One would have thought the street smart PM Modi and finance minister would have taken their lessons from the failure of previous government’s efforts of motivating the Kashmiri Pandits to return to their ancestral land

Voices Friday, July 11, 2014 - 05:30
By Kamal Hak In the beginning the budgetary allocations for the rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits was merely academic for a vast majority of them. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s famous April 2008 economic package worth Rs.1618 Cr had seen absolutely no takers in the displaced community who National Human Rights Commission describes as having gone through conditions akin to genocide. But, for ugly political compulsions Kashmiri Pandits are commonly addressed as migrants.  One would have thought the street smart PM Modi and finance minister would have taken their lessons from the failure of previous government’s efforts of motivating the Kashmiri Pandits to return to their ancestral land. That the finance minister Jaitley failed to read the pulse of the displaced community is all the more surprising considering the minister at the helm of affairs in PMO not only belongs to Jammu and Kashmir but has been actively involved with the Kashmiri Pandits in their struggle for getting legitimate justice. At least Dr. Jitender Singh the MOS in PMO should have known no amount of economic incentives will lure the displaced people back to the land they abandoned for the reasons, which definitely didn’t involve anything monetary.  One fails to understand the wisdom behind the Rs 500cr amount. What does the finance minister want to indicate with this meager provision? In mid nineties of last century the Jammu and Kashmir government set up what is known as Kaul Commission to determine the amount of monetary losses the displaced community had incurred as a result of their mass exodus. Kaul, a high ranking revenue official and his team arrived at a figure of Rs.17,000Cr as the value of immoveable property left behind by the Pandits. At that time the Kaul commission’s valuation received a general indignation for being too conservative with the figures. Two decades later, even if one were to accept the figures arrived by Kaul and recompute the same after factoring in the normal inflationary increments, Rs 500Cr would not only seem to be laughable but insulting as well. Kashmiri Pandits will definitely not be amused by what the finance minister as set aside for their rehabilitation.  As per the official figures around 70,000 Pandit families abandoned their homes, land holdings and other immoveable properties in 1990-91 to seek refuge in Jammu and other parts of main land India. These figures were arrived at by computing the data of registrations of the displaced people in Jammu and Delhi. The data completely ignores the people who didn’t land at either of the places but for personal reasons took shelter in many other cities in the country. In absence of any verified data on the exact number of affected people, the number of exiles is somewhat speculative. While the state government puts the number at around two hundred and seventy thousand, Pandits insist this number to be around three hundred and fifty thousand. They further add an equal number to account for actual migrants who had already left the valley before the onset of militancy in search of greener pastures in the plains of India but continued to have family in Kashmir. According to displaced community’s estimates any rehabilitation plan for them will have to address the needs of roughly 150,000 families. Will an allocation of mere Rs.500cr will do that? Incidentally, the finance minister has set aside a sum of Rs.200cr for setting up a recreational facility in Kashmir. The paradox is not lost on the community. One would like to assume the finance minister became slave to the effervescent halo created by the compulsion of pre-election rhetoric. Prime Minister Modi in his run up to election campaign not only created lots of hope and expectation in the beleaguered Kashmiri Pandit community but also fashioned a tight rope situation for his government, which compelled his finance minister to walk the talk. Unfortunately, the government seriously erred in its judgment. One of the attractive features of PM Modi’s discourse has been his ability to empathize with aspirations of various sections of deprived India. Kashmiri Pandits left to fend on their own for two and a half decades of displacement also saw a tremendous surge in their aspirations as Modi repeatedly mentioned their plight in his election meetings. Even though angry with the apathy of the country’s political class towards their legitimate rights, displaced Pandits voted en-mass for Narendra Modi despite their tremendous reservations against BJP. The community was further enthused by the reports suggesting they were a priority even before the government had been sworn in. The budget lets them down. The NDA government has frittered away a golden opportunity of earning the good will the displaced Pandits with a little bit of imaginative thinking. It should have known the reasons behind the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits were never economic. Therefore, it should have realized no amount of monetary incentives will attract them back. It should have served a master stroke by announcing the government believes in the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir with honour and dignity as defined by the community itself. It should have been bold enough to declare the government would not derelict in its responsibility of committing full financial resources to the return model of the community, which meets its legitimate geo-political aspirations. It would have won community’s hearts and confidence by declaring till the conditions are created for the return of Pandits to Kashmir, a certain amount of financial outlay is committed to institute a mechanism for determining the factors responsible for their exodus. The government would have enhanced its prestige by committing itself to bringing to justice the perpetrators of rapes, killings, and massacres on the Pandits. The government would have increased its credibility manifold by creating a corpus for the dependents of Pandits killed in the terrorist violence in Kashmir. There was no need for 500cr. They could have done all this in less than 100cr. The satisfaction felt by the Pandits would, perhaps, have been beyond any comprehensible budgetary allocation.
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