FROM the Chief Minister Mehbooba Muftis speech in Assembly, it seems we havent heard the last of the Sainik and the Kashmiri Pandit colony issue. In fact, the CMs speech has only added to the complicacy of the proposed projects. Mehbooba justified that the construction of the Sainik and Kashmiri Pandit colonies. According to her, the colonies didnt interfere with the special status of J&K. Mehbooba termed the Pandit enclaves as transit accommodations. And once the situation gets better, Kashmiri Pandits can go and live anywhere they want to, she said. The transit accommodations, she said, will have 50 percent of housing reserved for Kashmiri Pandits and another 50 percent for the other communities including Muslims and Sikhs. Similarly, according to her, only state subjects will live in Sainik colonies.
Now Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Geelani has warned Mehbooba to drop the Sainik or Pandit colony proposal or face resistance. He has threatened shutdowns and protest programmes as, according to him, these are the only available options with separatist groups.
Though Mehbooba has tried to explain the issue, also making an effort to address the points of public concern, it has failed to convince the separatist and civil society groups in Kashmir. True, CM has offered a seemingly practical solution but that hardly detracts from the fraught nature of the proposals. More so, with her coalition partner BJP making more or less contrary noises. For example, BJP has made no bones about the fact that Sainik colonies are for the retired security personnel from outside the state. The saffron party has also aggressively batted for the separate Pandit settlements. Last year, soon after the BJP government took over, there was the talk of the centre having asked the state government to identify and earmark 16,800 kanals of land in three districts of the Valley Anantnag, Baramulla and Srinagar where the Pandit families could be resettled.
Each township, according to the proposal doing the rounds, would accommodate at least 75,000-100,000 people. The government will set up a medical college and engineering colleges for each settlement. Under the plan, 12 police stations would be provided to ensure security to the colonies. The centre will also provide housing assistance, transit accommodation, cash relief for a period of two years after the Pandits return, besides student scholarships, employment in state government service, assistance to farmers and waiver of the interest component of loans taken by the members of the community before they fled the Valley in 1990.
So, Mehbooba will need to do much more than offer simplistic explanations. If pressed further, the issue threatens to become dangerously polarizing. More troublingly, the issue is getting linked to the questions of identity – on both sides – and this should deeply concern us all. For, questions of identity are complex and usually hardest to resolve. Government has so far been only reacting to the issue on a day to basis without an effort to confront the issue head on. True, it is not easy to do this. There is a very fine line to tread here so as not to exacerbate the already charged situation. But just reacting to the evolving situation is also not the answer as suspicions are deepening on both sides. Ignoring them or leaving them unaddressed will only further complicate the issue and render less amenable to day-to-day management.
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