At a time when Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said he would revisit the 2011 interlocutors’ report on Kashmir to look for ways to restore normalcy in the valley, where Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s encounter by the security forces on 8 July has led to continued protests and curfew, one of the interlocutors told The Sunday Guardian that the previous UPA 2 government “showed no interest” in implementing their recommendations, including suggestions to address unemployment and other economic problems, adding that such inaction was one of the reasons why the relative calm in J&K after 2010 could not be channelised.
Radha Kumar, who was one of the three interlocutors appointed by the then Manmohan Singh government to examine the causes of the 2010 unrest, also attacked the state governments of Jammu and Kashmir of “controlling the economy” in order to aggrandise power. She alleged that such attitude of successive governments of Jammu and Kashmir was responsible for perpetuating the economic distress of its people, which has also, over the decades, intensified their sense of alienation.
“I did believe then, and I still believe now, that this (J&K) is but the most state controlled economy in the whole of the country. The economic problem is not really a Centre problem, it’s a state problem. The bulk of investment is government, there is hardly a private sector there other than trade. Therefore, liberalisation of economy with thought of employment generation there through liberalisation, which would also give jobs to youth, did not happen… Because where people (state government) have got used to keeping tight control, which gives them power, they are not necessarily going to be happy in relinquishing those powers,” Radha Kumar told this correspondent in an exlusive interview. She, however, added that such aggrandisement of power was not unique to Jammu and Kashmir government. “We have seen this in the Northeast also. Wherever there is a situation where you do not have a robust economic base, where you do not have an entrepreneurial capacity, where you do not have a well-developed professional middle class, and where you have conflict, control comes into the hands of small groups of bureaucrats and politicians and possibly a small group of traders, and the nexus does develop,” she said, alluding the status quo and, in particular, the economic uncertainty, serves the state government right.
The interlocutors’ committee in 2011 had in some ways repeated the observations made by the previous Rangarajan Committee, outlining the urgent need of programmes for skill development, training, employment generation and so on. They had categorically mentioned that in adopting the recommendations of the Rangarajan Committee, the government needed to be extremely thoughtful about the implementation. “The implementation needed to be done with an understanding of the Kashmiri culture and expectation. Our focus was that it will be better to do this (creating jobs) within the state,” Kumar said. She said that in order to address the sense of alienation in the Kashmiri youth, they had suggested in their report that it was very important for the universities to sensitise both the Kashmiris about the rest of India and engaging with them, and the rest of the student bodies to understand the Kashmris. “In my knowledge that really never happened,” Kumar opined.
Talking about non-lethal method of crowd control, Kumar pointed out that a special training was needed for the same, which again, the then government at the state and in the Centre did not prioritise. “A good training in that (is required)… The point is that in any form of crowd control, you have to have a distance, between you and the protester. When it comes to actually face to face, almost physical confrontation, it becomes much more difficult… Any kind of non-lethal weapon can become lethal depending on how close the quarters are,” she said.
She admitted that the current administration in J&K has been able to keep the death toll under relative control. “They (protesters) are more virulent than in 2010. Whereas in 2010 it was more groups of youth aggressively attacking police installations with stones, here you have huge crowd processions in which common people are involved, even 10-year-old children. Even though, thankfully, we have been able to keep the scale of injured and death toll down compared to 2010,” Kumar said. While emphasising that Kashmir is a “political problem”, Radha Kumar said that Pakistan has been making concentrated efforts to destabilise the situation in J&K ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led NDA government was elected to power in 2014. “The (Nawaz) Sharif II government had started giving instructions to all their embassies that you play up human rights problems in Kashmir, and bring Kashmir back to the centrestage,” Kumar said, adding that the neighbouring country is under pressure from the current Union government that is all out to expose the former’s complicity in the valley. “There is also an India pressure, because of blowing up of things in Kashmir. If you look at the statements that have been made internationally by the Pakistani establishment, if you read between the lines, you will see that they are saying that both countries must exercise restraint. That is a recognition that Pakistan is playing up the problem in Kashmir,” she said. She, however, added that it would be incorrect to attribute the political problem in Kashmir entirely as a Pakistani orchestration.
“The state was ravaged by floods twice and then, you had heightened hostilities on the LoC and the border… You had four months of heightened shelling with tens of thousands of people displaced in the Jammu region. And then you had endless number of political controversies, like the beef ban, Sainik colonies, special areas for KPs. So, this vitiated (things)…”, she summed up.