A selfless social reformer and politician

Badri Nath Pandita

The turbaned K P was a familiar face with people and media, with bureaucrats and politicians with intellectuals and non-intellectuals, with religious, political and social people, with Kashmiri Pandits and with Kashmiri Muslims. He is none other than the Amar Nath Vaishnavi, who was the unchallenged leader of Kashmiri Pandits and was the president of All State Kashmiri Pandits Conference (ASKPC). He came to the top of the ASKPC decades back in a hotly contested election where he defeated H N Jattu and a number of others.
ASKPC is the only authoritative organisation of Kashmiri Pandits in social, political and reformative fields and among its greats have been Pandit Kashyap Bhando, Pt. Shiv Narayan Fotedar, Dr. S.N. Peshin, Justice Kilam, Justice, J.N. Bhat, Pt. P.N. Bazaz and many small and tall men of stature. The ASKPC is the alternate name of once famous Shri Sanatan Dharam Yuvak Sabha. It had its headquarters at Sheetal Nath Srinagar, from where it led many a struggle for the people of Kashmir in general and Kashmiri Pandits in particular. The Sheetal Nath complex was what Mujahid Manzil was to National Conference. It was the Mujahid Manzil of Kashmir Pandits. The leadership of ASKPC has throughout been in the vanguard of political, social, economic and reformative aspirations of the Kashmir Hindus and the ASKPC initiated its ‘Rooti Agitation’ from the same complex, which later on led to have a law for Permanent State residence.
A.N. Vaishnavi was born in August 1925, the year of ‘Taajpushi’ (coronotion) of the Last Maharaja of Kashmir, Shri Hari Singh and ever since his boy-hood days he had developed social, political, commitment which grew with the passing of the years. He symbolized the eternal Hindu efforts of ‘Sarva Dharma Sambawa’ and ‘Vasudev Kutumbakum’ and he was purely a humanist in his approach to life and the people around. He grew up during the period of Hindu resurgence pioneered by Dr. Headgawar in the twenties and in Kashmir, this was intermixed with Kashmir Shaivism.
While talking to Mr. Vaishnavi about his boyhood days he became a bit nostalgic and pines for the the revival of ‘Daily Martand’ which was the K.P. Voice and was run by people with contribution ‘Muchaphul’ (fistful of grains). The loss of this voice meant that the KP Voice was not heard by the high ups and I wonder what a contribution it could have made in the present times: rough and tough for the Community. I feel that some vested interests must have conspired to see the death of “Martand’. Shri Vaishnavi did attempt to get it revived in 1990 but the attempts failed and the Community is suffering for lack of voice of its own. The Martand could have fought back the disinformation to which the Kashmir Pandits have been subjected
Mr Vaishnavi was proud of being a Kashmiri Pandit and he recalled that it was the KP. who announced ‘Kashir KAS Kashures’ in the twenties, but he regrets that the said slogan was highjacked by those who had other designs. The propagators of this slogan could never have imagined that one day the same people shall be uprooted and shall be thrown out from the Valley, to face a ‘Van Vaas’.
Mr. Vaishnavi had his early education in Ranbir School Jammu where late Mr. Vaid Vashnu Dutt of the BJP was his Classmate. Father’s transfer took Vaishnavi back to Kashmir and there Mr. Vaishnavi worked as a communicator of Bhagat Singh Movement which had the likes of Bal JI Zutshi, Dina Nath Nadim Jagan Nath Koul, and Pt. Ram Nath Vaishnavi who incidentally was the elder brother of A.N. Vaishnavi.
Schooling over and with a Diploma in Fine Arts, Vaishnavi Ji started his career as a school teacher in DAV Rainawari and later on Arya High School Pathankot and it was he who was made incharge of the ‘Shakhas’ of RSS. J&K then had a permit system and it was the Jammu Praja Parshad which launched an agitation against it. It attracted Shyama Prasad Mukherjee to the State who laid down his life for ending the permit Raj in J&K.
Shri Vaishnavi took active part in the said movement and the State Police arrested him under the Preventive Detention Act and the charges among other things read that he was supplying arms to the Jammu Agitators from Pathankot. What a farce! The whole world knows that Jammu agitation was peaceful and that not even a single shot was fired by the agitators. Shri Vaishnavi was ordered to be released by medium of a Habeas Corpos Petition by the Supreme Court of India, acting through its the then Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Mahajan.This was Vaishnavi’s first baptism with Jail life, which he tasted time and again in his life later on.
Jail Yatra over, Mr. Vaishnavi joined as a Government teacher and was posted to Bandipora in 1955 and in 1956, he was transferred to Handawara. Handwara was then reeling under the after affects of the tribal raiders and the Psyche of Handwara Hindus was at its lowest then, despite the efforts of Ab. Rahim Banday and the pushtoo speaking Arshulla Khan and the legendary Shridhar Joo Pandit trying to help them overcome the trauma. The Handwara Hindus would not dare to take out Janamashtami Processions’, it was Mr. Vaishnavi who asked them to take out a procession with one Moti Lal dressed as Krishna then. The Muslims of Handwara showered flowers on the procession and appreciated the same. Mr. Vaishnavi was transferred to Anantnag soon after. Post 1947, the Kashmiri Hindus were deprived of landed properties without compensation, by the so called secular system of the State, which led to discontentment which finally found its expression in the 1967, ‘Parmishori Agitation’. Mr S.N. Fotedar, formed Hindu Action Committee and the leading figures in the said Agitation were Gopi Krishen P.N. Gassi, Mr Jia Lal Raina, A.N. Vaishnavi and B.K. Handoo. The agitation saw 16 days curfew in Srinagar. It saw lathicharges, Police repression, Police firing, deaths of so many agitators and it attracted nation wide attention.
The agitation failed due to some conspirators. The Hindu Action Committee organized a “Dharna’ at Delhi and volunteers H.N. Jattu, A.N. Vaishnavi, Hira Lal Chatta, Bal Ji Seeza, and Moti Lal Zaroo were arrested. It was December, 1967 when Mr. Vaishnavi was transferred to Ladakh where he championed the cause of Ladakh Buddhists and was arrested for that. Thakur Baldev Singh, T.R. Sharma and Tika Lal Tiploo, worked for his release and bailed him out and the challan finally failed in the Court of Law.
The fighter in Vaishnavi saw him again opposing emergency in 1975 and he was jailed for 06 months. He was a part of the famous ‘Ganga Jal Yatra’ in the State. In 1987, he got elected as the president of the ASKPC and ever since then he had been its President, in rough times and tough times, in peaceful times, and at all times. Since 1989-1990, he had been the spirit behind the luckless Kashmiri Pandit migrants and he had been doing whatever he can to help them in distress. The age did not affect him. Problems do not deter him and he continued to fight and fight a peaceful battle for the survival of his community.
He had been an inspiration to the Kashmiri Hindus and post 1990, he worked as member of the National Human Rights Commission. He presided over the Global conference at London (England) and he was one of the star attractions of the Government of India’s working Group on Kashmir to explore the means to see the end to the blood bath in the Valley. He was a Karam Yogi in true sense.