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Debating the Interlocutors’ Report on Jammu and Kashmir

Arpita Anant is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 04, 2012

    On October 13, 2010, during the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India had appointed an eminent Group of Interlocutors—Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari—to hold a sustained dialogue with all shades of opinion in the State and “identify the political contours of a solution and the roadmap towards it”. They submitted their report to the Government on October 12, 2011 and it was made public for an informed debate on May 24, 2012. The report was not meant to be a final statement; rather it was to be a beginning. Some commentaries on it have largely been critiques from known perspectives, and others have been complete dismissals. However, there is a case to be made for going beyond a simplistic dismissal of the Report and actually debating it. It is, after all, a document that has evolved from the opinions expressed by a sizable number of people in every part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. By any standard, 700 delegations, totalling nearly 6000 people, is too large a sample to be ignored.

    It is interesting to note that at the present point in time, there is a “broad consensus” within Jammu and Kashmir on: dialogue with those not in the mainstream, a special status for the state within the Indian Union, democratic rights, financial and administrative empowerment through local bodies, economic self-reliance of the State and improved cross-LoC contacts with structures of democratic governance in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Since opinions have been solicited from a wide range of people who are not usually given to writing opinion columns and/or public figures whose views on various subjects are widely known, the consensus itself must be respected, even if not all aspects of it may be palatable to all stakeholders. It is therefore likely that sentiments of ‘azadi’ exist; but it seems that across the State, there is no consensus on it. Similarly, it is also likely that some people may disapprove of any engagement with those not in the mainstream, but the consensus is for such a dialogue.

    There is much scope for imaginative thinking on the desirability, compatibility of goals and feasibility of the political, cultural and socio-economic components of the new compact as suggested by the Interlocutors.

    On desirability, for instance, consider the suggestion regarding making an amended form of Article 370 a permanent feature of the Constitution. After the State’s accession to the Indian Union and pending the vacation of aggression by Pakistan, both the leaders of the Union and the State have for decades had to improvise in order to administer the State. As years went by, layers of complexity were added and these improvisations made by successive leaders were bracketed as being good or bad, based on the political/ideological proclivities of various groups of people. At every stage, the credibility of the State’s leadership which diluted any provision of autonomy was questioned mainly in the Valley; this was true of the Central leadership as well. Given the consensus on special status within the Indian Union, it may therefore be worthwhile revisit this complex history and put on record the reasons as to why the changes had to be effected. Once this is done, a way may be found to make the acceptable special features permanent.

    On compatibility of goals, it is important that the “special status” should be in harmony with other points of consensus that have emerged. The special status, for instance, should not come in the way of creating vibrant institutions of local government, as these are the key to addressing the aspirations of people in all the regions and sub-regions. The on-going struggle of the civil society in the State for devolution of power to the panchayats is a case in point. Nearly two decades after the constitutional empowerment of local bodies in rural and urban areas in the rest of the country, the State Government has finally agreed to empower local bodies by amending the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act (1989) in April 2011. Such empowerment would have been automatic, but for the inapplicability of this part of the Indian Constitution in the State.

    And finally, on feasibility, consider the suggestions to take forward the consensus on economic self-reliance of the State. One of the key suggestions made is that the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (NHPC) makes a special concession to the State by enhancing the share of power from 12 to 30 and eventually to 100 per cent. It needs to be clarified that 12 per cent is only the share of free power available to every Indian state where the NHPC has projects; additional power can be purchased. Having said that, such a concession would be hard to make in the light of the commercial logic that underlies the generation of electricity as explained in an interesting case related to the rights of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to levy electricity duty on generation of electric energy by the NHPC.1 A division bench of the Jammu High Court ruled that electricity is an inter-State “good” (commodity), the sale, supply, transmission, delivery and consumption of which is part of the contract of its generation. Therefore, if 66.8 per cent of the electricity produced at the Salal Hydroelectric Project (HEP) and 66.04 per cent electricity produced at Uri HEP by the NHPC was generated based on bulk power supply agreements with the States of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh and Delhi, the NHPC would be bound to supply the electricity to them. So the State will be able to claim 100 per cent power only if the entire logic of commercial production is changed.

    Several other issues raised in the report can similarly be debated by experts in the political, social, economic and cultural realms. Anyone suggesting a way forward in Jammu and Kashmir at this juncture will have to take into consideration the opinions and interests of all regions and sub-regions of the State. Given the historical trajectory of the issue, only a finite number of options can be flagged, at least to begin with. These initial recommendations are suggestions aimed at arriving at a common ground. For this to happen, all stakeholders will have to move away from stated positions. One is indeed free to take an exception with one or more of the recommendations in the report. And it is nobody’s argument that the process will be easy. But, if such a dialogue does not even begin, how will anything out-of-the-box ever emerge?

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