No insaniyat for Pandits

As chief minister, Mr Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has been pursuing a separatist agenda

It is a well-established fact that minorities in Muslim-majority countries have faced handicaps while Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries flourish, enjoying equal rights. The Indian subcontinent is a typical example. The population of Hindus in Pakistan has gone down from 24 per cent to one per cent and in Bangladesh from 28 per cent to nine per cent. On the other hand, the population of Muslims in India has been increasing in every decadal census. In the corresponding period, it increased from nine per cent to 13 per cent in 2001. Census data for 2011 has not yet been released but it is reported that their figure has increased further.

In Pakistan, liberal press and columnists have been voicing concern over the abductions, forced conversions, misuse of blasphemy laws and the exodus of Hindus. In India, Muslims have been holding key positions in government, like those of President, vice-president, chief minister, home minister, service chief, intelligence chief and so on. They have also done well in the film industry and in business. The economic condition of Muslims in India is better than Muslims in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Of course, the overall condition of Muslims, like that of the Hindu backward classes, leaves much to be desired and suitable measures should be taken to improve their lot.

For the first two and a half decades after the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union, Kashmiri Pandits lived peacefully in the state. Communal amity prevailed in the Valley during the Partition holocaust. In 1947, Maqbool Sherwani tried to save Hindus and the Pakistani raiders nailed him to a cross in Baramulla. With Wahhabi Islam spreading in the Valley, things started changing from the Seventies. Maqbool Sherwani’s namesake, Maqbool Bhat, started the era of communal hatred, killing of Hindus and terrorism in the Valley. By 1990, several Hindus were killed and their temples vandalised. The Valley reverberated with the slogan of “Kashmir banega Pakistan”. Political leaders from the Valley have been saying that Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pandits, but at the same time laying stipulations to prevent them from returning. Twenty five years have elapsed and the Kashmiri Pandits continue to languish in refugee camps.

I took over as governor of Kashmir in June 2003. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was the chief minister. I found him to be a soft separatist with a soft corner for Pakistan. I visited all the Kashmiri Pandit refugee camps around Jammu and in Udhampur and was horrified to see their living conditions. Each family was living in one room with a corrugated iron sheet for a roof which, in the summer, would become unbearably hot. I suggested to Mr Sayeed that we should improve their living conditions. He replied that they should not be made too comfortable otherwise they would not return to the Valley. When President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited Kashmir, I took him to see the horrible conditions in those refugee camps.

Mr Sayeed gave him the same answer. Later I took Dr Manmohan Singh to these camps. Mr Sayeed accompanied us. It was not surprising that having been a refugee himself in 1947, Dr Singh had wet eyes when he saw the living conditions. He said the Indian government would provide funds for two rooms, kitchen and bathroom tenements in multi-storey blocks.

Mr Sayeed was succeeded by a dynamic and very nationalistic chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who not only expedited the construction of the proposed blocks but also had a complete township constructed, with all facilities, for these refugees at Jagti, near Nagrota. With the PDP-BJP coalition in power, one hoped that the return of Kashmiri Pandits would be facilitated. Although in Delhi on April 6, 2015, Mr Sayeed and the Union home minister, Rajnath Singh, agreed on clusters for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, the next day Mr Sayeed reneged and echoed the views of the separatists in the Assembly, that separate clusters would be divisive, like the settlements in Israel. Kashmiri Pandits must go back to the old locations and live alongside Kashmiri Muslims as before, he said.

The properties of Kashmiri Pandits at their old locations have been taken over by Muslims through distress sales or illegal occupation. Restoration of status quo ante is now neither practicable nor realistic. The argument regarding divisiveness is only a red herring, like the excuse Mr Sayeed used earlier for not making these refugees comfortable in the camps.

As chief minister, Mr Sayeed has been pursuing a separatist agenda. He thanked Pakistan and the separatists for allowing peaceful Assembly elections, then released Massarat Aalam, one of the main promoters of the 2008 agitation against leasing of barren land to the Amarnath Shrine Board for temporary pre-fabricated shelters for pilgrims. A canard was spread that like Israel in Palestine, India was putting up a township at Baltal to change the demography of the Valley. Mr Sayeed and his partymen jumped on to the bandwagon of the agitators. In 2010, Mr Aalam had organised stone-throwing on the security forces, resulting in many deaths. By releasing Mr Aalam and initially refusing to re-arrest him for treason, he deliberately allowed the situation to worsen.

Pakistani flags were unfurled at a large public meeting in Srinagar with cries of “Kashmir banega Pakistan”, reminiscent of 1990. His initial stand about filing of an FIR and the law taking its own course was unfortunate. He has now belatedly had Mr Aalam arrested instead of doing so much earlier and nipping trouble in the bud.

Mr Sayeed started his tenure as chief minister with a claim to harmonise relations between the people of Jammu and those of Kashmir. With a counter-agitation erupting in Jammu, the summer madness of 2008 which had led to the death of nearly 200 people and a loss of several thousand crores of rupees, is being repeated. In the present circumstance, the continuation of the PDP-BJP alliance will be disastrous in our national interest and also that of the BJP. It will not only strengthen the separatists in the Valley but also erode the BJP’s support base in Jammu and its electoral prospects in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

( Source : dc )
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