PM’s Package: Reading between the Lines

Dr. K.N. Pandita

The Apex Committee-Pandit representative organizations interface began on 23 September 2009 in Jammu. We are sanguine the maiden meeting was conducted in friendly atmosphere. This marks the beginning of a long journey in which each step will have to be taken guardedly and never in haste.

One may presume that in this first session the official team will have, at least, got an idea of how much complex their task is. Obviously, to cope with 31 Pandit representative organizations and individual opinion makers, all with a wide and varied perception of issues and proposals up their sleeves, is a formidable task. This must have necessitated constituting a Steering Committee to drop out angularities of lesser or secondary importance and concentrate on the main themes of PM’s package. Maybe the teams of Pandit representatives, too, understand the tactical pragmatism of unifying their voice and forging their own steering body within o outside the Apex Committee. After all this has to be a long-drawn process. 

The reported statement of the chairman of the Apex Committee that “the Prime Minister and the Congress Chairperson are also monitoring the implementation of the package” may be a good sycophantic service. The Pandits have nothing to be excited about it. Had it been true, a year and a half would not have gone a waste in deciding whether to talk to the Pandits or not.

Now that after prolonged disinclination and unknown compulsions the State government has initiated the process, it is time that we bring under close focus what the package actually unfolds, and to what extent will it mitigate the suffering of the Pandits.
Close and critical reading of the text of the package reveals that it has been drafted in remarkable diplomatic language that says the least what the PM wants to say the most.

Once reflecting on China’s betrayal after Sino-Indian war, Nehru said that in dealing with China he had realized that the Chinese always put things in words in a way that these had one meaning for the writer but another for the reader. Mandarins at PM’s office seem to have fully mastered this Machiavellian art. The glaring lacuna is that they forget they are dealing not with aliens but with those whom Indian State miserably failed to provide security of life, property and honour in 1990.

Coming to the brass-tacks, the first thing to be noted is that PM’s package is “relief and rehabilitation” package. It means “relief” and “rehabilitation” are two separate areas that need to be understood and treated separately. The interpretation is that one may need only relief and not rehabilitation; or one may need only rehabilitation and not relief; or one may need both relief and rehabilitation. It is the duty of the Apex Committee to provide clarification before it proceeds in the matter. Providing clarification means categorizing recipients according to some criterion, which it will have to lay down.

A woman whose kith is killed in militancy is a victim. But she has not been forced out of her house, looted of her belongings and deprived of her social moorings. Does she need relief or rehabilitation or both or none? This example should help formulate the criterion.

The second observation is that the PM’s package is for “Kashmiri Pandit migrants, refugees and victims of terrorist violence.” This means that there are three categories of beneficiaries of the package. The text is emphatic in identifying the first category viz. “Kashmiri Pandit migrants”, but it leaves other two categories vague, namely “refugees” and “victims of terrorist violence”.

Who are the “refugees”? The sobriquet does not apply to Kashmiri Pandits in any case as long as they are called “migrants” something better than refugees though precisely they are IDPs. Does it apply to those who were thrown out of present PoK in 1947 as a result of tribal invasion, and are still not acceptable to J&K Government as state subject? Does it apply to those valley-based state subjects who, for some reasons, had to leave the valley on account of turmoil but did not register themselves as “migrants” anywhere in the country for reasons of their own? Does it apply to those who lived along the border and were forced to abandon their homes under threat of militancy and move to interior parts like people on border line in Poonch, Mendher, Rajouri, Akhnoor, Samba, Kishtwar, Kupwara, Gurez, and other such sectors? The Apex Committee will have to address this aspect.

The third category of recipients of PM’s largesse is of “victims of terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir.” Like refugees, this category, too, has been left unqualified. In the parlance of separatists and secessionists, the “victims” are invariably those who have been killed in the operations of security forces. Some would put it more crudely by saying victims are those who were killed by security forces. But in the idiom of KP “migrants”, their entire exiled community is the victim of “terrorist violence in J&K”. It is Internally Displaced People and hence as good as international refugees in terms of the definition of the UN Human Rights Charter.

Now if the idiom of either the separatists and secessionists or the “KP migrants” is to be accepted, then the number of such victims in each category runs into hundreds of thousands. As such, the Apex Committee is beset with a formidable task of defining the categories and laying down a criterion for qualifying to be part of that category. This is likely to create acrimony between two communities if a sensible, logical and reasonable definition of the category is not provided.

In the light of what is said, it is a misnomer to call it a “relief and rehabilitation package for the Kashmiri Pandits” as the chairman of the Apex Committee has been stating. Objectively speaking, it is a package for the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pandits could at best be one of the beneficiaries.

More amusing is to brand it a 1618.40 crore rupees package for the “Kashmiri Pandits”. In the light of what has been stated, the Pandits may or may not receive even one third of the announced quantum of the package.

Since the PM has left these aspects undefined, the difficulty is of apportioning the share of each category in accordance to its needs keeping in mind other commitments made elsewhere in the package. The Apex Committee’s task is not so simple by any means.

The Pandit extirpation and internal displacement is a very peculiar case. It made the UN H Human Rights Commission (Council) Working Group add one more definition to “Minority” viz. “reverse minority” As such its problem needs to be addressed  in an equally special and peculiar manner. Unfortunately, not doing that, the PM has clubbed them with other two categories which is very unrealistic.
Again, the PM’s package says, “the government was concerned about the condition of widows and orphans –– the victims of militancy related violence, the state government would work out a package for their rehabilitation”.  The use of two different qualifying phrases for one situation in a single paragraph of PM’s statement is noticeable. It is “victims of terrorist violence in J&K” and “victims of militancy related violence…” Who will define what the PM means by differentiating one type of violence from the other? In our interpretation, first category is of victims of terrorist violence and the second category is of the victims of “counter insurgency”.

If this interpretation is accepted, then the entire KP migrant community is the victim of terrorist violence in J&K and a vast majority of people mostly in the valley is the victim of militancy related violence. The differentiating criterion is that while the former has been hounded out of its home and hearth, the latter remained stay put. By bringing in women and orphans as “victims of militancy related violence” the PM has added one more category to the three of these already identified at then outset. Thus the Pandit has only one-fourth share of the grand package announced by the PM.

The State government has been advised to “work out a package for their rehabilitation” (not relief). The question is whether the package be carved out of the total package offered by the PM or will the State government provide funds for this special package? Or does the PM leave option to the state government to submit a fresh plan for this additional but exclusive package.

The overall impression is that the package has very subtly tried to dilute the case of KPs and make it a “secular victimization scenario in J&K” so that the government’s secular credentials remain intact.

Nobody objects to any category of victims receiving government’s largesse. But criteria for each category have to be laid down taking into account a number of factors. For example, house-boat owner or a taxi driver in the valley suffered on account of militancy because his business collapsed as visitors desisted from coming to valley. He has been provided a “relief” of 3 lac rupees one time package by the state government to rehabilitee himself. He has not lost his house or belongings or land or orchard or shop or other immoveable property.   He may be considered for more relief, well and good, but a “migrant” who has lost all his property, house, land, orchard, shop, business, and social security cannot be taken at par with the houseboat owner or the taxi driver. A sense of justice and reason has to prevail.

There are many more serious observations about other commitments made in the package that must evoke in-depth debate within the Apex Community and the civil society. For example, the question of employment promised in the package has many dimensions integral to it, which must necessarily be highlighted and addressed. Again, 1997 has bee fixed as the cut off line for claiming distress sale compensation. What is the criterion of this arbitrary cut off line? It has to be remembered that most of the distress sales took place only after the Kargil war of 1998-99.

Owing to paucity of space I cannot proceed with a detailed critique of all subtleties and nuances of the package. I have touched on only a few of these.

Nevertheless the package has some positive and appreciable aspects as far as the “KP migrants” are concerned. We cannot lose sight of that. With all said and done, it is a good sign that a dialogue has begun and it should continue. There are sharp angularities no doubt, but with good intentions on both sides, hopefully the logjam can be dismantled with patience and perseverance.

The sticking points that remain in this debate are two: security concerns and political empowerment. Both are most crucial. But the perception is that in 1990 the Indian State failed or had no will or had political compulsions for not providing security to the Pandit community in 1990. Therefore, changing the entire concept of security of a minuscule religious minority in predominantly Muslim majority, the Pandits have reason to seek the good will of saner and rational elements within the majority community before practically moving back to valley. A large inclusive township in the proximity of Srinagar (a la Parihasapura capital building plan), housing the needy families would pave the way for their power sharing process also.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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