A minstrel, a schmoozer and even a middleman – these are some of the synonyms of the word ‘interlocutor’ – a noun that is back in the public discourse with the appointment of a wizened old intelligence officer – a spook who has spent much of his career dwelling in the shadows – to coax a meaningful conversation out of the disgruntled sections of the population in Kashmir.
Prime time television shows briskly debated the appointment of the interlocutor and just fifteen minutes of the debates left me shocked at the utter ignorance, useless verbosity and banal exchanges – moderated by the interlocutors of the idiot box – the anchors.
Make no mistake – the move represents a change in the centre’s strategy towards the valley, the much larger, two other provinces that constitute the state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, as well as the rest of the country.
Yet, and despite the serious nature of the subject, television debates were hijacked by some absurd and meaningless posturing and ideological expositions. There was this lawyer who refuses to pronounce the name of the valley properly!
Every other line of her impassioned defence in the 'court of the people' is punctuated with shrill proclamations about ‘cashmere’ - the fibre obtained from mountain goats and not sheep. Granted that winter is setting in, but how tough can it be for a valley born and convent educated lawyer to not gut and slay the word Kashmir?
Try rolling off K-A-S-H in one go and M-E-E-R right after – it is easy. And do remember the origin of the word is Kashyapmaer (the land of Kashyap).
Then there was another person gracing the tube. An academic of ponderous proportions, who repeatedly asserted that Pakistan is a stakeholder in Kashmir. The anchor, who has in the past thrown out guests from his show, let this pompous academic walk off unscathed! No frothing at the mouth, no “don’t be ridiculous” snubs – the 'Pakistan is a stakeholder' assertion went unchallenged.
There were others who weighed in – many of them regular fixtures of the evening prime time shouting matches. One of them was taught an instant lesson of the word ‘misogyny’, even as he tried to heckle the anchor, while yet another tried to appear reasonable and adopt a pacifist tone.
The comic-tragedy on display ignored multiple lamp posts of the past.
From 1990 onwards, the valley has seen multiple interlocutors – including a former union minister of state for home who made close to two-dozen trips to the valley at the height of the terrorist violence. Every single IB chief of the past has spent considerable time talking to people of all sorts in Kashmir. There have been dozens of visits, including by parliamentary delegations, high powered international emissaries of the European Union nations, even the serving chief of Army staff of the British Army, journalists travelling together from Delhi and elsewhere, US diplomats in mufti, university professors, a former finance minister – the list is as long as the real and imaginary grievances of those Kashmiris who reside in the valley.
For the nation’s sake, better informed anchors and guests are extremely necessary if the debate must contribute to the hope that the valley emerges from the sorrow that its denizens have inflicted upon themselves.
There is no point in a minstrel talking to a wastrel.
There is equally no point in heaping insults, by, and on all and sundry on television.
Kashmir will never become part of Pakistan and its separatists also know it will never get to be an ‘independent’ heaven on earth. They are well read and aware. The recent developments in the Catalan region and the response from the rest of Spain have not gone unnoticed. In their hearts, the separatists realise their 'cause' founded and fought on the principles of a religious jihad will never ever win any form of global support - China included.
Yet, the valley needs a conversation – an interlocution that listens patiently and speaks clearly, firmly - a two-way conversation that is based on the recent dictum laid out by no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself with his remarks that “neither bullets nor insults” (na goli se, na gaali se) have a place in the discourse on Kashmir.