The dictionary says an interlocutor is someone who participates in a discussion or dialogue, sometimes as a go-between. By implication, any interlocutor has to be trusted by both sides. Former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma, named the government’s interlocutor on the Kashmir issue, is said to be a man of impeccable integrity and experience.
On the face of it, Sharma, who served in the Kashmir Valley during the troubled 1990s, and remained involved with the state as the IB chief from January 2015 till he retired in December last year, just about fits the bill, though there are skeptics on both sides. Part of it stems from the timing, given that the announcement was made just a day before the visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to India. But the real question is not whether Sharma is fit for the role, but whether such a role serves any real purpose.
After all, former PM Manmohan Singh’s five Working Group reports, including those prepared by the three interlocutors—the late Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari—which sought a “New Compact” with Jammu and Kashmir appear to be gathering dust in the Ministry of Home Affairs archives.
Responding to this query, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sneered at the previous government’s “band-aid solution” for Kashmir.
“Working groups was a myth. I was also a member of a group which neither conducted any meeting nor presented any report. I also wrote a letter to the then PM Manmohan Singh for that report,” he said. Things had changed under the current government, he noted and added, “The impact of the work that has been done by us in last three years, is visible now. The funds of terrorists have dried up.
They are on the run. The situation is under control.” Perhaps. But the open-ended, indefinite mandate given to Sharma seems suspiciously similar to the ones given to earlier groups. Unless there is a different agenda this time, we are likely to hear the same old whine, from a brand new bottle.