It's worthwhile to remember that India’s current ruling group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the principal organisation which claims to espouse the cause of Kashmir’s minority community, the Kashmiri Pandits – who have been living in forced exile, away from Kashmir for over 28 years now.
The day Jagmohan was appointed the governor of the state marked the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley
The BJP enjoys power in New Delhi, by leading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), as well as in Jammu and Kashmir, by partnering with the J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Time and again, the BJP has expressed its commitment towards resolving the issues of Kashmiri Pandits, especially the community’s return to, and rehabilitation in, Kashmir. The 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto of the BJP, titled Ek Bharat-Shreshtha Bharat, even stated, “The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood will figure high on the BJP's agenda.”
That promise remains unfulfilled.
During campaigning for the LS Elections, Modi struck a powerful chord with Kashmiri Pandits.
After coming to power though, the BJP kept the momentum high on its assurances to Kashmiri Pandits. On June 9, 2014, in a joint address to Parliament on the Modi government’s five-year agenda, then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee himself reiterated the promise, “Special efforts will be made to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits return to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood.”
This mention by the President of India in Parliament rekindled hope in the beleaguered Pandit community – it reposed faith in PM Modi and his party. The President’s utterance generated great anticipation of a homecoming for the exiled community, in spite of the fact that the situation on ground-level didn’t seem very conducive, given Kashmir’s youth joining terrorist organisations and an increasingly vocal opposition to the return of the Pandits by the separatist groups, many of whom had brutally forced the community out.
But such is the nature of hope. Even in the face of facts, it refuses to die.
The political assurances made to Pandits regarding their return and rehabilitation kept emerging from time to time. While campaigning for the J&K state legislative assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a rally in Samba, Jammu, on December 8, 2014, vociferously avowed to rehabilitate all kinds of refugees emerging since India’s Partition in 1947. He was clearly hinting at West Pakistan refugees, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) refugees from 1947, 1965 and 1971, and internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits. He blamed past governments for their mistakes, their bowing to compulsions and their lack of will in not resolving these matters.
Modi struck a powerful chord with Kashmiri Pandits.
But the 2014 J&K legislative assembly elections delivered a fractured mandate, which led to the coalition of two ideologically opposite political parties – the BJP and PDP. There was political euphoria in the state, accompanied by the harshest criticism from the opposition parties, especially the National Conference (NC) and the Indian National Congress (INC). The opposition labelled this as an unholy alliance. But the harsh words didn’t deter the BJP and PDP combine. Narendra Modi and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had accomplished the impossible. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed termed the political union a meeting of “North Pole and South Pole”. It took around two months of frenetic negotiations between the parties. They then entered a power-sharing agreement with a guiding document, Agenda of Alliance (AoA), as the anchor.
The Modi government’s commitment to resettling Kashmiri Pandits was further reinforced through the AoA, which said, “Protecting and fostering ethnic and religious diversity by ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity based on their rights as state subjects and reintegrating as well as absorbing them in the Kashmiri milieu. Reintegration will be a process that will start within the state as well as civil society, by taking the community into confidence.” AoA would now apparently be placed, all the political accounts enthused, on the same pedestal as a holy book.
But Mufti Sayeed died on January 7, 2016, after being the chief minister of J&K for over ten months.
The alliance was now in jeopardy as certain sections in the PDP were not happy about the partnership with the BJP – Sayeed’s daughter and political heir, Mehbooba Mufti, had herself shown reluctance in joining hands with the ruling party at the Centre.
To be or not to be (part of an alliance with BJP)? Despite her father's enthusiasm, J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti showed initial reluctance.
Finally, the alliance was renewed and Mehbooba Mufti took oath as chief minister of J&K on April 6, 2016. The AoA was again cited as the vision document for the coalition government.
Amidst all this, the Pandits kept waiting for any significant forward movement with regard to their homecoming.
Two more years passed by.
In all these years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not directly addressed Kashmiri Pandits who pinned their hope on him and his party.
While he has visited J&K several times since he became the Prime Minister, not even once has he paid a visit to Pandit settlements in Jammu, which is the largest base of the exiled community post-1990.
What explains the distance maintained by Modi on this matter?
Is it because the BJP is attempting to make inroads in Kashmir and hence, playing safe by just cursory words? As we are halfway through 2018, the assurances made to Kashmiri Pandits by both the BJP and the PDP haven’t seen any light of day. The BJP will be completing five years in 2019 and continues to be in power in J&K, despite the intermittent hiccups in the alliance.
The fundamental issues concerning Pandits – justice for the killings and the rapes the community suffered, the return to Kashmir with dignity and security, the restoration of temples and shrines, the reversal of encroachments of Pandit properties, etc. – all the issues, the traumas and troubles which existed before 2014, continue to persist.
On the other hand, the situation in Kashmir doesn’t seem to have improved. Islamism and Jihad continue to escalate and manifest themselves in Kashmir, supported increasingly by the local populace, in one form or the other. The BJP-PDP combine has not been successful in dealing with the situation – instead, they continue to pander to the Islamists and the separatists tacitly.
The ruling party’s utterances remain hollow. Their spokespersons keep using the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits as political rhetoric on national TV. The Pandits remain exiled, thrown out of their land, their properties taken, their safe return to their fatherland similarly erased.
But still, the Kashmiri Pandits should be very grateful to the BJP.
At least, the political party found the Pandit community worthy enough to be used as a political tool to win dinner-time debates on TV. After years of the silence that resounded around us, the blankness we faced while being murdered, looted or raped, the brutal indifference we survived, living as refugees in our own land, today, even mere mentions, for the sake of playing politics alone, is definitely progress vis-à-vis the Kashmiri Pandits.