Interview with Interlocutor, Jammu & Kashmir
Of the 30 Muslim boys and girls who successfully passed the civil services examination, at least 10 are from Jammu and Kashmir. With the younger generation responding, what more steps are needed?
An increased success rate of participation of educated youth in the Indian civil services indicates a large number of boys and girls is keen to join the mainstream development process. This augurs well for ensuring lasting peace and normalcy in the state. The Centre and state governments should, therefore, provide remedial coaching and guidance to enhance their competitiveness. They should provide reservation of seats in the public sector jobs to compensate for loss of education and employment opportunities during the turmoil of the last two decades.
The interlocutors have suggested establishing a Judicial Commission to investigate unmarked graves and identify missing or disappeared persons. Do you think allegations against security forces will be probed? The state government has not withdrawn cases against stone pelters and political prisoners.
There is a deep sense of victimhood among the people. We have to find ways to redress grievances of people affected by insurgency and militancy. One possible way of assuaging their feelings is to objectively determine the extent to which people have suffered and by which officials or authorities, so that culprits are suitably punished. Without assuring justice in the matter of human rights violations, we cannot win hearts of the people. I see no reason as to why wrongdoers in the army and other security forces should not be penalised.
With regard to stone pelters, they are active everywhere in our country. But, it is Jammu and Kashmir, which invokes draconian laws, namely the Public Safety Act (PSA), to suppress agitation against poor governance. The existence of this Act is a blot on our vibrant democracy and it must be repealed.
You have suggested in the interlocutors’ report that the Union government should initiate a dialogue process with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. But the party had refused to meet the three interlocutors. Why will it respond to the government?
On earlier occasions, the Central government and Hurriyat were engaged in the dialogue process at the prime ministerial level. In my view, Hurriyat wants to resume the dialogue from the point where it got terminated. The stakeholders ought to adopt a flexible approach for the progress of a credible dialogue on issues like alleged erosion of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, self-determination under UN resolution and reduction of armed forces in residential areas.
We have had a fruitful meeting with former Hurriyat Chairman Abbas Ansari, who stressed on the need to pursue the dialogue process. Personally, I have had telephonic conversations with some important members of the party. Had we given more time to continue and pursue our mission, I am sure we would have reached everyone who matters in resolving these issues. Unfortunately, our mission was abruptly cut short, though there was no time limit given at the time of our appointment.
Is there any space for laws such as PSA and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) when the report wants greater power for panchayats in the state?
No, not really. In view of an overwhelming response of people to the Parliamentary, Assembly and Panchayat elections held in the state, these harsh and draconian laws are seen acting as a crutch for lame governments.
The report has several recommendations, but it is not mandatory for the Union government to accept these. With stiff opposition from some political parties, how will the government accept the recommendations?
The government may not accept the recommendations of the interlocutors. But it must be remembered that the report has been prepared on the basis of wide consultations from grassroot levels. Earlier, no attempt was made to reach out to the common man in remote areas to ascertain whether they wish to go to Pakistan or stay in India. Seeing the developments in Pakistan, no one wants to go there.
I don’t agree there is stiff opposition from certain parties to the interlocutors’ report. A non-secular political party, which favours abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, has rejected the report. If it were a feasible proposition to scrap this provision, why did they not attempt to do it during six years of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) rule? The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) may differ on our recommendations relating to political issues, but what about social, cultural and economic issues that are critical for the welfare of the masses.
The separatist groups, who illegally pursue secessionist agenda and ask for azadi, have rejected the report on the ground that it does not support self-determination. In fact, the report reflects the views of a silent majority.
Interlocutors have suggested that substantial changes are needed in the Constitution of Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir and opportunities of cross-LOC (line of control) cooperation should be promoted. Why do you think our neighbour will agree to such changes?
The LOC trade has more than doubled in the last one year. Both India and Pakistan desire to promote people-to-people contact as well as economic trade. Countries with sound economic and business relations do not indulge in unfriendly activities.
You have talked about greater executive and financial autonomy to panchayats in the state. How will this bring lasting peace and change?
Empowerment of panchayats is the key to good governance, as most of socio-economic programmes of the Central and state governments are conceived, planned and executed by the local bodies like panchayats. The local bodies should, therefore, be provided entrepreneurial training for skills development and financial resources.
What steps are needed to make Kashmiri pandits return to the state? How will the state government ensure they are not targeted?
The return of Kashmiri pandits to their ancestral homes cannot be assured. First, law and order situation in certain areas of the valley continues to be fragile. It may remain the same till the Kashmir issue is fully resolved. Second, social and economic infrastructure is not adequate compared with the rest of the country, to attract the youth to settle in the valley and realise their genuine aspirations of career and professional mobility. Third, there are forces that are opposed to selective policies for rehabilitation of Kashmiri pandits or surrendered militants, as these are considered to be discriminatory.
The fact that most Kashmiri pandits have refused to accept job offers of the state is the testimony of least preference of Kashmiri pandits to settle in the state. Likewise, the subsidy provided under PM’s reconstruction plan for construction of houses in the state has also not been fully availed.
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