As the State scoots…

The appointment of ‘neutral’ mediators to negotiate with Kashmiri separatists on behalf of the Indian State is a sordid act of abdication. Now, why does the State need interlocutors to deal with its own subjects? After all, governments are elected to govern. But if they were to outsource this constitutional function how then do regimes justify their existence?

Kashmir is just a recent instance. Not long ago, mediators were drafted to go between the government and Maosists. The process is now deemed to be off as nothing is being heard of it barring continuing gunshots and bomb blasts. We in TN are not new to mediators either. During the heydays of brigand Veerappan, while the State with all its police force and ‘intelligence’ remained clueless about his whereabouts, editorial eminences with matching moustaches were able to breeze in and out of the thickets like the breeze itself. The video clippings and the audio cassettes containing the latest demands of V that the emissaries brought back to civilisation, were chart-poppers at that time.

The State’s abstinence from its sworn duty, apart the core question regarding the very constitutionality of appointing such mediators, has not been answered. But that is because no one has raised the query. Under what statute or legal proviso have these three Kashmir mediators been entrusted the job? Clearly their appointment is an executive decision subject to the legal litmus test. The Constitutional position, ratified by Parliament resolutions, is that Kashmir is an integral part of India and the national borders as depicted by the official map are not negotiable. This is the only law that is valid, as valid as the laws that hold that brigands who killed scores have to face the noose or bullet, whichever is earlier or easier. Now can negotiators tamper with this?

That brings us to the question of mandate. There is often no clue on what the mediators will put on offer. There is no denying they have to offer something new because peddling old wine will not wash. Now what could that be vis-a-vis Kashmir given India’s water-tight position? In V’s case there was much talk of huge ransoms, besides many non-monetary concessions. (Readers must pardon me for bringing up V again and again; I cannot let go off him from my mind and, to confess, I too, as editor, made a living by writing about his kidnap-kill escapades, without exactly emissarying to and from forests. That said there is also relevance because anti-national criminality underlines all these elements, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari). Just to brush up, the separatists want nothing less than Azadi and Shariat. Now what will the mediators mediate about that which is not already in the public realm? And how bound can the nation be by any promises made by such unaccountable mediators? For instance, can the mediators order a ceasefire by the army in the face of rioting so that they can talk ‘peace’ over tea? Has a diktat to, say, the Home ministry been issued asking it to keep off its ‘constitutional’ obligations because ‘others’ are running the show?

The typical reaction of the State in the face of such uncomfortable questions is to hide behind the diplomatic couch or sneak under the camouflage of official secrets. But then, how can unofficial emissaries, who are as ‘untrustworthy’ as us other citizens, be privy to such secrets? Obviously, extensive information of the most sensitive nature needs to be shared with them if they are to mediate meaningfully. How well can they be insulated against slipping in some vital info to the party of the wrong part? Without suggesting anything, we here can vouch for the fact that Brig V always seemed one step ahead of the State, particularly after every emissorial encounter!

There is greater danger lurking under the garb of such mediation. Most mediators in all good faith start off as reps of the State though some (as in V’s case) have emissaryhood embedded on them owing to proximity with those criminal elements. But whatever the case, they invariably end up as mouthpieces of those anti-nationals. They get carried away by all the importance and attention and, worse, start sympathising with the latter’s cause. Not surprising, because it is logical that the emissary needs to have been pre-approved as a pre-condition for talks. Vulnerability is therefore inherent in the very idea of mediation. From sympathy to articulation is but a small step and the anti-elements get extensive state-sponsored publicity and even justification for all their acts, thanks to the reverse flow. Many get emboldened for bigger goals. V for instance turned from a poacher to a preacher, holding forth on such things as Tamil nationalism and even demanded a statue for Thiruvalluvar bang in the middle of Bangalore in exchange for hostage actor Rajkumar. Now, expect Geelani, who actually deserves to be tried for life for all his anti-national activities, to take up azadi with renewed vigour openly. This is what mediation and media attention really achieve.

It is not that the State is wholly impotent. But its potency is often misplaced and disproportionate: witch-hunting the weak while wilting before the villains. Petty misdemeanours by common folk invite official wrath in all its force while the big-time offenders are honoured with white doves. The law orders the former to obey but begs the latter to comply. If at all a villain is in the dock it is only for personal or political reasons. The Reddy brothers of Karnataka, for instance, must have been hoarding cash for decades. But it is just when there is turmoil there that the IT dept chooses to raid them! This selective swing between oppression and impotence makes the State a demon when it has to be divine and a dud when decisive action is demanded. Not just mediators, but the Arundhati Roys of the world too thrive owing to this paradox.

Unlike a monarchy, the State in a democracy theoretically is a faceless abstract entity or an apparition in the background at best. But in reality, we only see faces of the rulers beaming down from all official instruments of government. These are men and women with families, friends, fashionable dreams and sundry other frailties, all of which need to be tended by State power and public funds. With such pulling personal priorities, where is the time or mind for governance? Outsource, they must, for their own peace, if not the nation’s.

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Jawahar T R