WHEN Modi took over as the Prime Minister in 2014, he aroused great hopes in members of the Kashmiri Pandit community. Most people did not expect initiatives in foreign policy or an economic miracle from him. After all, he had been in State politics most of the time. But the least one expected from him was a positive deal for the Hindus. He could be expected to build the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, legislate a uniform civil code for the minorities and make it possible for the Kashmiri Pandits to return to their ancestral homes.
Modi has belied these hopes. He did not put the plight of the Pandits at the top of his political agenda. He has left the Ayodhya temple to the judges of the Supreme Court. He has more or less abandoned the RSS agenda for Article 370. He has neither been able to win over the Kashmiri Muslims to the Indian side, nor browbeat them into submission. On the civil code all he has to show is the triple talaak fiasco.
All this has happened because of a flawed Kashmir policy, for which one should blame Ajit Doval, the NSA, and Ram Madhav, his Kashmir pointsman in the BJP. These two gentlemen attempted to build a coalition government by trying to bring together the PDP and the BJP. This was the most ill-matched couple in the State’s murky politics.
The expectations on either side at that time were so childlike in their pristine innocence that we had to remind ourselves that these were masters in the art of realpolitik, not writers of Aesop’s fairy tales. One could have forgiven Mufti Saheb his guielessness, for he had tested the astuteness of the warlords at Delhi when he had put terrorists in the driving seat of Indian politics by the simple strategy of pretending that his daughter had been kidnapped by them. But that the knickerdharis should have believed that the BJP would make inroads into the Muslims of the valley can only underline the palpable fact that Nagpur is totally divorced from the grassroots reality on the ground.
Now the bomb has burst. The situation in the valley has become so untenable that the charade had to be called off. Obviously the present road was taking us nowhere. The separatists and terrorists were leading India to a merry dance. There were infiltrations and border incursions. There were attacks on military and police outposts. Security personnel were being sacrificed every day. The Defence and Home Ministers were issuing bold threats. The Prime Minister was maintaining a studied silence.
When I was the president of the All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS), we had filed a civil writ petition against the Home Ministry and the State Government. A sustained campaign was lodged against the Government. This resulted in the Prime Minister’s package that led to the construction of 7,200 flats at Jagati and we were able to take the migrants out of tented accommodation. The Central and State governments were forced to create 6,000 new jobs for Kashmiri Pandit youth.
Hardly any progress has been made on the return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants. The AIKS had presented a cogent plan for allotment on the basis of all the possible options. A Kashmiri Pandit could return to his own house or be allotted a flat in a multi-storeyed housing complex. Or, he could be allotted a plot of land in a well-planned complex.
The trouble with finding a solution that is universally acceptable is that Kashmiri Pandits do not constitute a homogeneous community with a uniformity of views that can be fully converted into a generally acceptable policy statement.
Take the simple proposition of return itself. Prima facie it seems self-evident that the very first step towards normalisation must start with the return of Pandits to the valley. Unless the Pandits return in substantial numbers, we cannot start the rebuilding of a multi-ethnic society. Yet on this basic initial proposition there is a vast variety of views. To start with, we have the nay-sayers who reject every proposition with a negative response: ‘Return? Who wants to return? Their houses have been burnt down. Or, they have been sold under duress for a song. And if you take them back in ones and twos, how would you ensure their security and safety? How do you protect their women folk from the goons of the majority community? Above all, what would they do for a living?’ Viewed at from Delhi or Jammu or the safety of the Raj Bhawans, these may appear to be petty, puerile concerns of aging senior citizens. But they are strong enough to force policy planners to think of alternative scenarios.
AN outstanding example of such extremist thinking is the Panun Kashmir movement. Stripped of the verbiage, it boils down to the carving out of a separate territory for the exclusive use, habitation and possession of the Pandits. When I heard this proposal for the first time, I pointed out the constitutional illegitimacy of a concept that is totally foreign to the scheme worked out by the founding fathers .Once the idea that the inhabitancy of a particular area must belong only to a particular ethnic, linguistic or religious group is accepted, it will be impossible to confine such an idea to a particular geographical area. The dangerous consequences of such a constitutional scheme are too horrific to contemplate.
Yet, believe it or not, there are currently three major factions of the Panun Kashmir movement. Each of these is supported by a galaxy of intellectuals, poets and philosophers. They take themselves so seriously that it is virtually impossible for the rest of the world to ignore them.
Things came to such a pass that the government agencies engaged in a puerile search for areas in downtown Srinagar that had harboured Pandits for a considerable length of time. This is supposed to be based on the historical fact that Pandits have loved to congregate in Batta Mohallas.
So what is the likely impact of the Governor’s rule on the condition, return strategy and the security concerns of Kashmiri Pandits? It appears to the unbiased observer that the impact will be nil. At best, if the Central Government in India is able to have its way, it may be able to reduce the level of infiltration across the border or neutralise a larger percentage of militants who manage to sneak across.
The latest episode in the drama unfolding in J&K may make breaking news for the media, but its impact on the problems of Kashmiri Pandits will be a big zero. Let Doval and Madav have their fun!
MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India