Kashmir Team Catches Congress By Surprise14 October 2010
New Delhi: The momentum - and goodwill - the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the Valley gained after an all-party delegation visited Jammu and Kashmir on September 20-21 appears to have dissipated after the announcement of the three interlocutors who have been mandated to hold a “sustained dialogue” with all sections of people in the State. Not only have the names of the interlocutors - veteran journalist Dileep Padgaonkar (as chairman), academic Radha Kumar and Information Commissioner and economist M.M. Ansari - been greeted with disappointment by separatist groups in the Valley, they have also taken the average Congressman - including some Cabinet Ministers - by surprise. From the day the UPA government announced it was planning to appoint interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir as part of its eight-point initiative, sources on both sides of Raisina Hill - North and South Blocks - said the group would be headed by a politician and that, too, someone from the Congress. For example, when the name of the CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury surfaced as a possible contender, both government and party sources ruled it out, stressing that though the appointment of a high-profile politician would lend the exercise some credibility, it would have to be someone from the Congress. Among the names in circulation for the chairman's job were party general secretary Digvijay Singh, and Ministers of State Prithviraj Chavan and Salman Khursheed. Though the three are publicly denying they were approached, sources say a key problem was that it was not clear whether the group would report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. Clearly, there was reluctance, sources said, to come forward when it became apparent that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs would be in the driver's seat and not the PMO. Another complication that came in the way of a politician being appointed chairman, party sources said, was Congress president Sonia Gandhi's total silence on the issue: she did not indicate her mind, one way or the other. Moreover, the view emanating from the security establishment, sources said, was that a senior politician with a mandate from Raisina Hill might have become another power centre and worse, removed the buffer between Delhi and Srinagar. Party sources added that a high-profile politician could have queered the pitch for the “core security establishment” that has always made the Centre's Kashmir policy, which was why the MHA's own preference was for non-politicians to do the talking. Senior officials say that given the team's composition, the MHA is well-placed to “steer” the group of interlocutors in the direction it wants. But Congress sources say this might just mean that the interlocutors will be reduced to being couriers for the Centre.