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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Former PM IK Gujral inaugurated winter games in Kashmir when 23 Pandits were massacred at Wandhama

Heavily-armed terrorists swooped on the village Wandhama, now in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, on Lailatul Qaddr, the holiest night of the holy month of Ramzan, on the eve of the Indian Republic Day, January 25/26, 1998. While all the Muslims were busy with the nightlong prayers at the local community mosque, the resident Pandits and their guests were dragged out on the gun point. Twenty-three of them, including nine women and four children, were mercilessly massacred.

It was for the first time after the killing of seven Pandits at Sangrampora, Budgam, on 21 March 1997, that this big number of the members of the minority community was gunned down at one place.

A pall of gloom engulfed the whole of Kashmir valley, with nobody daring to publicly condemn the carnage but everybody looking melancholic. There were scenes of mourning across the ripples from Ganderbal where the revered Kheer Bhawani temple shrine stands at Tulmulla.

Obviously the bloodshed had an impact on the Republic Day. There were insipid, lacklustre ceremonial parades and no cultural programmes. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah called for bombardment of Pakistan.

Two days later, late Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral flew in from New Delhi-not for shedding any tears for the slain Pandits but for inaugurating the national winter games at Gulmarg. He paid a customary visit to the devastated village where smoke was still billowing from the funeral pyres and hardly anyone was left to collect the mortal remains.

From Ganderbal, Gujral flew straight to Gulmarg by helicopter where he kept his schedule of inaugurating the colourful winter sports carnival. Forgetting about the bloodshed, everybody in the administration from Director General of Tourism Najam-us-Saquib and Inspector General of Police P.S. Gill to SSP Baramulla, Munir Khan, did fall in at the PM’s event. In the afternoon, Gujral silently flew back to the Union Capital.

Before succeeding H.D. Deve Gowda as Prime Minister of the Congress-backed government on 21 April 1997, Gujral had served as Bharat’s Minister of External Affairs in V.P. Singh’s government. Returned from Jalandhar on the Janata Dal ticket in the Lok Sabha elections of 1989, Gujral played a key role in releasing five JKLF terrorists in exchange for the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya Sayeed.

Governor of Kerala Arif Mohammad Khan, who was also a Minister in V.P. Singh’s government in 1989-90, disclosed to Times Now TV today, 27 March 2022, that he and Gujral were deployed to Srinagar to convince Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah over conceding to the kidnappers’ demand to secure the release of Mufti’s daughter.

Khan said: “Farooq Sahab was adamant on not releasing the terrorists. I supported him. But I was completely sidelined when New Delhi learnt that I was doing the reverse of the government’s brief”.

According to Khan, the deal of Bharat’s surrender before the terrorists was struck by Gujral through the then Allahabad High Court judge Moti Lal Bhat. “Moti Lal Bhat came all the way to Delhi and stayed at Mufti’s house. Later I learned that the same judge had brokered the deal with the terrorists. He was the same judge who had been previously transferred (from J&K) to Allahabad after he earned the reputation of releasing every (detained) terrorist on bail”, Khan revealed about Mufti’s old friend Bhat who was a Kashmiri Pandit.

Exactly as warned by Farooq Abdullah, the terrorists’ release triggered a festival of celebrations in Srinagar. Youths with cressets in hand burst firecrackers and shouted slogans for Azadi. The euphoria of the victory celebrations led to hundreds of the youths walking over to Pakistan, getting guerrilla training and returning with guns, grenades, IEDs and rocket-launchers. V.P. Singh’s government at the Centre crumbled for different reasons in less than a year.

Years later, Gujral raised his head in a Congress-backed government and emerged as a dark horse for the post of Prime Minister after Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav landed in different troubles.

Succeeding Durga Prasad Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit politician and diplomat, as Bharat’s ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1976, Gujral had also served in Moscow for four years. He had extraordinary connections to the Kashmiri politicians. Veteran physician, Late Dr Syed Naseer Ahmad Shah, was among Gujral’s student friends in the pre-Partition Lahore. He attended conferences on Central Asian studies at the University of Kashmir.

But Gujral alone is not to blame for Bharat’s lack of collective consciousness over the tragedy suffered by every Kashmiri who stood for the country. There are plenty of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, filmmakers, academics and even security and intelligence mandarins who continue to speak Pakistan’s language, call for talks with the terrorists and separatists and promote secessionism as ‘dissent’. Just a few years back, this country has seen a senior retired IAF officer, ironically a Pandit, crawling before the separatist hardliner SAS Geelani, reverentially calling him ‘bab’ (father) and seeking his blessings.

Questions over ‘eclipsing’ the suffering of thousands of the Kashmiri Muslims killed by the separatist terrorists apart, Vivek Agnihotri’s ‘The Kashmir Files’ provides the first dramatic depiction of the sermons of ‘azaadi’ and ‘inquilab’ injected into the impressionable minds in sections of the Bharat’s academia. Agnihotri has limited his canvas to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) but the characters of his dramatic irony exist everywhere in Bharat’s body politic-from Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration to top echelons of the country’s bureaucracy.

Delhi or Srinagar, many Bharatiya cities have been safe and secure pastures for hundreds of Prof Radhika Menons.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with minor edits to conform to Hindu-Post style-guide.)

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