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Monday, March 27, 2023

KPs see J&K delimitation as last hope

Hope eternal has long been ebbing in the hearts of the displaced 4-5 lakh Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) who lost their homes following the mass exodus in the wake of the Islamic pogrom of the early 1990s. The overwhelming majority of them are settled in Jammu and Delhi, the remainder being either unregistered or scattered the world over.

Hundreds of Hindus were slaughtered, women raped, homes burnt down by roving bands of insurgents belonging to the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in league with their Pakistani sponsors aided and abetted by the demonic Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Stripping J&K of its special status under Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution on 5 August 2019 and demoting the state to a Union Territory was just the thing they always sought since being driven out bag and baggage. The bold legislative coup d’etat made their dream of returning to the land of their birth realizable, at least on paper.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with 14 principal political players from the state on June 25 to discuss the contours of a possible restoration of statehood was a clear indication that the time had come for the government to be pushed and prodded into taking a view on the future of an ousted people languishing on the sidelines of the country’s polity like a sore thumb. A community that is Bharat’s very own and whose rights over the land and its resources predate that of usurpers and terrorists belonging to a religion birthed in violence and bloodshed.

A good omen is that not a word was exchanged on the infamous Article 370, a legacy of chacha Nehru’s warped anti-Hindu mindset. The self-serving members of the infernal Gupkar Gang know only too well that living off Bharat’s resources while burning incense at the altar of Pakistan cannot and will not work anymore. And should their hopes hinge on the Supreme Court turning the clock back to the pre-2019 setting, they could be in for yet another shocker.

Farooq Abdullah’s tirade that besieged Kashmiris would prefer Beijing’s rule over Bharat’s cannot be forgotten or forgiven. The tongue lashing betrayed the old codger’s separatist mindset whose game was up long ago.

“Today Kashm­iris do not feel Indian and do not want to be Indian… they are slaves…they would rather have the Chinese rule them,” the leisure-loving octogenarian told the anti-national news dispenser, the Wire, during an interview with the TV anchor Karan Thapar.

The PM did well to confine his parleys on the possibility of reviving the electoral process which he hastened to clarify necessarily depended on the completion of the delimitation process. And it is the Delimitation Commission formed on 6 March 2020 on which the state’s Hindu refugees have now pinned their future. The body, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, was to have submitted its recommendations within a year. Covid-19 came in the way.

With the commission’s members scheduled to visit the state between 6-9 July, the act of redrawing the state’s boundaries in keeping with the changes in population will begin in earnest. Taken to its logical conclusion, the exercise will increase the total number of assembly seats from 107 to 114 in keeping with the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019.

The 114 includes 24 seats reserved for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and four of Ladakh which is certain to retain its UT status. The changes will help remove the injustice done to Jammu since the 1995 census when the last delimitation was carried out in the state. The region’s share of seats will rise to 44 from the existing 37, bringing it almost at par with the 46 in Kashmir.

Predictably enough, such a prospect cannot comfort the Gupkar groupies. Omar Abdullah, in fact, did question why J&K was being singled out for delimitation when there is a freeze until 2026 on the number of Lok Sabha and assembly seats in the rest of the country.

Delimitation in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Mizoram sanctioned by the President will only redraw the boundaries of seats in states and rework the number of reserved seats for SCs and STs. J&K was always a sole exception given its special status which now lies scrapped.

Reserving a couple of seats for KPs or nominating one or two from their ranks post-delimitation holds the key to making them political stakeholders in the state’s future. Leaders of Panun Kashmir who have been spearheading the cause of the refugees since 1990 are certain that this is a golden chance for the government to deliver on its promise to restore the status quo ante. Failure to do so will almost certainly dampen their cause and send a clear message that Kashmiri Hindus are nothing more than poll fodder for the powers that be.

Both the above options have precedents. Sikkim has a reserved ST seat for the Sangha, the monastic Buddhist order. The 32-Sangha assembly constituency, says the state’s chief electoral officer on its website, has no geographical boundaries. It is the only seat in the country reserved for a religious order.

Buddhist monks registered with 51 monasteries spread across Sikkim are the only ones who can contest and cast their votes here. The seat has 3,293 voters of which 3,224 are monks, and the remainder nuns.

The newly elected Puducherry assembly has three nominated members from the BJP, two of whom are defectors from the DMK and Congress. The nominations were made to boost the BJP’s fortunes in the state. With nine assembly seats, the party is now a whisker away from power. The ruling All-India NR Congress, an NDA ally, has 10.

Bottomline: if the Modi-Shah ruled BJP can find novel means to outwit its opponents in a politically lightweight UT, surely it can accommodate the expectations of a community which has stood like a rock behind the party, and that too in a region where the political stakes are considerably higher.

Safeguarding core Hindu interests has not been among PM Modi’s priorities despite his global image of being a Hindu nationalist. Not once since 2014 has he stooped to meet KP representatives despite their sizable presence in the national capital. The least he could have done is invited them separately after the June 25 talks with Abdullah & Co. The gesture would have convinced the hapless community that the government was serious about their resettlement and welfare. The head of the KP diaspora, Utpal Kaul, tweeted that they waited for the PM’s invite till the eleventh hour. His disappointment was palpable.

What got prime media space instead were scenes of fake bonhomie between the PM and those very Kashmiri politicians under whose noses a reign of terror was unleashed. Memories of the 1989-90 killings of the well-known RSS leader, Pandit Tikalal Taploo, retired judge Nilkanth Ganjoo, and social worker and columnist Premnath Bhatt by jihadis still rankle. Kashmir Doordarshan director Lassa Kaul paid the price for beaming programs on Hindu culture and traditions.

Many, in fact, wonder whether talks to restore statehood to J&K ought to have been initiated this early. Why the hurry? Less than two years ago Amit Shah had described Kashmir’s frontline leaders as a bunch of looters, and that too on the floor of parliament. Keeping a close watch on their activities for another year or two might have better served the national interest regardless of shelling from the Left-Liberal commentariat.

Boxed into a corner for nearly three decades, KPs have good reason to put all their eggs in the Delimitation basket. They see it as the road to nirvana. Since the commission’s report as and when tabled cannot be challenged in court, even a passing advisory to the Union Home Ministry that KP interests cannot be ignored will smoothen their path of political representation. Nothing short of this will suffice.

Kashmir is under close watch. Failure to restore the rights of its original inhabitants can only strengthen the hands of fissiparous forces in Kerala, TN, and Bengal where the parties in power openly weaponize minority appeasement, and are not above challenging the Centre’s writ on national security.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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