Talking about Talks

As autumn melds into winter in Kashmir, it almost serves as a metaphor for New Delhi’s hackneyed and sterile attempts at monochromatic dialogue(s) over Kashmir. In other words, New Delhi’s idea(s) of dialogue neither cut ice nor have any traction in Kashmir. This is not to discredit the idea of dialogue but to put matters into perspective. Oftentimes, dialogue in Kashmir devolves into either what may be called “talking about talks” or substance gets lost in process. The end result is zero as there is no forward movement on the conflict in and over Kashmir. This begs the question why does New Delhi actually go through what amounts to motions over “dialogue”? The answer, necessarily speculative, might lie in that New Delhi feels good about itself and flatters itself; or, it may be playing to the gallery- the international community, in this instance. All this is cold comfort for Kashmiris for whom the abject failures of past attempts at “dialogue” have actually been an eloquent reminder of futility. Perhaps, what is at issue is the sincerity of powers that be or the actual nature of dialogue which excludes key stakeholders. If New Delhi views the so called “mainstream” as a key stakeholder, then the drift and thrust of the dialogue is obvious. By preaching to the converted, what would dialogue achieve? This is not a rhetorical question but an eminently real one. In fact, one component of the “mainstream”, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was on a high after its electoral gains post 2014 crafted what it called the “Agenda of Alliance”(AoA) with the BJP. While the AoA was long on rhetoric but short on substance, it expressly called for an instrumental role for the administration in creating conditions for and fostering an all stakeholder dialogue. But, as of now, Mehbooba Mufti and her party, the PDP, have not been able to fulfill promises embedded in the AoA. Moreover, Mehbooba appears to lay more weight on New Delhi’s appointed interlocutor than her party and administration. The reasons for this are not difficult to fathom. It is actually New Delhi that holds real power while the mere trappings of power are outsourced to local honchos in Kashmir. So, in essence, New Delhi is the real arbiter of power and it lies within its remit to create, conceive policy towards Kashmir. The ball then actually lies in New Delhi’s court. And, it is Delhi itself that should get converted to the cause of genuine and robust conflict resolution. As long as New Delhi remains stuck in a monochromatic approach to conflict resolution, any attempt at dialogue will not bear fruit in Kashmir. Prudence then suggests that New Delhi should have a meaningful conversation with itself, introspect, chart new territory and engage in a multi- stakeholder dialogue over Kashmir. Till this happens, anything that happens is sheer exercise in vanity.