Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s response on both the issues of Sainik Colony and separate clusters for Kashmiri Pandit migrants remain far from satisfactory. The responses are more evasive than explanatory and do precious little in clearing the cobwebs of mystery inspired and propelled by an atmosphere of mutual suspicions andmistrust. This atmosphere of mistrust has been further exacerbated by the contradictory noises and the virtual silence of the government over these issues in recent weeks. The two issues may be very different but similar in nature as they inspire in Valley the fear of a demographic change, even if a little preposterous.
The fears are not unilateral, especially with respect to the issue of return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits and therefore merit a greater degree of sensitivity, pragmatism and cautiousness in dealing with these. With respect to the Sainik Colony row, the chief minister’s statement that the ‘proposal for land was received by the previous Omar Abdullah government but there has been no action since because there is no land available for setting up such a colony’ does not totally allay the fears or de-mystify the controversy. It does not simply help reduce the fears that the controversy has generated by stating that the colony is exclusively meant for ex-servicemen who are permanent residents of the state. Those defending the proposal have pointed out to a colony for ex-servicemen belonging to the state in Jammu and mischievously or ignorantly drawn parallels.
The government earlier sought to take umbrage under that but the chief minister while speaking on the floor of the legislative assembly was cautious in not drawing any such analogy. She referred to the setting up Sainik Co-operative Society in 1973 and said that several meetings were held between the Governor and Congress-National Conference coalition government on the issue of allotment of land between 2011 and 2014. However, she neither sought to draw a distinction between the Sainik Welfare Board, which is a quasi government institution and the Sainik Co-operative Society, which is totally a non-government organisation. The catch is in the fact that while the Sainik Colony in Jammu has been set up by the co-operative society, the proposal for Kashmir’s Sainik Colony has come from Sainik Welfare Board, which is unparalleled. In the Jammu case, the land was not allotted by the government but bought by the Society as per its co-operative structure. If Kashmir is being treated as a special case, there is reason to worry and the fears of Valleyites may not altogether be misplaced. The only way to dispel them is by completely rejecting such
On the second issue, this newspaper has time and again reiterated that the return and rehabilitation of the Pandits cannot be rooted in allotment of land or cluster colonies but in involving communities, facilitating interaction and allowing both the communities to create an atmosphere of mutual trust. There are apprehensions on both sides. If the Pandits suffer from an acute minority syndrome especially amidst ideological affinity of the majority towards ‘azadi’ and the mesmerisation of a section of younger generation with the gun, the Muslims suffer from the fear of the ‘other’ in an extremely militarized zone and a violence battered and agency-infested Kashmir.
These mutual suspicions have been further enhanced by Islamic radicalization of the youth in Kashmir and Hindutva-isation of Pandits outside the Valley. In such a situation, the proposed transit camps or cluster colonies, whatever one chooses to call them, would only perpetuate and exacerbate suspicions and mistrust. These are not only futile attempts, they are ill-conceived and impractical as well. If the colony is meant to be temporary, then it is worthwhile to recall that the Pandits have already been uprooted and homeless for 26 years. How long is their stay in transit camps proposed to be for before they can be finally, amicably and peacefully settled in their homes? These are foolish ideas that are no substitutes for a comprehensive return policy that must take into account the basic need of building bridges and must proceed by taking small but steady and sure steps towards building bridges among communities, who should eventually take the ownership of the agenda.
The two plans are either creation of some senseless whim or may have been inspired by mischief. Given a history of BJP’s saffron designs in Kashmir, the latter may well be the case. Both these proposals have come from the Centre or are backed by the Centre. Was the PDP caught unawares with the designs of the BJP and is it compelled by coalition politics in being at least partly evasive? The PDP’s predicament today explains why Mehbooba Mufti was hesitant in continuing the partnership with BJP. It finally did because its choices were limited but the two controversies clearly reveal the basic flaws in the nature of this coalition, if anyone had any doubts. In all likelihood, the PDP, instead of governing efficiently, is likely to be engaged in such battles as its own coalition partner is like the proverbial millstone around its neck. Mehbooba needs to negotiate through this period cautiously. One wrong move can set the Valley and also the entire state on fire.