Return of the Native

By K.N. Pandita

On 25 April 2008, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh opened the engineering marvel of a cantilever bridge over the furious Chenab at Akhnoor. It connects Jammu with sensitive Rajouri and Poonch regions. From strategic and commercial point of view this is a landmark achievement.

The opening ceremony of the bridge will be remembered in history of the state and the nation for yet another landmark achievement. It is prime minister’s bold and open statement of his government’s decisive policy of rehabilitating more than fifty thousand internally displaced Kashmiri Hindu families back in the valley.

For the first time ever since militancy erupted in the valley in 1990, forcing the minority and the nationalists to leave their home and hearth, the Prime Minister of India has announced a comprehensive package for their return and rehabilitation. It has set at rest all ambiguities and speculations, fears and apprehensions, hopes and frustration that bedeviled the victims for two decades in the past.

Cynics may label PM’s announcement as election stunt. Let us not forget that the statement has come from the Prime Minister of India made in a huge public rally and conspicuously carried by international media in headlines.

Prime Minister’s public speech at Akhnoor is very significant from many aspects. It shows he has come to the brass-tacks while reflecting on the issue. The statement does not only give the displaced Hindus of Kashmir their proper place and status in the social fabric of the country but also sharply reiterates the responsibility of those who are at the helm of affairs to facilitate their return.

While the PM and his advisors rightfully take the credit of rolling out a pragmatic and levelheaded approach to the complex issue of Kashmir displaced persons, Pandit organizations at Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country and abroad, too, deserve a pat for their sustained effort of projecting the suffering of the affected people of the community and seeking redress.

The Pandits should hail PM’s public announcement as a very positive and a very constructive measure on the part of the union government.

Obviously, the union government will formally constitute an official draft committee to draw the plan of return and rehabilitation in the light of the guidelines announced by the Prime Minister in his Akhnoor speech. Hopefully, the affected party will be co-opted for drawing the blue print of the scheme.

The displaced persons, no doubt, would like that not only the local political leadership and elders of valley’s civil society but also the separatist leadership of various hues in the valley to be the components of the draft committee. Good will of the majority population is the first pre-requisite for making the return and rehabilitation plan a success. A brisk exchange of good will missions from either side should not be ruled out.

The Prime Minister indicated that New Delhi had asked the State Government to identify land for raising habitats and localities where the returnees would be re-located. As we know, local civil society would justifiably like healthy integration of people of different faiths and ideologies. In the long run, a harmonious civil structure is the best guarantee against the assaults or subversion by anti-social elements. This, however, does not mean that the government and its security apparatus will lower the guard in view of our experience in the recent past.

It is heartening to know that the Prime Minister has spoken briefly but eloquently on the economic and social aspect of the entire issue. Assistance by the government for relocation in the valley and providing means of sustenance are integral to the comprehensive scheme of rehabilitation. The PM has gone to the length of announcing even the quantum of package, which by all means is not discouraging and can be enhanced as things begin to move in right direction.

In all probability, it appears that the recent visit of Congress chairperson, Sonia Gandhi to Jagti in Jammu has been a catalyst to the big and bold policy decision publicly announced by the Prime Minster. The contribution of the State government particularly the Chief Minister is by no means insignificant.

It is heartening to know that after a long but distressful wait, the national leadership has realized what the Pandits had been emphasizing all these years – that return and rehabilitation of the Hindus back to the valley with respect and dignity, with fair and just treatment and with adequate safeguards of security and economic survival is a much needed proof of the viability and strength of our secularist profile. As long as the Hindus remained hounded out from their native land, India’s claim of Kashmir being a model of her secularism looked remained very fragile. The return of the native will, undoubtedly, mark the return of normalcy to Kashmir and the victory of the forces of secular democracy.

(The writer is the former Director of Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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