Back to Pandit question

In a move that is set to raise fresh tension in Valley, the Union Home Ministry has identified 100 acres of land at eight places in the valley for settlement of Kashmiri Pandits. These pockets will be spread across all 10 districts of the valley. What this means is that  the government is determined to set up segregated colonies for Kashmiri Pandits in defiance of  the popular opposition to them in Valley. The settlements are variously called ‘composite colonies’ or the ‘transit accommodations’, a term that PDP is comfortable with.  The Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has supported the transit accommodations, defending these as the temporary settlements necessary to inspire confidence among the returning pundits.

Kashmiri Pandits constitute over 2 percent of the Valley’s population with Muslims making the 97 percent. There are just 7,247 Pandits who at present are living in Kashmir. People in Valley want the community to return to their old neighbourhoods which Pandits and the government argue is not possible as the maximum Pandit households have sold their properties. Besides, they also talk about the security issues on return to their ancestral places.   

Recently, the J&K House passed a resolution for the return of all the migrants to the Valley. Former J&K Chief Minister and National Conference Working President Omar Abdullah had asked the government to pass a resolution to favour returning of all sections of people who had migrated from Kashmir since the outbreak of militancy in 1989. But the resolution has brought the Pandits nowhere nearer to return to their return to  Valley.

the resolution means little both in terms of its execution on the ground, and in terms of the political consensus which has always been there – albeit there are sharp political differences about the mode of their return.  Both Kashmir based mainstream National Conference and the separatist groups have reservations about the resettlement of Pandits in exclusive enclaves, separatists more stridently so. 

There is nothing surprising about the turn of events. This is a script that has been played out in the state over and over again over the past several years. The separatist demand – and which resonates with a large section of the population in Valley – is that Pandits should return to their ancestral places and reintegrate into Kashmiri society. This is a demand that also finds a tacit favour with the Valley-based mainstream parties like PDP and NC who are afraid of running afoul of their constituencies should they support separate settlements.

And the resolution will do little to help the cause of the Pandit return either. Speaking, however, at the Assembly, the Parliamentary Affairs minister, Abdul Rahman Veeri accepted the need for  a resolution on Kashmiri Pandits: “We all feel the need to bring our people back who left and thus a resolution is being passed here,” Veeri said. “They are our part, bringing them back is what keeps our conscience alive”.

But understandably, Veeri stopped short of talking about the politically contentious Government plan for the return of Pandits to the Valley. And for that to happen amicably, the government will need to take the majority community in Kashmir on board.

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