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The 2008 UPA Package
What Modi May Now Offer
There’s nothing official about it, but word in Srinagar is that the NDA government is planning to resettle displaced Pandits in three different new ‘townships’. So galling is the prospect to the Kashmiris that it has forged a rare consensus between both pro-India and pro-freedom groups. Leading the charge is the Majlis Ittehad-e-Millat, an umbrella organisation of almost all Islamic sects and organisations in Kashmir. “Some 17,000 kanals of land have been identified to settle the Pandits, but the move will be resisted tooth and nail,” says Bashir-ud-din Farooqi, head of the Majlis, who is a government-appointed mufti. Hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani believes such settlements can create an Israel-Palestine type of situation in the state and permanently divide the majority and minority communities.
The ‘Israeli angle’, in fact, recurs in conversations across the Valley, even among traders. New Delhi “is working in unison with Mossad to make a Palestine-like ghetto here,” says Yasin Khan, chairman, Kashmir Economic Alliance, a federation of various trade bodies.
And it’s hardly the Kashmiri Muslims alone who are opposed to the plan. Dr Sameer Koul, a prominent Kashmiri Pandit and national spokesperson of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, discerns vested interests both in the state establishment and in New Delhi who do not want the reunion of the two communities. The governments in New Delhi and Srinagar keep saying on the one hand the situation in J&K has improved perceptibly, but on the other, Koul points out, “there seems to be a conscious effort to vitiate the atmosphere of coexistence and the composite culture of the Valley”.
Bhushan Lal Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit and a National Conference leader, too thinks the proposal for separate enclaves is a fishy one. He sees in them an effort to deflect attention from the main political problems of the state, and give them a religious and communal colour. “We have been living together for centuries,” says Bhat. “We cannot now accept any barriers between Hindus and Muslims.”
There’s another thing. Kashmiri Pandits do not really need government help to return to the Valley. Santosh and Surinder Kachroo have shown the way.
Having left for Mumbai in 1990 in a Maruti van, their first car, where Surinder went on to become the general manager of the Centaur and World Trade Centre, the couple returned to their hometown in March this year, where Santosh had been teaching in a leading school.
“Constructing housing units in concentration camp-like pockets won’t motivate anyone to return,” says DG, tourism.
They spontaneously recall the warm reception they received from their neighbours on their return. “During the construction of our house, one of our neighbours would get up in the dead of the night to drive away stray dogs entering the premises. After we moved in, another neighbour lent us his water connection till we got ours registered. On our first day, the local mosque committee members came and welcomed us,” says Santosh, rattling off a list of good deeds they encountered.
The Kachroos have now launched the first branch of a playschool, a little away from their newly-built two-storey house in Sanat Nagar, on Srinagar’s outskirts. Surinder’s brother, who is returning in a few months, has also built a house next door.
Ask them what they think of the speculative talk about the plan to create special and separate enclaves for migrant Pandits, and the couple is vehement in its opposition. “Let our community members give up their comfort zones and return home,” they say. “Like most Pandits, we had sold our house in Srinagar. Now we have built this house out of our savings, not relying on any government rehabilitation package. Why can’t others do so?”
On its part, the Modi government has kept the ‘separate settlement plan’ under wraps. All it has explicitly committed to so far is to create a conducive atmosphere for the Kashmiri migrants to return. For this purpose, it has earmarked Rs 500 crore in its 2014-15 budget.
The UPA too had announced a similar package and rehabilitation scheme in 2008. However, only one family—an old couple who returned to their home in Anantnag district—officially availed of the housing incentive, and there were no takers at all for the promised assistance for self-employment.
Now, in a fresh plan submitted by the state government, the proposed provision for housing has been increased from Rs 7.5 lakh per family to Rs 20 lakh, and assistance to agriculturists and horticulturists from Rs 1 lakh and Rs 3 lakh to Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh respectively.
In addition, there is a new component: acquiring Rs 900 crore worth of land to allocate one kanal (approximately one-eighth of an acre) to every Pandit family that returns. The Omar Abdullah government, however, wants to double the land acquisition amount to Rs 1,800 crore as land prices in the Valley have escalated hugely in recent times.
“No place is immune to untoward happenings, be it Srinagar or Mumbai,” says Surinder Kachroo.
The Centre too “will provide more resources, if required, from what has been allocated for rehabilitation of internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits or if someone is out of the state and wants to return,” Union finance minister Arun Jaitley had said in the Lok Sabha.
It has, however, done little to dispel the bad air over the idea of rehabilitating the Pandits in separate, hermetically sealed clusters. Anyway, it’s a job easier said than done, say analysts. As M. Ashraf, a former IAS officer and director general of J&K tourism, puts it, “Constructing housing units in totally guarded pockets resembling concentration camps won’t motivate anyone to return. It will instead create friction between communities.”
Surinder laughs off any suggestion of danger to their lives. “No place is immune to untoward happenings, be it Bombay or Kashmir,” he tells Outlook. “I have seen death from close quarters. During the 1993 Bombay blasts, I was on the second floor of Centaur building at Juhu, and was again fortunate enough to have left the World Trade Centre minutes before the 26/11 attack in 2008.”
“We need to understand that the migration was a sad part of our history and that it was an aberration,” says Santosh. “Kashmiri Muslims also lost two generations in the conflict. But the love and affection hasn’t dissipated. It’s heartening to see not a single Muslim say that migration of Pandits was a blessing.”
It’s a tale that recurs in Kashmiri folklore, the bitterness of the ’90s notwithstanding. Kashmir’s former chief conservator of forests Noor-ul-Hasan recounts one such story. “When I lived in downtown (Srinagar),” he says, “I was intercepted by a group of hooligans near Bohri Kadal on my way to college. Asked whether I was a ‘sher’ (Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah supporter) or a ‘bakra’ (supporter of the Mirwaiz clan), I said ‘bakra’, and got a sound thrashing. I managed to escape but was caught again near the historic Khanqah-e-Mualla shrine. This time I said I was a ‘sher’. Again I was beaten up. I managed to escape yet again but was caught a third time, near the Fateh Kadal bridge. This time I said I was a Kashmiri Pandit. On hearing this, I was given safe passage. Someone from the crowd shouted, ‘Leave him. He is our Pandit ‘boye’ (brother)’. This is how Muslims have been treating the Pandits. Even when Muslims were not safe at the hands of fellow Muslims, nobody would touch a Pandit.” It’s a bit of history worth treasuring—and recreating.
By Showkat A. Motta in Srinagar