Dineshwar Sharma, the Centre’s representative in Jammu and Kashmir, is credited with advocating the amnesty programme for Kashmiri youth booked for the first time in stone-pelting and protest cases and successfully persuading the Centre to announce ceasefire during Ramzan. In a recent interview with The Indian Express, Sharma remained silent on “contentious aspects” of his assignment and instead talked about his understanding of the current situation and his challenges as the Centre’s representative, both in Srinagar and New Delhi. Excerpts:
The biggest challenge in Kashmir today is to calm down sentiments of the people, particularly the youth. The other issues which need priority attention are how to prevent local youth from joining militancy, how to ensure return of those youth who have already joined, to convince the youth that violence will not bring solution to any problem but only add to miseries for the people, and how to restore harmony between people of different communities living in the three regions of J&K.
As far as the sentiment is concerned, it can be addressed only if we embrace the people with an open heart about which our Prime Minister and Home Minister have already talked. A lot of distrust has developed between people from Kashmir and the people of the rest of the country. This distrust will gradually go only through physical interaction. More Kashmiri people, including youth, should visit other parts of the country and they should be given love and affection so that they get a feeling of belonging to the nation. Similarly, more people from rest of the country should visit J&K, see its natural beauty, and enjoy affection and hospitality of the local people.
On genesis of the dispute
There are historical facts about Kashmir dispute, nobody can deny that. But the main cause of unrest today is that over the years, more negative kind of influences have gone into the minds of youth; maybe this has come from Internet, social media, the way the politics is played, the way the people keep publicly airing their views, I think that has affected.
On way forward
Unless we are able to address the sentiment and bring down the violence, it will be difficult to think about any political dialogue, any political solution.
I fully agree it is a chicken and egg situation – whether the situation needs to calm to begin a political dialogue or the start of a political dialogue would help calm the situation. But I think we need to curtail the anger, bring down the violence first.
When I talk to the younger generation there, often they confront me with so many questions and even talk about Azaadi… I give them one reply. I say somehow over the years a sense of mistrust has developed between our children in Kashmir and the people of rest of the country. Unless we are able to address that mistrust… this idea of Azaadi will continue. We should make them feel that they are our own children and we are concerned about them.
Any rational discussion will be possible when we are able to first address the sentiment of the people…right now they are emotionally surcharged…there will only be emotions, anger and no reason. Like in my family, if my son is angry over something, unless I calm down his anger, he will not be able to take a correct decision… So first, anger has to be addressed, then let us see what can be a possibility which is acceptable to everybody.
Mistrust between the people of Kashmir and people of the rest of the country can improve if more and more people from J&K, especially youth, come out and interact with people of the rest of the country and in the same manner more and more people from outside visit Kashmir, meet people. This trust can only come by physical interaction and not by reading a story about Kashmir or what is coming out in the media…
I have been meeting people… they start reminding me about various historical facts. I tell them we will discuss more on this, historical facts have to be discussed. There have been mistakes on all sides. But we cannot just keep discussing history. We have to think what is the way forward.
The harsh view alone isn’t going to solve the problem… When we talk about addressing the sentiment, we have to take a holistic approach… security will be one element of that holistic approach. One most important thing I feel is large-scale engagement of youth and convincing them that street violence and militancy is not going to solve the problem…
On political engagement
Situation there is very complex. Anger has gone deep into the hearts of the people. We have to deal with that. It is an old problem…lot of international attention, neighbouring country is also involved… you cannot expect a solution within a few months or a year. Even if a political dialogue starts, you cannot expect any immediate headway.”
On his priorities
My priority for this year is if I can talk to the youth and students and bring some sort of comparative peace, improve tourist flow – something like laying a foundation stone from where we can start further dialogue. I have all the support from the government. But if violence continues, it ties my hands. Then there will be people who will ask why are we doing all this – like amnesty programme for youth involved in stone-pelting. If violence continues, such decisions will be questioned.
On interactions in Jammu and Ladakh
There, the sentiment is different. In Ladakh, people are more concerned about lack of development. Of course, they have their old demand of a Union territory tag. It’s the same in Jammu. Lot of efforts are required to achieve an understanding between people of Jammu and people of Kashmir.
“I have already said that I am open to talking to everybody. I am ready to do everything, talk to anybody who will help to calm down the situation and help to bring some peace to the Valley and help in finding some solution for Kashmir. But let me repeat again, the main cause of the violence in Kashmir today is the sentiment of the youth.”
On youth joining militancy?
“Youth joining militancy is not a healthy situation. It is a very sad situation and our efforts have to be that nobody, no more youth joins militancy. I think arrest of local militants, the local youth who have joined militancy, should be attempted. That should be the priority. Arrest or persuading them to return home.”
On his plans
I will write a report – there have been hundreds of commissions, preparing wonderful reports…nobody reads, this is a fact. My approach is that unless I intervene and help address the issue, the report won’t help.