Kick-starting a membership drive in Kishtwar last week, the BJP’s general secretary (organization) said that his party had no objection to the return of around half-a-million Muslims who were forced to migrate from Jammu following the massacre of November 6, 1947. This is in total contrast to the party’s known stand on the Jammu migrants, commonly known as the muhajireen, who are desperate to come back. While measures for migrant Pandits and refugees from West Pakistan are announced regularly, the muhajireen cannot even talk to their relatives in this part of Kashmir on telephone, as New Delhi shows no interest in restoring telecommunication links between the state and Pakistan-administered-Kashmir.
Communal forces in Jammu had risen in angry opposition, to which the Government of India succumbed, when the state government tried to facilitate the muhajireen’s return through legislation. Introduced in the assembly by the Sher-e-Kashmir in 1980, the legislation, which came to be known as the Resettlement Act when passed, was referred by the Government of India to the Supreme Court for opinion. The apex court returned it after twenty years without any change or comment. But communal forces expressed serious reservations, and one from the ilk approached the Supreme Court, which stayed the Act’s implementation. The petition has not come up for hearing for the past seven years, and successive state governments, which were duty bound to defend the legislation, have been watching like mute spectators.
People holding evacuee property in Jammu had taken to the streets in 2002 when the Supreme Court returned the Act without change, and the government had to assure them undisturbed stay on the property they hold but do not own. The legislation has far reaching political consequences. As per the provisions of the Delhi Agreement of 1952, people who, prior to partition, were permanent residents of the state and had migrated to areas coming under Pakistan, would be considered state subjects if they returned. The muhajireen do not need doles, but want a political package for homecoming. Some of them simply want to dispose off their properties in the Jammu region, and have no intention of staying back. The statement issued in Kishtwar is very significant. The BJP could probably be a part of the government that might take office in the state. While the West Pakistan refugees can be settled in any part of India, the muhajreen need a package. Will that happen?