Governor Satya Pal Malik has said that the separate townships for Kashmiri Pandits was not a matter of choice but one of necessity. He said it was important that the Pandits were given a nice place of their choice to stay. Such places, he said, have been identified and the government was working on them to enable settlement of Pandits. Senior BJP leader Ram Madhav has made the similar observations. Madhav, who is responsible for J&K, said the BJP was committed to helping bring back some of the estimated 200,000-300,000 Hindus who fled the Kashmir Valley in the aftermath of outbreak of separatist struggle in 1989. In 2015 a blueprint unveiled by the then PDP-BJP government had proposed self-contained, heavily guarded colonies for returning Pandits, complete with schools, shopping malls, hospitals and playgrounds. These pockets were supposed to be spread across all 10 districts of the valley.
What this means is that the government is now determined to set up segregated colonies for Kashmiri Pandits. The settlements were earlier variously called composite colonies or the transit accommodations with even the PDP defending these as the temporary settlements necessary to inspire confidence among the returning pandits.
Kashmiri Pandits constitute over 2 percent of the Valleys 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.
In 2015 also, the J&K House had passed a resolution for the return of all the migrants to the Valley. But as things stand, the resolution has brought the Pandits nowhere nearer to their return to Valley.
Although, the political consensus about the return of Pandits has always existed, there are sharp political differences about the mode of their return. Both Kashmir based mainstream PDP and NC and the separatist groups have reservations about the resettlement of Pandits in exclusive enclaves, separatists more stridently so.
However, 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 PDP and NC who are afraid of running afoul of their constituencies should they support separate settlements. The fresh noise about the issue is likely to generate more politics. But for the return of the long suffering community to happen amicably, the government should also take steps to take the people in the Valley on board.