BJP, Congress and the Kashmiri Pandits

Vimal Sumbly
Everyone is entitled to his/her belief and opinion. There is a multitude of political opinions around. You cannot subscribe to all of these. Towards some, you may be friendly. Towards others you may be neutral. And yet towards a few you would be hostile also. Given the plight they have been forced into, Kashmiri Pandits’ is a unique case. They have identified themselves with almost all the political shades and streams as long as these have been nationalistic. Be it the Congress, the National Conference, the Bhartiya Janata Party, the People’s Democratic Party, the left parties and even the People’s Conference under late Abdul Gani Lone, as long as it was part of the national mainstream. Even now there are members of the community who have been supporting the party under Sajad Lone after his return to the mainstream.
Given the highest levels of intellectual attributes, normally their political beliefs have been framed and shaped by both ‘principles and pragmatism’. One thing, for sure, is that they have never compromised on nationalism. That is the reason that they are ‘refugees’ in their own country. Had they preferred pragmatism over principles they would probably still be living safely, respectfully and with dignity in their ancestral land like the other minorities are still living in Kashmir.
Traditionally the Kashmiri Pandits were staunch supporters of the Congress, with sporadic presence in other political parties like the National Conference and the BJP. Unlike now, the RSS was not very popular among the Kashmiri Pandits as long as they lived in Kashmir. Not many, rather very few, of them were associated with the RSS. However, the mass exodus in 1989-90 changed all that. They felt ignored and left out by the Congress, without realising that their exodus was triggered only after the Congress lost power at the centre. It was during the Janata Dal regime, under Vishwanath Pratap Singh duly supported by the BJP, that they were forced to leave their ancestral land.
Not many among the today’s ‘ultra-nationalist’ generation know or like to remember that when there were planned attacks on the members of the Kashmiri Pandit community in the southern districts of Anantnag and Pulwama during GM Shah’s (Gul Shah) regime in February 1986, the Congress withdrew support to his government which led to its fall. That is how much the Congress cared about the Kashmiri Pandits. Their safety and security topped and overruled all other concerns.
In strong contrast, the BJP did nothing to help in stopping their killings and exodus. Jammu and Kashmir, by then was under the Governor’s rule directly governed by the centre with late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as the country’s Home Minister duly and wholeheartedly supported by the BJP. What BJP actually did was just to make the ‘politically correct’ kind of noises. It played up the issue across the country. Needless to add to its own great political advantage. Hounded and persecuted, the Kashmiri Pandits found solace in what the BJP said about them while actually doing nothing.
BJP rarely goes beyond symbolism and the policy persists till today with ‘token representation’ to the Kashmiri Pandits in the shape of two MLCs. Legislators, whether MLAs or the MLCs have hardly any power or authority. They can just raise the voice and issues. But for that the Kashmiri Pandits are self-sufficient and that too in the age of social media. Probably, Kashmiri Pandit community is among the most vocal on social media with millions of users and most of them in overwhelming majority supporting the BJP.
The community should always remain grateful to the two Prime Ministers of the country; PV Narsimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh. The process of serious and respectable rehabilitation started during Narsimha Rao’s time (1991-96). From tents, the community members were provided with concrete one-room residences, besides increased relief and jobs. More than Mr Rao, it was during Dr Singh’s tenure that special employment packages were given to the community and also a reasonably better accommodation in Jagti in Jammu outskirts was set up. They are now living in two BHK apartments with maximum possible facilities. There is nothing special about what the two Congress governments at the centre did for them. But when compared and contrasted with the BJP tenure between 1998 and 2004, Congress stands apart and remains far ahead.
Other than the Congress it was Bala Sahab Thackrey who arranged for special reservation of the community students in Maharashtra that changed the socio-economic conditions of the community.
Not that the Kashmiri Pandits do not know and realise it, particularly after the BJP president Amit Shah reportedly snubbed a group of people belonging to the community that they never voted for the BJP, their only reason for attachment with the party is for its ‘particular’ rhetoric and narrative. The members of the community mistakenly believe that the BJP is more strict and stringent against the Islamic extremism, the cause and reason for their (Kashmiri Pandits’) current plight than the Congress. And the BJP has proudly exploited this sentiment of the community. However for record and reference to the contrary, it was under the BJP rule in 2002 when five dreaded terrorists were released and escorted out of the country to Kandhar in a special plane with the then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh doing the ‘honours’.
If the BJP believes that it can continue like that, it is mistaken. There is a growing realisation among the members of the community, particularly the youth, who have started asking questions. Beyond the ‘nationalistic rhetoric’, the BJP has failed to serve and deliver them anything else. But mere rhetoric will not help them to survive as an effective and vibrant community with an exclusive identity they are so proud of. The community runs the risk of merging, mingling and mixing up with the rest, which is a great threat to a distinct identity it is so much respected for everywhere by everyone.


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