The BJP-PDP government in Kashmir is working on a plan of reconciliation, which chiefly entails the issue of rehabilitation of Pandits — or so it seemed from Ram Madhav’s statements during a debate that took place at a venue in central Delhi on the occasion of the launch of Ajan Nath Chaku and Inder K Chaku’s The Kashmir Story: Through The Ages.
As frustration of the Kashmiri Hindus gathered at the venue grew to anger, Madhav first tried to quell the passion by telling them how a government works. He said the Centre and state government’s ultimate objective was to not merely ensure the Pandits’ return to the Valley or ensure the safety of NIT students, but create an environment in the region that would make today’s separatists turn into tomorrow’s nationalists, who would hoist the National Flag with as much pride as the rest of the nation does!
Madhav was, of course, seen in two different avatars in course of the show. While he sounded defensive in the beginning where he sought to separate the plight of Pandits and that of the NIT students, going to the extent of almost admonishing the students for turning political instead of quietly pursuing their studies, he later turned the heat on lawyer-activist Shabnam Lone when she was found uncomfortable with the idea that the Indian State would make today’s secessionists hoist the National Flag tomorrow.
“Let me, at the outset, disapprove of this equating Kashmiri Pandits’ issue with what has happened in NIT recently. Don’t try to mix up and don’t try to create unnecessary passions,” Madhav told the anchor of the show, NewsX’s chief editor Rahul Shivshankar.
When told how the Pandit and NIT stories were related, Madhav fumed, “If you say that you have to follow the narrative of the students, then you have to give that freedom to the students of JNU, to the students in other universities. What you have to do is allay the fears. What you have to ensure is that they are safe, secure. They are in the Valley only to pursue their academic careers; they are not there to pursue politics. You are forcing them to pursue politics there.”
Their security should be ensured — that the government of the day has to ensure. The central government and the state government — both are doing their best to ensure their security. But the larger issue is: None of us should try and do anything that will further the problems that they are facing and also disturb their academic career. The NIT has been there for several years in the Valley. Several new institutions are coming up. We have sanctioned an AIIMS in the Kashmir Valley. What will happen to AIIMS tomorrow if this narrative goes on?
The security part, the government will take care (of). But remember, protecting the academic careers of the students is also important. We are committed to that also. We want to secure their academic career. Yes, they have a fear psychosis; they wanted to come back; they came out (of the Valley), which is very unfortunate. But their exams will be held whenever they go back. Sure, we will be able to convince them to go back. We will provide full security to them.
Maj Gen GD Bakshi did not agree that the state government’s measures would make the NIT students confident enough to go back to the campus-
In military terms, we judge situations by the end results. There are pious intentions. I’m sure they are noble intentions that are being spelt out. As a military man, may I tell you, when I tell you that the end result is (this): in 1990, we saw 350-400 thousand people of a particular denomination driven out of Jammu & Kashmir. Circa 2016, instead of seeing anybody go back, we have seen 2,000 more non-Kashmiri students driven out for waving the National Flag, for shouting slogans about the nation….
..The problem is the battle of narratives. The best way to solve a problem is to face it squarely. Don’t push it under the carpet. We are losing the battle of narratives. The narrative is now in Delhi; it is in Hyderabad… The narrative is in Jadavpur University in Calcutta. We are facing an Arab Spring….There is an attempt, and there are foreign elements involved in it, to question your nationalism. Forget about the battle in J&K; fight the battle here in Delhi; fight the battle in JNU… You cannot separate these narratives. When somebody shouts here, ‘Afzal hum sharmindah hain, tere qaatil zindah hain (Afzal, we’re ashamed that your killers are alive),’ iska matlab kya hua, saahab? Aap keh rahe hain ki Supreme Court ke judge jinhon ne yeh sentence diya, abhi tak ham ne unko maara nahin. Unko maar daalo! (What does this mean? You’re saying that the Supreme Court judges who have given this sentence should be killed. Kill them!) If this is not incitement for violence, what else is?
Sushil Pandit was not convinced the two issues could be separated either. He said that the Pandits were believed by the local Muslims to be the flagbearers of the same brand of nationalism in the state. He said that during the period that the Pandits were still living in the Valley, they used to be abused as “agents of India”. Actor Anupam Kher said that a scenario where the Pandits were being welcomed back to their home and hearth indeed did not exist.
Madhav defended the government’s position by arguing that the anti-national sentiment was nothing new in Kashmir. That the police have acted against anti-nationals in other parts of the country is proof, he claimed, that the government was not tolerating secessionism. But in Kashmir, where the administration was working, albeit in a more measured manner, he wanted the people of India to give the government more time. Madhav said-
Sometimes certain things are not highlighted. You know, when Pakistani Flags are swung in some areas, it becomes a big news item for the (television) channels to show all over. But you do not show the follow-up that the Jammu & Kashmir Police does immediately by filing FIRs and mostly, whenever they can catch them, they catch them and arrest them (the Pakistani Flag-waving people). And (a) legal process follows. This is the way you have to handle (situations) when you are in the government. You cannot take a rifle or a gun and shoot them. You have to tackle them legally. The effort is being done by the government there…..On 15 August 2015, our government, the BJP-PDP government in Jammu & Kashmir, took a decision that in every district headquarter, there should be flag-hoisting (ceremonies)….
Madhav said that while this could be a normal sight in the rest of the country, this was not being done in public view before; now it is. And he said that the locals are being encouraged to participate in the exercise. He said that Kashmir was not the only place where the National Flag was not welcome. It was, he reminded people, equally unwelcome in Bastar and Dantewada of Chhattisgarh and almost the whole of Manipur. The implication was that the people should not be impatient for positive results from Kashmir alone.
We are also coming from the same school (of thought — that of nationalism). We are also believers of national integrity. Give us an opportunity. If we fail, throw us out. When Madhav said that the state government’s ultimate objective was to turn secessionists into nationalists, Lone protested-
He really does not understand the treacherous terrain of Kashmir… He has over-simplified the Kashmir issue because the BJP is on a power safari in Jammu & Kashmir. It is so easy to say that we will one day give this flag to the separatists and, in the meantime, let the BJP-PDP government go on. They have started off on a most dangerous note… This fuel and fire that has been harnessed in Handwara — it will have a lot of impact… They (BJP-PDP) are unaware of the senses and sensibilities. The entire Kashmir was watching. Thursday, four people died in firing. Our honourable Prime Minister, Mr Modi, was accepting bouquets from our chief minister. She is the same chief minister who, till five years back, was looking for graves in the Valley. Kahin koi militant marta tha, wahaan pahunch jaati thi woh (she reached out wherever a militant was killed).
“Her reputation is tarred. What is the job of the government?” Lone asked.
This was when Madhav turned from pleas to aggression. He thundered that nobody celebrates the death of innocents. It’s very unfortunate. It has been happening (for a long time; it did not start in 2015). Civilians are dying. Military is dying. Police are dying in Jammu & Kashmir. I’m sorry; your (Lone’s) sympathy is only for one section. We have made efforts to win over hearts and minds. She (Lone) thinks it is just impossible; ‘it is a treacherous terrain’. We have (indeed) won over people who were holding separatist flags — to come to us and take oath in the name of the Indian Constitution and protect the integrity of India! They had been holding separatist flags for 30 years…
Who are speaking from here, giving lectures on sensibilities? Ms Lone? Her own brother Sajjad Lone, who turned to (a) democratic system of governance, who got elected from the region, today is risking his life sitting in Handwara, trying to convince the people that violence is not the way: ‘Let us talk it out; let’s talk to the government.’ He is doing constructive work. And here we have somebody saying nobody is sensitive, everybody is insensitive.
Madhav defended the governance experiment-
… under BJP and PDP, we are making another fresh attempt… I know, I fully understand the scepticism and I appreciate the suspicion; I fully agree with the general disapproval that nothing will come out of it.. Yet, in the given circumstances, he said that the two parties in the coalition thought that a new attempt must be made to do justice to the Pandits.
If the situation normalises in the Valley, I’m sure the government will take the process forward. In the common minimum programme, we’ve said that we will do it with the full involvement of the community (of Pandits)… If it fails after six years, sure, people can reject us. But if you say, ‘because you’re bound to fail, you shouldn’t make any effort,’ I’m sorry, it will not work that way…
International relations expert Prof Amitabh Mattoo, who has worked with Jammu & Kashmir’s Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her father the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had earlier sounded optimistic about the present state government’s initiatives like identifying places where the Pandits can be resettled.
On the panel, Kher, who had begun addressing the crowd with a plea that the Kashmiri Hindus should continue to act with dignity, conceded that it was not possible to go back to their original homes, which either no longer exist, or they are in a pretty bad shape.
Scores of other Pandits in the audience agreed that a secured area for them in the Valley would be the only feasible solution. This is a departure from the long-held stand of the community that separate quarters built for rehabilitation would be unacceptable as they would become easy targets for terrorists.
While the organiser of the event, Vitasta Publishing, made a lot of effort to ensure star attraction actor Kher’s presence on the occasion, it was Madhav who stole the show with substantive insights into the policies and actions of the government.
Kher sounded alarmed by the prospect of the NDA not continuing in power post-2019 if Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar could stitch an alliance between all anti-BJP forces. He thought that would be an end to the Pandits’ hope of being able to return to their home state some day in the future.
Rashneek Kher from the audience made it an engaging show by giving out the names of some militants who are moving around scot free — and have been constantly feted by the local Muslims — after massacring Pandits.
He questioned why the law was not catching up with these murderers, which would assure the refugees in their own country that the government was serious about offering them justice. This is a question that was asked by a few other Pandits, too. Madhav left this issue unaddressed.