“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Ushering New Hope For Disfranchised Kashmiri Pandit Refugees

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

30 April 2006

Presentation at the Kashmir Secular Alliance (KSA) Seminar on April 30, 2006 in Jammu, J&K.

I am a born optimist. Quite frankly any other personal disposition would have made me close my “shop” long time ago. I would have joined innumerable other Pandits who dabble in public activities for a brief period and then move along to other, perhaps more honorable, pursuits.

The “shop” I am referring to is politics. Politics, it should be mentioned, means many things to many people. So let me begin by saying what it is not. Politics is not exclusionary. By that I mean you cannot pursue goals that benefit some at the expense of others from your own community. Moreover, the benefits should continue into future generations. Politics is not ignorance. By that I mean that you cannot shut out the voices from within your own community that you do not wish to hear. Respect and tolerance for cultural and political diversity is universal. And finally politics is not just talk. By that I mean you have to engage physically and intellectually in activities that should provide visible improvement in lives of your community members.

Kashmiri Pandits, much like Indian and Pakistani areas of Jammu and Kashmir State, are divided physically and intellectually into two broad groups. The dividing line for Pandits is not the Line of Control (LOC), but the Jawahar Tunnel. Those displaced from the valley and living in the Jammu region and South of the J&K State have evolved differently from Pandits who are displaced within the valley but have not left their homeland. This is a historical problem that is reinforced every time a major exodus of Pandits takes place from the valley. There is however an opportunity to shift that paradigm if displaced Pandits in Jammu and elsewhere outside the State are ready to move away from the “politics-as-usual” attitude and get into serious political engagement starting with a renaissance from within.

Today the community has very little political clout and that is not simply because of numbers. In fact our relatively small population has made our problems seem less serious than they actually are.

The first challenge that we face collectively is restoring credibility. From J&K government to the Indian government to other favorably inclined countries towards Pandits, almost everyone believes that most displaced have put down firm roots wherever they have settled (after all it is the 16 th year of exile) and will not be making the valley their principal residence again even if geo-political conditions in the region improve dramatically. One can argue with this conclusion, but historically this is exactly what has happened in the past. Pandits that fled the valley in the past rarely, if ever, returned in large numbers. So the first act of political maturity would be to recognize (in principle if not universally) that some Pandits may return to the valley under certain conditions, whereas many others will not. Recognition of this fact helps two ways – first, it reflects on true state of our community, implying in effect that there is more to our demands than just continuing financial payoffs. Second, it shifts the focus of the debate from a self-serving demand to a community demand. I hope that some courageous Pandit refugees would say with pride that “while I am not personally wishing to be rehabilitated back in the valley, I am nevertheless committed to seeing that those refugees wishing to return do so with dignity and in safety.” My point is that our demands generally lack a concern for the future of our community and have degenerated into a recipe for near-term gains that pose a great threat to our long-term strategic interests.

The second challenge that the community in Jammu faces is setting up a proper platform in developing ideas, policies and plans consistent with wishes of the broadest spectrum of our people. Individuals do not influence policy, communities do. What a gathering of 100 can achieve politically is lot more significant than what ten groups consisting of 10 individuals raising similar slogans. Similarly a group of 1000 can achieve politically is more than a million times more substantial than what a group of 100 can ever hope for. This is not just unity but unity in diversity. But such organizations are not created overnight. Organizations that wish to serve politically must first establish their legitimacy. That means developing an organization with a proper constitution, by-laws, paid membership, elections, term-limited officers, intensive public outreach to register maximum numbers and a selfless dedication to serve the community. Whether our community realizes it or not, development of such organizations are carefully noted by governing authorities who will provide proper forum for cross-communication and dialogue with our leaders provided these are representatives of genuine democratically constituted organizations. That is why Kashmiri Pandits have not been able to exercise their rights as a political entity on their own until now and have usually relied on various state and national political parties to carry their messages. The down-side has been that none of the established political parties have made our concerns and issues as their highest priority. So a unique opportunity exists for a Pandit organization to pioneer such an advocacy program within the contours of Indian polity.

The third challenge that our community faces is overcoming a lack of understanding of political processes in democracies in general and India, in particular. India is unique because it has the “highest elasticity” in accepting the most divergent of views of nationalism and national interest under its tent. This fact has escaped most Pandit strategists who spend an extra-ordinary amount of time and effort in pontificating ills of the “soft state”, rather than be creative in developing political strategies and approaches in tune with the reality of India. Let me assure you that the Delhi government does not need lessons in how to “save” this country, and we need to instead focus on solutions to our community problems that are grounded on realistic assumptions. An important element of exercising politics in a democracy is interaction with authorities, colleagues, adversaries and other stake-holders that individually or jointly can affect the well being and the future of the community. This interaction (on both sides) has to be respectable, free from coercion or threats, and without violence. The dialogue is to politics what the education is to a university. Without one, the other is rendered meaningless. So holding a dialogue, whether with political friends or foes, is essential to conducting politics. That much is simple. What is much more complex is the quality of dialogue which directly affects the outcome. For example, the recent “meet and greet” events in Jammu between Pandits and Hurriyat became meaningless after the first couple of such interactions. Any dialogue must have a well defined objective and a structured road-map. Without that it is simply a social gathering of diminishing returns.

The final, and the most important, challenge is developing political messages that promote the “maximum good” for the community and hence be acceptable to the broadest spectrum of our community. Such messages and/or postures will be effective ( i.e., taken seriously by various stake-holders) only if these are based on political strategies that can offer “something to everybody” and thereby create the path for a meaningful dialogue with parties whose cooperation is necessary to achieve our demands. In our case, there is also a clear and necessary burden to ensure that political messages are not detrimental to the Pandits living in the valley today.

Those Pandits who are determined to return and rehabilitate in the valley must first ensure that the state government, and by inference the majority Kashmiri Muslim community, is willing to accept adjustments in political and economic space for Pandits to live as equals in the valley. The first and the most important test of that goodwill will be through marked improvement in the lives of Pandits living in the valley today, and by state government’s willingness to introduce legislative, administrative and societal changes to ensure that Pandits – those in the valley and others willing to return – thrive through generations. That my friends is the confidence building measure (CBM) that should guide all those seriously contemplating return to our homeland.

In summary, the time is ripe for the Pandit community to break away from the past and pursue a serious political advocacy campaign for the return and rehabilitation of Pandit refugees. However, the first test of government’s good faith will come through the welfare of Pandits currently living in the valley. So before displaced Pandit refugees make demands of their own, they must first demand an improvement in the lives of valley Pandits as the CBM for the rest to follow.

In closing, I wish the Kashmir Secular Alliance (KSA) success in their endeavor to be the beacon of light for a new beginning in the political empowerment of Kashmiri Pandits.

This article also appeared in the iakf.org Please click here to view the same.

About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.

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