Getting Kashmiri Pandits back

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On Sunday, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and the pro-Azadi groups squared up for a face off over separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits.  While Mehbooba visited Kheerbhawani temple to join Kashmir Pandits for the annual religious event, separatists held a joint seminar in Srinagar to reiterate their opposition to “the Government’s plans to create exclusive Kashmiri Pandit settlements.  The Government had earlier denied permission to the Azadi camp to hold a joint event. So, the last minute  acquiescence to the seminar came as an afterthought and so a surprise to the people in valley.  Though positioning itself as a staunch advocate of the “battle of ideas” in opposition, PDP in opposition has fulfilled the promise in breach.  Permitting the separatist seminar was, thus, a welcome departure from this policy.   The analysts interpreted it in terms of Mehbooba’s political compulsions and the need to play it safe in view of the ongoing  bye-election in Anantnag where CM is contesting to get elected to the Assembly after giving up her parliament seat to return to the state. In political terms it balanced the CM’s wooing of the Pandits and the separatists giving vent to the Muslim anxiety over the apprehended designs to change Valley’s demography. Mehbooba could thus send two disparate signals to two divergent constituencies and both ostensibly to her political advantage. 

At Kheerbhawani, the CM told visiting Pandit pilgrims about her government’s plans to bring the community back to Valley. She said she was working on creating a conducive environment for the community’s return. Kashmiri Pandits, she said, have been an important part of the brotherhood in Kashmir and that Kashmir was incomplete without them. “We will provide the community the alternate transit accommodation, and as and when they feel like going back and permanently settling at their native places, they should go of their own choice and not by force,” she said. 

In a statement that could be interpreted in controversial terms, Mehbooba at Kheerbhawani assured the Pandits that the government will not force them to return to their old places in Kashmir as it appreciated the community’s security concerns. 

In Srinagar at Hyderpora, the chairmen of the two Hurriyat factions Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Molvi Umar Farooq spoke about their determination to resist any attempt to create separate Pandit colonies or a colony for ex-servicemen.  In a first, the Azadi camp barred the Timesnow and News X from covering  the programme as “the channels didn’t report truth on Kashmir”.  JKLF supremo Yasin Malik who over the past month has made strenuous efforts to unite the separatist groups against the alleged demographic change could not attend the event due to his arrest a day before. 

Both Geelani and Mirwaiz urged people to be ready to resist conspiracies which are designed to change the demography of Kashmir. They counselled caution about India’s plans to settle non-locals in the state, calling upon youth to be united and adhere to their program to foil proposals of India and its collaborators to turn Muslim majority Kashmir into minority.

Mehbooba, on the contrary, has made no boons about setting up “transit accommodations” for returning Pandits. The issue, however, remains very sensitive and has the potential to tip the Valley into a fresh turmoil. Government has hardly helped its cause by speaking in ambiguous terms on the subject which has only fanned fresh suspicions among people. Rather than making Pandit resettlement in Valley a state  sponsored affair, the government must encourage discussion, debate  and  dialogue on the issue. Solution should evolve from people rather than be forced by the coercive might of the state. 

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