The issue of the return of Kashmiri Pandits, especially in the wake of the new Indian government’s menacing overtures on certain sensitive matters, has the potential to turn into another permanent source of misery for both Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus.
It is difficult to ascertain what Kashmiri Pandits collectively think about the issue now because, like the Muslim residents of their homeland, they too are a highly divided lot. By the way things are shaping up it appears that elements who have spent all these years defaming the political struggle of the Kashmiri Muslims, are the driving force behind the plan to rehabilitate this minority in settlements. The Pandits who did not leave the valley have admitted to the media that “they don’t count” and have little say in how the returnees should be settled.
So how do Kashmiri Muslims respond to the catastrophe in the making?
The Hurriyats should seize the moment and start talking to the Pandit leadership of all hues, even those who are unworthy of it – Panun Kashmir, for example. Remember, one of the major grouses against the Kashmiri freedom struggle has been that there was no collective effort by Kashmiris at the time Pandits left en masse.
Now, why the Pandit leadership should give separate audience to a divided resistance leadership is a genuine argument. Therefore, the resistance leadership should first at least sit together on this issue and frame a comprehensive programme on how to address its various dimensions. In 2008 and 2010, we heard one leader cribbing at home that “chalo” was a disaster, while another was martyred at Uri, and yet another was nursing some old grudge.
The least they can do is to elect a leader who is exclusively in charge of this issue. The rest can reserve and utilise their energies for the larger resistance movement. There is no need to respond from all sides on a single issue and provide New Delhi and the Abdullahs and the Muftis an opportunity to take advantage of the resulting chaos. Shabir Shah comes to my mind as a leader fit for the task. He has remained in touch with the Pandit community outside the state, often braving attacks from government-sponsored Hindutva goons.
Alternatively, a committee comprising of members from various resistance groups should be constituted for better delegation of tasks. The elected leader or a committee can start a dialogue with Pandit leaders, conveying to them the apprehensions of Kashmiri Muslims, and listening to their fears and desires in turn. Taking civil society groups, journalists and academics on board too will be fruitful. Because, if Pandit leaders ask the majority community what concrete steps it can take to effect their inclusive re-integration into Kashmiri society, I fear, we don’t have an answer. We are speaking in general terms, but we must be ready with solid proposals.
There are some issues that are not in the control of the resistance. Until Omar Abdullah spoke to an Indian newspaper, hardly anyone knew what suggestions for the rehab plan had been sent by the government here. Still, how the government in Kashmir, whether headed by the National Conference or the PDP, will coordinate with New Delhi in implementing any plan will largely remain under wraps.
But unlike 2008, when the PDP signed the Amarnath land deal and caused the ensuing bloodbath of Kashmiris, people have had time to demand that pro-India parties clearly spell out their stance on each aspect of the Pandits’ return – settlements, security, etc. Nobody let out even a chirrup when Farooq Abdullah gave the nod to the creation of the Shrine Board that soon started behaving like an independent state.
This is important because, while they will be seeking votes trumpeting trampled human rights violations and self-rules and autonomies, the same politicians will be active partners in implementing what Modi has in mind for the Pandit resettlement issue. There is always a Hassan Mir on standby.
Civil society groups can play an important role here. By making answerable to Kashmiris those who advise pro-India parties. It would be worthwhile to call such people to a seminar to discuss concerns surrounding the Pandits’ return.
It is highly likely that people who are advising pro-India political parties on strategies, and have been openly voicing their opinion about strikes and the resistance movement at seminars sponsored by unknown NGOs, can provide some insights on what these parties think about the issue. An Omar Abdullah or a Mufti saying something at a public rally is completely different from what they agree to on paper. Remember, were it not for the efforts of some columnists and reporters, we would by now have had a concrete jungle along the Amarnath yatra route.
The greatest lesson of the past 25 years of political struggle has been that rather than reacting to what New Delhi does, it is hugely imperative to be pro-active, and at least blunt the juggernaut. If you want to have a nation of your own, start behaving like one.