for a political solution in Kashmir; the move was seen as a departure from the Centre’s tough policy on Kashmir to “talks with all”.
Today, however, the situation on the ground is different from what it was on October 23, 2017, when Sharma’s appointment was announced. The PDP-BJP coalition has snapped, and the state is under Governor’s rule, with Satya Pal Malik appointed as Governor. A look at how Sharma’s role has played out during his one year as special representative:
Dialogue & ceasefire
Sharma is a 1979-batch Kerala Cadre IPS officer who has served in J&K, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur, and as additional director and special director in the Intelligence Bureau. For his newest Kashmir role, Sharma was given a rank equivalent to Cabinet secretary. Over the last 12 months, it was only during the first 8 months that he could actively pursue dialogue with the stakeholders, spread over about a dozen visits. The coalition came to an end before Sharma could bring separatists or Hurriyat to the talks table.
It was during his tenure that the Centre announced amnesty for first-time stone pelters and declared a ceasefire during Ramzan. In May 2017, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had cracked down on first-rung and second-rung separatist leaders, but in the end, this could not extend to the topmost leadership. The amnesty and ceasefire, on the other hand, made a visible impact on the ground. As per official records, during Ramzan (May 17-June 17, 2018), 117 incidents of stone-pelting were reported, compared to 219 during April 15-May 16, 2018. Eventually, the security establishment argued that releasing stone-pelters was not the right decision, and the ceasefire was withdrawn after Ramzan. These are seen as setbacks that restricted Sharma’s role.
Recently, municipal polls in the state proved to be a farcical exercise in the Valley, with a 4% turnout (overall, the state witnessed a 35.1% turnout). As a former sleuth, Sharma is said to have sensed the mood and expressed views against holding municipal and panchayat polls because a low turnout would suit Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir.
Impact or not
Coinciding with the completion of Sharma’s one year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was in Jammu and Kashmir to review the security situation ahead of the panchayat elections. The special representative was not present.
Views on Sharma’s role differ. North Block maintains that Sharma has no fixed tenure and there has been incremental progress in his efforts to talk with separatists. The Joint Resistance Leadership, a conglomerate of separatist groups in Kashmir, had termed Sharma appointment as a “mere tactic”.
“If Dineshwar had an open mandate, the impact would have been different,” said A S Dulat, former R&AW chief and adviser to then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Kashmir. “But his (Sharma’s) mandate was curtailed time and again which derailed the entire process. But I still think he should continue as he is a right man for the right job who understands and empathises with Kashmiris,” Dulat told The Indian Express Tuesday.
In a statement earlier, Sharma had said sentiments have to be addressed and the level of violence in the Valley has to be brought down before any political dialogue can be initiated. Other issues that need priority attention, he said, are “how to prevent local youth from joining militancy; how to ensure the return of youth who have already joined; convince the youth that violence and gun will not bring solution to any problem but will only add to the miseries.; and, how to restore harmony between people of different communities living in all three regions of J&K”.
“As far as the sentiment in Kashmir is concerned, it can be addressed only if we embrace people with an open heart, about which our Prime Minister and Home Minister have already talked. More Kashmiri people, including youth, should visit other parts of the country and they should be shown the same love and affection so that they get a feeling of belonging to the nation. Similarly, more people from the rest of the country should visit J&K, see its natural beauty, and enjoy the affection and hospitality of the local people,” he had said.
On Sharma’s future as Kashmir’s interlocutor, officials believe that the Centre’s unambiguous policy on Kashmir could be his biggest challenge. In 2010, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA had appointed a three-member group of interlocutors led by journalist Dilip Padgaonkar. A year later, the group submitted a report including review of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and laws pertaining to detention of people for years on suspicion. These are yet to be implemented.