West Pak refugee proposals: experts ring alarm bells

West Pak refugee proposals: experts ring alarm bells

Wasim Khalid

Srinagar: In a rare instance, pro-India politicians and the resistance leadership in the Valley have spoken in one voice and warned of serious repercussions if New Delhi accepts the recommendations of a parliamentary panel and grants refugees from Pakistan permanent residency and voter rights in the state. Several political experts agree.
Political science professor GM Dar said the intent behind the recommendations is to change the dominant Muslim political character of the state.
“What will happen if eight assembly seats are created for the refugees and they are granted voting rights? The number of such refugees is about a million. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates want to change the Muslim-majority character of the state,” Dar said.
A parliamentary panel has recommended Permanent Resident Certificate and right to vote in assembly elections for the West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) and displaced persons (DPs) from Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) besides a financial assistance of Rs 30 lakh per family.
The panel also recommended “de-freezing” of eight seats for displaced persons from PaK and reservation for both groups in the assembly.
Union Home minister Rajnath Singh swiftly approved a few recommendations of the panel, including the one suggesting that WPRs shall be recruited in central paramilitary forces and a quota of seats shall be provided for their children in professional institutions like the children of Kashmiri Pandits.
While Hurriyat Conference (G) has warned of a “strong movement” if the recommendations are implemented, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led Hurriyat has called an “emergency meeting” of its executive members on Monday to discuss the issue. National Conference and PDP have pledged to “fight tooth and nail” any attempt to tamper with state’s demography.
According to Dar, BJP wants to divide the state on religious lines and create a situation where power balance will shift to Jammu.
Former Kashmir High Court Bar Association president Zaffar Shah said granting permanent residency and thereby voting rights to WPRs would increase the electorate, almost all of them Hindus. Currently, Kashmir region has 46 seats, Jammu 37 and Ladakh four.
“Then Jammu will demand that assembly seats shall be increased from 37 to 46. This would ultimately lead to change in the seat of political power from Kashmir to Jammu,” said Shah.
The polarisation that was witnessed in the recent election—all Hindu-majority constituencies voted for BJP—will intensify, Shah said.
“Such a move would break the social cohesion. You can’t satisfy one community at the cost of another. A minor event could land you in an explosive situation,” he said.
According to Rekha Chowdhry, former head of political science department at Jammu University, the issue needs to be handled sensitively.
“The issue of WPRs has been on plate in Jammu for quite a long time. Finally, the recommendations have come. If the parliamentary panel’s recommendations are implemented it would turn the situation in the state volatile,” she said.
“Both regions have different political orientations. If Kashmir persists with demographic issue, it has the potential to stoke tensions, like we witnessed during the Amarnath land row in 2008,” Chowdhry said.
The issue of WPRs, she said, needs to be considered from a humanistic perspective as well. She called for a proper study to assess their numbers and the implications of their presence on the state’s polity and demography.
“As far as I know they have been living here for the past 66 years and want citizenship rights just to get access to basic facilities,” she said.

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