Tough questions for Mehbooba

After the Bijbehara attack, the Chief Minister blamed Pakistan for terror in Kashmir but kept mum on the local support that the militants had received. Is this because she faces a tough Assembly election in Bijbehara and the rest of the Anantnag constituency?

Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s statement on the recent militant attack on a BSF convoy in Bijbehara, which claimed the lives of three jawans and wounded seven others, is a classic example of political understatement. She indirectly and subtly linked it to the façade of Kashmiri Pandits returning to the valley while carefully avoiding any reference to the upcoming election for the vacant Anantnag Assembly seat — for which she herself has filled nomination papers.

The new narrative is about ‘disrupting the Amarnath Yatra’ which is another twist to the understatement syndrome. The Chief Minister innocently says that she does not understand why the militants and their handlers across the border are indulging in violence in Kashmir and what they want out of it. Someone should ask her: Does she know why she and her father were applying “balm to the wounds of militants”? Who had inflicted those wounds?

Mufti says she does not understand why Pakistan is playing this dirty game in Kashmir or what interest Pakistan has in foisting an armed conflict on Kashmir. Yet, her father had thanked Pakistan for allowing Kashmiris in India to elect a State Government.

Heavily armed militants, obviously hiding in some nearby hideouts at the site of the operation and monitoring the movement of BSF vehicles carrying the personnel to the BSF Headquarter, had seized the opportunity last week and attacked the convoy. Then, they disappeared into thin air.

The Chief Minister, in her innocence and honesty, has not uttered a word of censure for those providing logistic support and hideouts to the militants in and around Bijbehara, her hometown and traditional constituency. This explains the nature of her political understatement.

The Chief Minister looks at things from a specific prism. She is at a loss as to why Pakistan and the militants it sponsors have been indulging in disrupting law and order in the State. This feigned childlike simplicity is to show that the Chief Minister is not in the know of the reasons of rise of militancy and fundamentalism in Kashmir.

That is why she doles out pious pieces of advice to Pakistan to explain to her what it gets out of the conflict. Even if she knows, she politely and mildly, like a statesman, invokes logic and common sense in the affairs of bilateral relations with neighbours and the quality of good neighbourliness. She asks the militants to think about what they are doing especially after her father and even she herself had applied the ‘balm’ on their wounds.

Perhaps, someone needs to tell the Chief Minister that, simply put, what the the militants and Pakistan want is to snatch away her throne.

As Chief Minister, Mufti is pained to say that the lives of 50,000 to 60,000 people, including security forces and police personnel, have been lost in the Kashmir insurgency. But the culture of political understatement prevents her from asking for the source of these fatalities. To leave the people guessing, she finds an excuse in her inability to understand what they want.

Militants enjoy her softened understatement, as do we, the ordinary mortals, without need for in-depth analysis. In feigned innocence, she finds covers for the question of the origin of the gun in Kashmir. Notably though, she does not feel it is important to ask the peace-loving people of the State to denounce the activities of the militants and refuse them logistical support and safe havens. Making any appeal like that would, in all probability, polarise the constituency on which she and her party depend.

By not retaliating to the militant attack, the BSF has averted what is calls a Handwara-like situation. This is understandable given that the incumbent Government needs to keep its vote constituency intact especially when an election is round the corner.

As far as the rehabilitation of displaced Pandits in the Kashmir valley —a subject touched by the Chief Minister a couple of times in recent weeks — the fact of the matter is that the commitment made in the Agreement of Alliance cannot be implemented by either party in the ruling coalition. This was made clear last year itself. Hence, the the question now is whether the new formula which the Chief Minister is pushing is palatable to the Hurriyat and other separatists with whom her Government proposes to consult.

It may be premature to comment on the possible response of the Muslim majority community of the valley which has assigned to itself the final verdict on the return of the Kashmiri Pandit minority to its native land. If it is only the will of the majority to decide whether a minority is allowed space and right to exist wherever it likes, and not the Constitution of the country or the State, or the norms of democratic dispensation and international law, then India, home to hundreds of millions of minority community members, is standing on the edge of the precipice of chaos and destruction.

The BJP, which leads the Government at the Centre and is part of the ruling coalition in the State, should hang its head in shame for succumbing to diktats from the communal sections of the majority community. Who is Mufti Mehbooba or any other political figure to decide whether the Kashmiri Pandit community, who’s roots in the valley go back tens of thousands of years, will now be dumped in pigeonhole housing in valley, where they will of course become prisoners of the majority community?

Meanwhile, several exclusive habitats of Kashmiri Muslims have sprung up in Jammu in recent years. If that is not considered to be a threat to the State’s demographic complexion, then how are Pandit colonies being viewed as a threat? Indeed, how does a Kashmiri Pandit enclave threaten the integrity of the State?

It’s clear to all that denying Pandits the option of moving to Pandit-only colonies in the valley has nothing to do with any ‘Israel-like’ settlement problem. Instead, the real purpose is to deny the Pandits any chance of grabbing two or three Assembly seats, as it could be hurt the myopic local leadership that had already brought about gerrymandering of Pandit constituencies

If the Chief Minister believes in human rights, she must announce a new city for the entire Pandit community. This was suggested by interlocutors in their final report as the only sensible and viable solution. Pandits will protest against discrimination and violation of Constitution till eternity. The Prime Minister must also take an active interest in this. He has a massive mandate from the nation, and trivialising it means trivializing the nation.
*Dr. Kashi N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University