People want change in status-quo: Interlocutors24 April 2011
The Daily Excelsior
JAMMU: Asserting that aspirations of majority of people across the State can’t be held hostage to separatists, the Central Government’s Interlocutors said today that most of the people across the State were yearning for change in the status quo with empowerment of all three regions. The Interlocutors clarified that they have not presented any report to the Union Home Ministry as reported in a national media daily suggesting change in nomenclature of Governor and Chief Minister of the State. They said they were not going to clarify every now and then every speculative report carried in the media. Addressing a press conference today after completion of their seven days visit to the State during which they held a Round Table Conference (RTC) of Intelligentsia in Srinagar and made their first ever visit to militancy-infested Doda and Kishtwar districts, Chief Interlocutor-Dileep Padgaonkar accompanied by his colleagues, Prof Radha Kumar and MM Ansari, observed that majority of the people don’t want present status quo to stay. 'The people want status quo to change. They want empowerment. We can’t hold majority aspirations of the people hostage to separatists as they want more empowerment’’, he said, adding they were grateful to Hurriyat Conference leader Moulana Abdul Ansari, who spared his one hour for discussions with them during their current visit to Srinagar. Mr Padgaonkar said Mr Ansari has made a beginning by talking to the Interlocutors. 'We are hopeful more separatists would follow the suit’’, he added but declined to comment on whether some leaders of moderate Hurriyat Conference headed by Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq had submitted a document to them in Poonch during their visit there. 'We definitely want to engage with the separatists but, at the same time, we can’t allow rest of the population to live with status quo’’, he asserted. Pointing out that they have not submitted any report to the Union Home Ministry as reported in one national daily, the Chief Interlocutor said they were working on draft of the report but can’t say when it would be finalized and submitted to the Home Minister. 'Prior to our visit, the Intelligentsia and legal fraternity in Kashmir and Jammu called us saying they want to present their detailed view point to us. We met the Intelligentsia for two days in Srinagar in the RTC and lawyers of Jammu through the Bar Association yesterday for more than two hours’’, he said, adding more groups of educationists and economists have now come forward to give their view point. 'We want to hold an inter-regional and inter-religious RTC as soon as possible. Most likely, one RTC would be held in Leh and another in Jammu. Only after we meet all shades of opinion that it would be possible for us to prepare our final report. We don’t want to give chance to any individual or group to say that their view point has been ignored by us’’, Mr Padgaonkar said. He added that the Interlocutors would submit interim reports to engage people in intense sustainable debate for a permanent political settlement of the problem. 'These would be reports and not recommendations but lay out certain number of alternatives to allow people to debate them and make choices. It could take four to five months to submit a final report’’, he said and added that the people should wait for them to submit their final report before passing their judgment. He offered that the Interlocutors were ready to meet anyone, who was unhappy with them saying in a free country like India, 'any criticism was welcome’’. Declining to comment on contents of their report on whether it would recommend autonomy or self-rule etc, Mr Padgaonkar maintained that the report was meant for the Government of India. 'Don’t go by the contents carried in a national daily on our report. The contents published in the daily were fiction and speculative. We want to make it clear that we have not finalized the report and recommended nothing like the one carried in the daily’’, he said. It may be mentioned here that the Jammu based opposition had created a ruckus in the Assembly following a report carried by a national daily last month that the Interlocutors have recommended change in nomenclature of Governor to ‘Sadar-I-Riyasat’ and Chief Minister to ‘Wazir-e-Azam’ Replying to a question about the perception in Jammu region that the Interlocutors’ report could be Kashmir-centric, he clarified that the Interlocutors were not looking at the State from the prism of Jammu, Kashmir or Ladakh regions. 'We are not even looking at Doda from the prism of Jammu or Kargil from the prism of Leh. We have chosen not to look at every region from the prism of other. We are looking at entire J&K as one unit and it would remain one unit’’, he said. To another question whether any group in Doda district supported the demand for ‘azaadi’ to Kashmir, the Chief Interlocutor said out of 36 groups, which met them in Doda, only three supported the line of (Hurriyat Conference hard-line group chairman) Syed Ali Shah Geelani. 'You can draw your own conclusion from this’’, he added. Replying to another question on whether they got reports during their visits about discrimination with Jammu region, Mr Padgaonkar said they have been hearing wide spread complaints about discrimination with Jammu region on funds, representation in civil services, police, judiciary etc. 'We have also come across another face of discrimination. Some sub regions have complained about discrimination of Jammu. Wherever we have gone, there were own sets of complaints. A sound political solution was imperative to address the problems of the State, regions and sub regions. We will try to find out a solution to all grievances in our report’’, Mr Padgaonkar said. On whether the meeting with moderate Hurriyat Conference leader Moulana Abbas Ansari was planned before their visit to Srinagar, he said they wouldn’t have done what they did unless they were clear about what was their course of action. 'The question can be best answered by the separatists’’, he shot off while replying to a query as to whether one of the separatist has come forward for talks out of fear. 'We can’t speculate on separatists. We won’t engage any one forcibly. The separatists have their own compulsions and constraints’’, he said. Mr Padgaonkar recalled that right from their first visit the Interlocutors had been repeating their offers to the separatists to come forward for talks at the place and time convenient to them. 'They (the separatists) were even asked to at least submit their published document to include their opinion in the report. However, we didn’t receive any response’’, he said, adding they would have been happy to include opinion of the separatists but couldn’t wait for them any long. 'We would go ahead and submit our report’’. Noting that they have covered more than half of the State during seven months and met 520 delegations, the Chief Interlocutor said they know to have a broad idea on how to proceed ahead. Expressing shock at the killing of Moulana Showkat Shah, a moderate separatist, who was killed by the militants recently, Mr Padgaonkar said the Interlocutors were impressed by his vision when they met him. 'There were no political discussions between Interlocutors and Moulana when we met him. He was a scholar’’, he added and hoped that perpetrators of his killing would be brought to book. Replying to another question on BJP Study Group’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, the Chief Interlocutor observed that India is a free country and 'anyone is welcome to engage anyone for peace’’. On revival of Ram Jethmalani led Kashmir panel, he said the Government of India has only yesterday made a statement on the Committee and they have nothing more to add. Mr Padgaonkar said he was 'amused’’ by the statement that cross-voting by seven BJP legislators in Legislative Council elections was linked to them. 'Tomorrow there would be bumper crop of walnuts or anything else and that would also be linked to our visit’’, he said in a lighter vein. To a question about murder of Congress activist Mahroof Khan in Poonch, another Interlocutor, Prof Radha Kumar said they would like a fair and transparent investigation in the case. To another question on whether a Kashmir journalist was required to accompany them to make them 'familiar’’ to the situation prevailing there, Mr Padgaonkar quoted a French philosopher, who was asked how could he write about Jews when he himself was not a Jew. 'Where we go, we become part of that ethnic group. We need not to be Kashmiri to know the problems faced by the Kashmiris. We need not to be tribal to know their problems. It is not true that only Dalits could understand the problem of Dalits or Muslims know the problems of their community only. If we adopt such a practice, it would be dangerous for the country’’, he said. Prof Radha Kumar said the problem of Kashmir is between the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions with the people of New Delhi. 'We have met over 500 delegations in three regions. We are trying to talk to more representatives of the State’’, she added. In a written statement circulated to the media by all three Interlocutors, they said they have completed second and last leg of their seventh visit to the State today. 'The delegations we received in erstwhile Doda district emphasized that they should enjoy the same rights as the Hill Development Councils of Leh and Kargil’’, they said, adding the deputations stressed for effective, Constitutionally guaranteed devolution of political, financial and administrative powers to all three regions of the State and a further devolution at the district, block and Panchayat-Municipal levels. All these bodies, the delegations said, must be democratically elected and the Panchayati Raj Institutions should be based on 73rd and 74th amendment of the Indian Constitution. 'A bulk of delegations held the view that a political settlement in J&K mush ensure unity and territorial integrity of the State within the India Union. All delegations wanted a fresh delimitation of constituencies based on the criteria of the size of the area and population’’, the statement said. 'We explained to the Bar Association members about the nature of our mandate and called upon them not to go by speculative stories about contents of the interim report and a political settlement that we will present to the Government at the Centre’’, the statement said. The Interlocutors said during their meeting with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah they urged him to accelerate the process of implementing their recommendations so that changes are visible on the ground. 'The Chief Minister’s response, especially in the matters like the release of stone-pelters, expediting cases of political detenus not accused of serious crimes and swift delivery of passports to citizens, who whish to go on Haj, augured well for the dialogue process’’, they said. They added that they were pleased to note that Mr Abdullah has been taking effective steps to implement their recommendations.