Kashmir’s recent turmoil saw Home Minister Rajnath Singh visiting the state for four days from 9 September when he met 87 delegations. The government then appointed Dineshwar Sharma, a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), as its representative to carry forward the dialogue, and also report on the “legitimate aspirations” of the people. Unlike the PDP-BJP ruling combine, and the major Opposition parties, Congress and National Conference, which are principal players in the power battle, Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami represents the CPI-M in the state Legislative Assembly, to which he was elected from Kulgam four times – in 1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014. A former CPI-M state secretary of J&K, Tarigami started his political career as a student leader at Anantnag College, and is currently Central Committee member of the Left party. In this interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN during his recent visit to Delhi, Tarigami answered questions on the current situation in the border state and the Centre’s initiatives. Excerpts:

Q: The Centre’s representative Dineshwar Sharma has been meeting various groups in the state. What are your impressions about this?

A: It is too early to say anything. There are many complexities in the situation and Kashmir has undergone a long period of turmoil. Two years, 2016 and 2017 as well, a part of it, have witnessed mass unrest that is unprecedented. We, the CPI-M and the Opposition from Jammu and Kashmir, met the Prime Minister on 22 August 2016, and insisted that keeping in view the gravity of the situation the government should not rely exclusively on the security forces.

Q: How was your interaction with Sharma?

A: I will give you the full background. The question is that we insisted on our demand, but the Government of India has been too late about appointing the Special Representative. Even after this, there are certain concerns about his appointment ~ what kind of mandate he enjoys, and what kind of brief has been given to him. Essentially, the question is it should not just be a half-hearted exercise. There should be  a serious approach to the crisis the country is facing in Jammu and Kashmir. It will be in the country’s interest and the interests of the people of the state that this initiative of the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma is strengthened by the Government of India. It is up to them whether they want it to be a serious effort or just a routine exercise.

The Kashmiris feel the Government of India has successively appointed interlocutors, but there was no follow-up action of the  recommendations made by those interlocutors. Sharma’s appointment is to be taken in that context…  and we must understand the context in which he has been appointed, there is a huge trust deficit. How do we build people’s trust? While meeting Sharma, we suggested that the Government of India, if they want to make this initiative successful and result-oriented, must create an environment of confidence. For that, the first thing was to withdraw the cases against stone-pelters and release political leaders. Then the Prime Minister must assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir in Parliament itself that whatever special position under Article 370 Jammu and Kashmir is enjoying will not be eroded further and Article 35A which is being questioned today by certain circles will be safeguarded by the Government.

Q: Did you have a one-on-one meeting with Sharma?

A: We have talked to him and he listened to us, and he assured that our concerns will be conveyed to those who are in authority in Delhi. That much he has assured. He has to be mandated with certain authority and certain framework in which he can talk to all the stake-holders including voices of dissent. Yes, he responded to our points in a very productive manner, and he assured us that whatever we have suggested he will convey to the Government of India.

Q: First-time stone-pelters are being let-off.

A: That is a good step, but too little; the process has to be strengthened. The question is it is not a law and order situation, it is not a typical disturbance. There has been anger, there has been disillusionment among the younger generation, that’s why they engage themselves in protests of this type. That is why the Government of India, if they want to reach the younger generation, has to give them some relief as well.

Q: The Home Minister paid a four-day visit, and now Sharma has been appointed. Is this a setback to the separatists?

A: The aim should not be giving a setback to anybody. The question is of winning the people back, reaching out to the people, building up communication with all those who have been alienated. That should be the objective of such efforts. I think it will help only if the Government of India is seen to be seriously backing up Sharma.

Q: Rajnath Singh said the Government will talk to all stake-holders, the entire spectrum.

A: It is not happening yet. That is what I am suggesting. Yes, one of the Hurriyat leaders, Abdul Ghani Bhat, met Sharma, it has been reported, but the rest of them, who claim to be the key figures in the Hurriyat platform, are yet to be approached, and they are yet to be taken on board.

Q: Are the green shoots of peace visible, as the Home Minister had said?

A: As far as peace is concerned, we have seen earlier as well, there has been violence, there has been unrest, and then it has cooled off. There can be many reasons for that, there is some sort of a pause in between. Our suggestion is the eruption is much more important for us to examine and analyse and to take necessary steps. It should not erupt again. If there are some signs of improvement it is welcome, but practice and experience tell us that time and again, there have been pauses, but it erupted again. To prevent such eruptions, political initiatives are the only answer.

Q: The current scenario has the separatists boycotting the Home Minister’s September visit and the National Investigation Agency conducting raids?

A: Our concern is that such measures cannot create an atmosphere necessary for dialogue or talks. We are not questioning the efforts of the Home Minister who has visited and shown keen interest. No doubt, it is a more serious problem which cannot be just handled with one visit, or with some investigation here or there. It has certain implications, it has deep alienation at the core which has to be addressed, and that can be done only by bold political initiatives.

Q: Youth was advised to stay away from stone-pelting.

A: Stone-pelting is not a hobby for Kashmiri students or Kashmiri younger generation. It is the situation which has given rise to such a phenomenon and it can be avoided in the future only when we address the deepening level of anger, frustration and disillusionment among the younger generation.

Q: The development package of Rs 80,000 crore is now a Rs 1 lakh crore package. How is it being implemented?

A: Another important issue is that there is big scope for improvement in governance. Unfortunately, the question of governance has not been attended to seriously. Apart from political initiatives, developmental and livelihood issues can be taken care of only when you have good governance, only when you have some sort of effort which can deliver on the ground. It is not adequate as of now.

Q: You have referred to Article 35A. The Home Minister said people’s concerns on it have been addressed?

A: It is still in court. Some people have questioned it. It is under consideration in the Supreme Court. But what we suggest is that the Prime Minister must on the floor of Parliament convey a message that the Government of India is committed to defend Article 35A of the Constitution. The government must advise the Attorney-General who can defend this, and must ensure through an affidavit that there will be no attempt to infringe it from the government side.\

Q: Farooq Abdullah said the reality is that the area of Kashmir under Pakistan control stays with them, and whatever is with us, is our Kashmir. Your comment?

A: Both countries have been involved two-three times, in the past, both covert and overt, and the Government of India’s position is that the part under Pakistan’s administrative control belongs to us, and Pakistan claims that this part of Kashmir belongs to them. Some sort of competitive claims are there between India and Pakistan. They have talked earlier. What we suggest is that for a lasting solution, both Government of India and Pakistan must talk, must seriously try to reach a common solution about this complex issue which is part of the trauma of Partition.

Q: Should the talks be bilateral?

A: Bilateral, of course. The people of Jammu and Kashmir and their aspirations must be taken into consideration.