BJP & Kashmiri Pandits’ “Rehabilitation”

How serious is the Central government about the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)? If it is considering such an agenda, it would be appropriate for it to accord equal significance to rehabilitation of people affected by similar violence in other states. This includes Muslims victimized during the Gujarat pogrom, Muzaffarnagar riots victims and the Muslims forced to leave their land and homes in Assam’s BTAD region.

At present, the stand taken by the Central government regarding the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits raises the question as to whether this proposal was floated by BJP primarily to cash on Hindu votes for J&K state elections. The Central government may still be serious about its proposal, but has not yet elaborated upon its nature.

Around 25 years ago, amid wave of militancy, reportedly more than three lakh Kashmiri Pandits had to leave Kashmir Valley. Pandits and BJP claim that they were expelled by the militants while Kashmiri Muslims maintain that they were temporarily shifted to Jammu by the then governor Jagmohan as part of his policy to brutally crush militancy.

J&K government is presently headed by an alliance of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP, with the former holding 28 seats and the latter 25 in the 87-member state assembly. Tough negotiations between these two parties, spread over two months, ensured BJP a share in the state’s coalition government for the first time. The agreement reached between PDP and BJP included the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. Around a month ago, this issue was discussed in Delhi between Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh (BJP) and J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (PDP).  Sayeed assured Singh that J&K government will acquire and provide land at earliest possible for composite townships for Kashmiri Pandits. Later in the month, Singh told Lok Sabha that Sayeed had promised to earmark 50 acres of land as the first instalment for rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits.

Facing opposition in Srinagar, Sayeed has tried assuring Kashmiris that he would not allow “Israeli-type settlements” for Kashmiri Pandits. Sayeed stated, “I have told the home minister that they can’t stay separately. There is no plan, no decision...but it is being floated that a separate homeland will be created. That is not possible.” On his part, Home Minister Singh pointed out in Delhi, “Whatever decision was taken by Central government for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits...the decision remains the same.” Confusion over this has been further complicated with Central government indicating a different stand on its “decision.” In a written reply to a question raised by nine parliamentarians in Lok Sabha, State Minister for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary stated on 5 May, “No proposal to create separate zones exclusively for Kashmiri Pandits in J&K is under consideration.” It is as yet too early to state whether this indicates a U-turn on Central government’s plan to create separate townships in J&K for Kashmiri Pandits or not. The statement may have been issued in response to protests and criticisms levied against such a proposal.           

Saying that separate townships could lead to “ghettoization,” former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah (National Conference) said, “I very much doubt very many Kashmiri Pandits would like to return to Valley just to be housed in ghettos, segregated and isolated.” Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of separatist Hurriyat Conference said, “In garb of return of Kashmiri Pandits, a state within a state is being created. It is a ploy to make Kashmir the next Palestine and rob people of their land.” These critics want Kashmiri Pandits to return to their native homes and live amidst them.

Separate townships for Kashmiri Pandits may lead to religious polarization in J&K along communal lines. The townships would be easy targets for militants pursuing radical, extremist agenda against non-Muslims. Besides, townships inhabited only by Kashmiri Pandits may be used by saffron brigade to enhance religious tension along communal lines for political gains. J&K is the only state in India where Muslims are in a majority. There prevails apprehension that creation of townships, ostensibly to rehabilitate displaced Kashmiri Pandits, may reduce Muslims to a minority there. The townships may be planned to create Hindu vote-banks in Muslim-dominated areas. Perhaps, this explains the loud support voiced for this proposal by Panun Kashmir, a group of Kashmiri Pandits keen for a Hindu homeland within J&K.

At present, all Kashmiri Pandits are not pleased with plans being made to rehabilitate them, since they are not aware about what these plans are. Not surprisingly, a significant number of them staged protest in Delhi on 3 May demanding that they should be taken into confidence regarding any decision about their return to the Valley.

As expected, India and Pakistan do not hold same stand regarding townships in the Valley for Kashmiri Pandits. This move would change the demographic make-up of J&K and be in violation of United Nations’ Security Council resolutions, according to Pakistan. Countering Pakistan’s stand, India has objected to interference in its “internal matters” and has stated that the Central government does not want others to dictate its agenda.

Till details of the proposal of settling the displaced Kashmiri Pandits  are made public, it is not possible to speculate on the impact it may have in other parts of the country. It is hoped that government starts considering a national plan for rehabilitation of people displaced from other parts of the country too.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2015 on page no. 11

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