With the Center finally deciding to shelve its ambitious plan of settling migrant Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) in ‘composite townships’, it is time to celebrate. Though Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farook has been very magnanimous and hailed it as “a victory for people of the (Kashmir) Valley,” the credit for thwarting this preposterous proposal should rightly go to the separatists. After all, it was due to their efforts in terms of organising protests and scathing attacks on the BJP led NDA government at the Centre as well as the PDP-BJP coalition government in J&K that this plan has been scrapped.
Having made the pre-poll promise to implement a comprehensive package for facilitating return of migrant KPs, the ‘composite township’ proposition became an ‘article of faith’ for the BJP. Having touted this as its ‘master plan’ that would finally resolve the two and a half decade old festering KPs resettlement problem, it was but natural that despite widespread criticism the BJP would be adamant in pushing this proposal through. Thus, by forcing the Center to rescind this proposal, the separatists have made the BJP bite the dust and won the ‘composite township’ war!
Even though the Mirwaiz has declared the shelving of the ‘composite township’ plan a “victory,” some amateur Kashmir watchers are not so convinced. These are those people who have learnt through bitter experience that in Kashmir, one cannot afford to take anything at its face value. Thus, while many may be celebrating, this small tribe of Kashmir watchers remains wary. For they find it very difficult to digest the idea that an extremely radicalised, highly egoistic and ultra-nationalist party such as the BJP would so easily wilt under pressure from the separatists and abandon its ‘composite township’ plan without even giving a fight! If one does ponder over this very pertinent observation, then it would become evident that as regards the ‘composite township’ issue, there could be much more than what meets the eye.
The skepticism of this cautious group of Kashmir watchers makes one contemplate – did the Center scrap the ‘composite township’ issue solely due to stiff opposition or was there something else to it. In Kashmir where everything appears to be a “conspiracy”, is it not possible that this too could be one? A devious plot hatched by the BJP that runs something like this- despite its election rhetoric, the BJP fails to make any credible plan for the return of migrant KPs. Realising that it could be subjected to severe humiliation by the opposition on this account, it decides to work out a ‘face saving’ strategy. Knowing that the separatists would vehemently oppose any plan to settle KPs in exclusive enclaves, the BJP decides to ‘use’ the Hurriyat to fulfill its political objectives. It announces the ‘composite township’ plan and as expected, the separatists and militants create the required fuss and fear psychosis due to which the Center in deference to the safety of KPs, decides to abandon the ‘composite township’plan. Thus, the BJP gets a ‘face-saving’ exit while the offensive statements made by the “pro-freedom camp” are publicised to portray the separatists and the Hizbul Mujahideen as the ‘villains’ opposing the return of KPs to their native land!
So, if the ‘composite township’ plan was indeed a “conspiracy,” then not only did the BJP succeed, but it also managed to provoke many of our leaders into making irresponsible statements that could harm the ongoing struggle for the ‘right to self determination’ in Kashmir by making it appear to be a violent movement with a communal bias rather than a peaceful and ideologically inspired one. However, the icing on the cake for the BJP must have been Islamabad’s surprise entry into this fray through its official statement on the ‘composite township’ plan that put its own Kashmir policy in the firing line!
Reacting strongly to the this proposal, JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik called for protests as well as a shutdown across the Valley and no one would grudge him this. However, he failed to highlight the fact that segregating communities along religious lines had no precedent in any democracy and by consigning the KPs to ‘composite townships,’ the Center was denying them their fundamental right to choose the place where they wished to reside. Instead, Malik decided to indulge in sensationalism by declaring that the ‘composite townships’ proposal was a devious plan hatched by New Delhi to create “Israeli-pattern settlements in Kashmir. His comparison of the Israelis (who were ‘outsiders’ and had evicted resident Palestinians to make a home for themselves) with KPs (who being indigenous Kashmiris have the right to return to their native land) was not only absolutely inappropriate but also perverse.
Malik could have also easily demolished the Center’s stand that ‘composite townships’ were necessary to ensure safety of KPs. All he had to do was to give an assurance that the “Pro- Freedom camp” would ensure that the KPs would be safe at their original dwelling places. However, instead of assuaging their apprehensions and fears, Malik made an extremely insensitive and equally menacing remark that “There is no exclusive danger to (Kashmiri) Pandits and we all Kashmiris face equal risks of such (militant) attacks.” By doing so, the JKLF chief has admitted that being helpless in front of militants, the separatists can do precious little to ensure safety of their KP brethren. Expression of such abject helplessness on such an important issue by one considered to be a “true leader” of the Kashmiris will surely send negative signals to the international community regarding the freedom struggle in Kashmir!
Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farook too saw a “conspiracy” in this proposal- although of a different type. For him, the ‘composite townships’ plan was a precursor to the abrogation of Article 370. Though he did not elaborate on how exactly the BJP led NDA government would manage to do this without amending the Constitution, he was convinced that “Article 370 will not be applicable in these separate townships” due to which, “The people from other parts of India will live there later” and thus “Article 370 will get abrogated gradually!” The Mirwaiz is free to speculate, but going public with statements based on mere conjecture doesn’t behoove a person of his stature and one who too is a “true leader” of Kashmiris.
United Jihad Council chief and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin made a welcome statement that “We are not against the return of Kashmiri Pandits as they are part and parcel of our society.” However, his subsequent warning that “any attempt to settle the (KP) community in separate habitats will neither be allowed by Kashmiri people nor by the mujahideen,” is most damaging for two reasons. Firstly, it contains an unambiguous threat to KPs which tends to corroborate New Delhi’s propaganda that those who were responsible for forcing the minority KP community to flee Kashmir were now once again threatening the KPs who wanted to return. Secondly, it endorses Yasin Malik’s admission suggesting that it is the Hizbul Mujahideen and not the Hurriyat which calls the shots in Kashmir!
Salahuddin tried to defend his stand by alleging that “Moves are being made to settle people from India in Kashmir and RAW-backed Panun Kashmir is being used to change the Muslim-majority identity of the State.” However, this doesn’t sound very convincing as Kashmiri Muslims enjoy such an overwhelming majority in the Kashmir Valley that even if KPs are settled in ‘composite townships’, it will make no demographic difference at all! moreoever by seeing KPs as potential Quislings, Sallahuddin has made his deep distrust for this minority community absolutely clear and given a good enough reason for the Hizb to be considered the most likely ‘suspect’ in any attack on this minority community that took place in the past or would occur in the future!
However, what is really inexplicable is how could Islamabad fall into so obvious a trap and get its Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam to issue the statement that “Any effort to create special dedicated townships or zones, or any other step to alter the demographic make-up of Jammu and Kashmir, is in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions.” One wonders whether the mandarins in Pakistan’s Foreign Office ever realised that their attempt to embarrass New Delhi through Ms Aslam’s statement would inevitably put Islamabad under the scanner and in the process expose the serious flaws in its own Kashmir policy. Hasn’t Pakistan already altered both the demography as well as the geography of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) and thus is itself guilty of violating UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir?
From the way the contours of the ‘composite townships’ plan kept changing, it was abundantly clear that the BJP was never really serious about its implementation. In fact, in the complete absence of any credible assurances regarding their safety, it is but natural that not many KPs would like to return and stay in ‘composite townships’ under self imposed imprisonment due to constant fear. I am sure that deep in their hearts, those who conceptualised this impractical idea, the ones who were required to work out modalities for its implementation as well as the separatists, Hizb supremo and of course Islamabad must have been convinced that this plan could never be executed. So, when it was amply evident that the ‘composite township’ plan was merely a political charade, why did our leaders react and give the BJP a way out? And even if opposing this proposal was considered necessary, highlighting the plethora of monumental flaws it contains would have been enough for forcing the Center to abandon this proposal. So, where was the requirement of directly or indirectly cautioning the KPs that their decision to live in ‘composite townships’ was fraught with danger?
What has been done cannot be undone, but we can always learn lessons from this. If we really want the movement for the ‘right to self determination’ to regain its pristine glory and receive wholehearted support of the international community, then our leaders need to be more discerning and rise above petty, parochial and communal considerations. Shooting off their mouths without thinking is perhaps the greatest weakness of many of our leaders and this malady is exacerbated by the fact that they are answerable to no one. Thus, the only way out is for the civil society to impress upon them to maintain a high standard of self disciple and exercise caution and restraint both in their words and actions. However, will our leaders submit themselves to scrutiny of the civil society or continue to maintain their obduracy and say or do as they please? Your guess would be as good as mine!