Fourteen months after a tear gas shell arced over a Srinagar street, killing a teenage bystander who became the first of over a hundred young protesters to die in clashes with the police, New Delhi has something like a road map for progress. Last week, a three-member panel of interlocutors appointed by the central government to engage political actors in Jammu and Kashmir submitted its report. Based on meetings with more than 6,000 people who participated in 700 delegations from 22 districts, it was a sincere effort to address one of the world's most intractable conflicts. The report is not yet public; it is expected to be submitted first to the members of an all-parties delegation that visited J&K in September 2010. The interlocutors are known to have recommended to the State's major political formations that they must be willing to shed accumulated historical baggage. This itself should trigger a lively debate - and, with some luck, yield a template for action.
Much of the report is believed to focus on the fraught question of how to grant J&K the largest quantum of autonomy possible - while respecting constitutional red lines such as the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India and the protection of fundamental rights. This State, the interlocutors are known to have argued, has a unique character as part of the Indian Union but with a distinct constitutional position enshrined in Article 370. Its residents have a special identity, as Indian citizens and subjects of an exceptional State. This identity, though, is made up of multiple, often conflicting, elements. In much reportage, the State's identity is conflated with its most influential and populous region - the Kashmir Valley. But the reality is that each of J&K's three major regions is home to multiple ethnicities. Any durable political solution must respect their aspirations - though the report, thankfully, is known to have shot down chauvinist proposals for ethnic-religious partitioning. The interlocutors are believed to have called for more movement across the Line of Control and the rollback of laws giving the armed forces special powers. As might be expected, they have reflected critically on the State's battered economy, its fragile administrative institutions, and its widespread corruption. Intriguingly, politicians across the board in J&K have been quick to dismiss the report - without reading it, of course. In the year since the outbreak of violence, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's government has shown that improved governance and political outreach can help secure the peace. The report's authors, Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar, and M. M. Ansari, do not claim to have a solution to the J&K problem. What their efforts have shown is that the long-suffering peoples of a beautiful State have real ideas for building a better future - ideas their leaders ought to heed and follow up constructively.
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