How has the government responded to the report released by the delegation you led to Kashmir?
It was not a delegation, just a group of concerned citizens. There were five of us. Our first visit took place in the third week of October and we met a lot of people in Srinagar during three days. Then, in the second week of December, we went back to Kashmir. This time we travelled around, we went to Budgam, to Shopian, to Anantnag, to Baramulla, and met people. We have submitted two reports. Our findings have been reported widely by the press, especially in Kashmir. This was followed by some statements that we issued from time to time. The group was expanded at one time to cover about 25 eminent citizens, who have issued a statement on the situation.
What was the government response?
As far as the government is concerned, we are still waiting for a response. They need not respond to us, but they should respond to the situation. We would say they have responded to the situation, if they abide by the promises they themselves have made in the agenda of alliance between the PDP and the BJP, which is now 25 months old.
Any response from the prime minister?
I left a request for a meeting, but unfortunately there has been no response.
You suggested an interlocutor for conducting a dialogue.
It brings me back to the point I was making. If you look at the agenda of alliance, the very first thought in it is that we need a reconciliation in J&K. How the alliance will go about it – they refer to the period when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister and talk admiringly about his approach to Jammu and Kashmir, of “insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and jamhooriyat” — that is exactly quoted in the agenda. They say we will follow the same path. Then they mention that during Vajpayee’s time, the government reached out to all stakeholders; the Hurriyat is specifically mentioned. And they have promised they would do the same things… When we went to Srinagar, we met a large number of people, including Hurriyat leaders, and we found that there were still takers for this approach… And, if they want to begin the dialogue process, the best thing for the government would be to appoint an interlocutor with full authority to go there and talk on its behalf.
That agenda also talked of talks within and across the Line of Control.
Now the LoC situation and the across-the-LOC situation, even according to me, is not very conducive to talks. But I would like to make a point here that there are issues between the Government of India, the government of J&K and the people of J&K. Therefore, even if we are not talking to people across the LOC, nothing prevents us from talking to our own people in J&K because they have issues with us. So, we will begin talks with them and then at some later stage, we can see how the third party, Pakistan, can be involved. I am not for the time being suggesting that we would be simultaneously talking to Pakistan. That can wait…
Should that dialogue include Pandits too?
Of course. When I am talking of stakeholders, there are various stakeholders. There are business and economic interests, there are political interests, parties are there, there is the Hurriyat. Then, there is the youth now, which is playing an increasingly important role. Then we have the minorities – the Pandits, the Sikhs, the Shias. We have various regions like Jammu and Ladakh. So, when we are talking of stakeholders we have to clearly identify all these stakeholders and then talk to them.
You had predicted that something of a much higher magnitude may happen in April.
We were told during our first visit that before the events following the killing of Burhan Wani, people were already talking of apprehensions of something bad happening in summer. People during both our visits were telling us that something terrible might happen. These are only rumours floating in the air. But, the situation in the Valley is so fragile that any little thing can trigger any kind of protest, including a violent protest. We have seen it recently, the byelection led to the killing of eight people. We have seen how an isolated incident in a college in Pulwana led to a student agitation all over the Valley.
What do you make of a Lok Sabha byelection boycotted by a large number of voters?
I personally feel that these byelections have done no good to the image of our democracy. And I am happy that the Anantnag byelection has been postponed. I request the Election Commission to seriously consult the Home Ministry and the state government before finalising the dates. Such a low turnout can enable us to elect somebody, but does not carry conviction.
There is a minister in the state government who said you should shoot stone pelters.
I don’t agree with that approach. I am very clear in my mind after talking to all the people that everybody regards J&K to be a political problem. It is very unfair to the Army and the security forces to expect them to solve a political problem. The security forces can take care of law and order, but they can not take care of the political problem. The political problem can be sorted out only through a dialogue process. Therefore, we are pleading and reiterating the need for a dialogue. I think that approach to treat the problem in J&K, particularly the Valley, as a law and order
problem is a fundamental error of judgment. It is a political problem…
You have said that the present dispensation looks at J&K as a security issue through the RSS perspective.
Actually, it is Ram Madhav, who is now in the BJP but belongs to the RSS, who is considered to be the author of that agenda. One of the promises in the agenda is that the present constitutional position of J&K, which is clearly referring to Article 370, will be safeguarded. So, that flies in the face of whatever the BJP has been saying. That is a very good document, but it is not being acted upon. It is a BJP document, not a Government of India document. Who signed on behalf of BJP? It was Ram Madhav and Amit Shah. It is a political document between two political parties and the commitment is on behalf of the BJP. The government is supposed to act upon it.
Hadn’t you also said the road to Srinagar passes via Islamabad?
I didn’t say that. I said some people in the government perhaps believe that the road from Delhi to Srinagar goes via Islamabad. I dismiss that theory. I believe that the road goes straight through the Banihal bypass to Srinagar. We should be dealing directly with people in the Valley and indeed the whole of J&K, instead of depending on Pakistan.
Any plan for a fresh initiative?
Not at the moment. We are discussing it among ourselves. I am generally in touch with our friends in the Valley. We are keeping our fingers crossed. Hopefully, the government would respond to the situation in a statesman-like manner, like Vajpayee did, follow the line that Vajpayee followed, which is what they had promised.
Where does a dialogue process leave Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti?
She will have to be involved because when talks do start, the role of the government of J-K will also be very important. It will have to be a two-track approach. One is solving the political problem and [in] the other are many other issues of governance, where the involvement of the government would be very important. So, both governments will have to be involved. But, it is the Government of India which has to take the decision to start the dialogue. From press reports, I understand that whenever Mehbooba Mufti has met the prime minister, she has urged him to start the dialogue as promised. She is also with us on the question of starting a dialogue.