The three-month old ideologically antithetical PDP-BJP coalition continues to be dogged by unending controversies, accompanied by a combined fusillade of the opposition, ultra hard-line right-wing forces, with their hyper-patriotic TV anchor associates, and separatists of all hues. Prospective return of Kashmiri Pandit (KP) migrants has been the latest provocation. The trigger being Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Parliament last week, citing Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s promise to earmark 400 kanals (50 acres) of land as a first instalment for rehabilitation of the displaced community. In the absence of unambiguous specifics, vocabulary tended to drive the narrative, opposition leveraging the same to raise the political temperature! Encouragingly, the response from Jammu has been mature and restrained. Not to miss an opportunity to stir the pot in J&K, Pakistan’s Foreign Office speedily remarked that the proposed settlements would violate UN resolutions.
The short point is that the coalition has initiated a process to identify in the valley, land (the equivalent of 15 Bungalows on less than half of Akbar Road in New Delhi) on which migrants of all communities would be resettled. Of the earmarked land, 50 percent would be reserved for the majority community. So, how does this constitute ‘exclusive Pandit townships’, and why the furore? Because for naysayers in Kashmir “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts” is an article of faith. Opponents of the proposal, who insist on KPs ‘returning to their original homes’, are either disingenuous or oblivious to the existential reality that, over the years, 90 per cent of KP migrants have disposed off their homes, invariably in distress sales.
The more elemental issue from the standpoint of comprehensive peace, security and Kashmir’s societal equipoise is the 25 year ‘exile’ of the KP community. Their living ‘as refugees in their own country’, is a blot not only on the face of a democratic-secular India’s internal coherence, enshrined in the Constitution, but also on the Valley’s majority community, anchored in centuries-long cultural ambience of Sufi Islam, Kashmiri Shaivism, Mahayana Budhhism and Guru Nanak’s Sikhism. It is thus even more important that the political opposition, Kashmir’s civil society, and its community elders, support the Modi-Mufti initiative for unconditional return of migrants to their roots. Their warmth must draw upon Allama Iqbal, a fellow Kashmiri:
Jis khaak ke zamir mein ho aatish-e-chinar
Mumkin nahin ke sard ho woh khaake Arjumand
(The dust that has in its conscience
The fire of chinar trees
That dust, celestial dust
Will never become cold)
The return home of migrants is a legitimate Hobbesian ‘political obligation’ in its modern form, inextricably linked with Rousseau’s ‘social contract theory’. It is on these twin conceptual pillars that Pandits remained the pivot of the Valley’s socio-political, economic and geo-cultural mosaic for seven centuries since the advent of Islam in Kashmir. Possible reconstruction of political space for them by way of a degree of representation in Parliament, the State Assembly, Legislative Council and other avenues would find meaningful traction only if the community as a whole is organic to the valley. And not through preposterous demands for a ‘separate homeland’ made by misguided hardliner members of their community in the rest of India.
Translation of the hurriedly-announced Modi-Mufti political plan into a viable and well-conceived enabling policy would require a creative, imaginative and sensitive approach, founded on a detailed stakeholder analysis. Demographic and socio-economic profiling of the 3, 20,000 migrants (split between Jammu, the National Capital Region and the rest of India) would help identify the catchment groups that could return. The relatively well-off professionals, in their 30s or 40s have lost their zest for return, more so, when 1, 00,000 of their Muslim valley brethren have in the post-militancy period contentedly availed the opportunities of professional advancements as also living spaces in the rest of the country. The prospects of a second shelter back home could tempt some. However, the resettlement has immense traction for those relatively lower down the socio-economic ladder, notably the 1, 00,000 migrants temporarily housed in horrifying camps and shelters around Jammu.
It is not rocket science to figure out that livelihoods and living spaces are organically joined. By focussing on the latter at the cost of the former, Narendra Modi and Mufti Sayeed appear to have put the cart before the horse. On this subject, successive Central governments have been singularly tardy. Of the 12,000 jobs promised to migrants by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during a speech at Akhnoor in 2008, only about 2,000 are in place, filled by migrants, who live in ramshackle prefabricated structures built in a dozen locations all over the valley. Significantly, they happily carry on without security. As do the 2,800 Pandits, who never migrated, and live in 100-odd locations throughout the valley. These people, along with more numbers who get employment, could stand to benefit from the resettlement plan. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to live up to his so-projected decisiveness and can-do spirit, as also pro-corporate reputation, by ensuring the long-promised jobs for Pandit migrants are at last in place before his term ends in 2019.
The emotional journey back of the migrants to their soil and memories, temples and shrines (in many cases looked after by their majority brethren) and honouring of civilisational icons is even more important. The longstanding Temples and Shrines Bill, opposed by vested interests, merits early passage. The KPs would need to embrace change, and empathise emotionally with the valley’s majority community, especially youth, which has borne intense loss, pain and suffering for decades and remains deeply alienated. Interfaith conversations would be intrinsic to incremental reconciliation. The South African success with Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unlikely to resonate in a sensitive multi-religious State. Political leadership and opposition, academia, think-tanks, trade bodies, women’s organisations and Overseas Associations et cetera would need to rise to the occasion to create a common ground in narrowing differences, and promoting and preserving Kashmir’s famed composite culture that has come under stress during the two-decade long militancy. Else the window of opportunity for return of Pandit migrants, available now, would be lost forever.
The writer, a retired Air Vice Marshal and security analyst, has been associated with the Track II peace process in Jammu and Kashmir