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The forgotten man of Kashmir?

By Vijaita Singh

More than a year since the Centre appointed former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as a Special Representative to carry forward a dialogue with all sections of the people in Jammu and Kashmir, much water has flown. Reeling from a political crisis, the State came under the Governor’s Rule in June and in November the Assembly was dissolved by J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik following reports of horse-trading of MLAs.

A reticent Mr. Sharma has maintained a low profile ever since the Government announced on June 17 that it will not continue the ‘suspension of operations’ or ‘cease-ops’ that was announced to provide relief to people in the month of Ramzan.

The cease-ops was announced by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on May 16, following successive reports given by Mr. Sharma that killings and encounters were not yielding the desired results and the emotional upsurge at the funeral of militants killed in encounters was aiding recruitment by terror outfits. The killing of Rising Kashmir Editor Shujaat Bukhari on June 14 also firmed the Government’s decision.

Sharma was appointed on October 23, 2017, to “initiate and carry forward a dialogue with the elected representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.” He holds the rank of Cabinet Secretary.

Learnt to have the ears of the Union Home Minister, Mr. Sharma, lay low for a couple of months after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of the alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leading to imposition of Governor’s rule on June 20.

He wanted clarity on his future responsibilities. The Centre made clear that he would stay on as a Special Representative. The 1979-batch IPS officer of the Kerala cadre, was appointed as Director, IB, in December 2014 for a fixed two-year term.

Post- retirement, he was appointed as an interlocutor for talks with Assam-based insurgent groups in June 2017. The Centre was keen on giving an extension to Mr. Sharma as IB chief, but he turned down the offer. Mr. Sharma has worked with NSA Ajit Doval when the latter was IB chief. He headed the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau of Uttar Pradesh when Mr. Singh was the Chief Minister.

When reached for a comment by The Hindu on his one-year stint, Mr. Sharma said: “How can I talk about myself? You judge me by my work.”

A senior government official said that he quietly visits the State now and fixes his own meetings, earlier the J&K government played an overwhelming role in deciding his schedule, particularly in the Kashmir Valley.

Not known to be a shrewd operative, Mr. Sharma also tried to convince the Centre to open back channel talks with the Hurriyat Conference or the separatists. While the Centre didn’t want to acknowledge that it was reaching out to the separatists, a prospect the ruling BJP has publically despised, several second-rung separatists were arrested in multiple raids carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Mr. Sharma conveyed to Mr. Singh that such raids would be a setback to the peace process and derail the ongoing talks.

Recently, the role of Mr. Sharma seemed to have been undermined by the attempt of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation to meddle in Kashmir. On November 23, AOL, mediated a meeting of former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Mangne Bondevik with hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar. The meeting, that was impossible to have taken place without Centre’s consent, has led to questions about Mr. Sharma’s clout.

A senior government official in Delhi told The Hindu that the Norwegian delegation had not taken any security clearance to visit Srinagar. J&K Governor gives special audience to the AOL and Mr. Ravi Shankar has often heaped praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP’s Ram Madhav also calls the shots in many decisions involving the State.

A senior Cabinet Minister said: “Just because AOL mediated a meeting with the separatists, does not mean that Mr. Sharma has been cut down to size. Both scenarios can exist together.”

Mr. Sharma refused to comment on the meeting.

Last week, Mr. Malik told a public function in Jammu that he may face transfer, after his remarks that he stalled the Centre’s move to install People’s Conference chief Sajad Lone as Chief Minister of the State evoked sharp reactions from many quarters.

If Mr. Malik’s fears are not unfounded, then the Centre’s next best bet for the post would be Mr. Sharma, according to whispers in power corridors.

(The Hindu)