Wajahat Habibullah, author of “My Kashmir: The Dying of the Light”, and former administrator in the Valley, talks about the turbulent 1989-90 period and what led to the Pandit exodus. Edited excerpts:
Before the 1980s, Kashmir was a model of peaceful coexistence. Kashmiri Pandits had 25% to 30% government jobs in the system. Successive PMs of India were Pandits. They were not just Pandits but they identified themselves very closely with Kashmir, particularly Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The disturbances started when the communal-political angle had started developing in the 80s. The insurgency erupted and Pakistan, which has never been a friend of ours, incited and encouraged the separatist movement. This is when the relationship between the Pandits and rest of the communities began to crack.
Two major events in 1984 changed the whole situation – one was Operation Bluestar in Punjab. This was the time when insurgency erupted. Second, you (Centre) had sacked a duly elected government of Farooq Abdullah and imposed President’s Rule, which triggered a political instability. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which came into being as a consequence of the Indira-Sheikh accord, developed a support base within the Valley. Because of political instability on one hand and the rise of separatists on the other, Kashmiri Pandits began to become targets. Since Pandits were in big jobs in the government, a narrative was created (by separatists and JKLF) that “See, they get everything done through Pandits and Muslims are not wanted here”.
I was posted back in February 1990 and was special commissioner in Anantnag. There was no administration at all. It must have appeared to the Pakistanis — and this I am presuming based on what I was hearing at that time — that insurgency had been a success. And all this was happening because of political mishandling. To address that, you needed to have a popular government. Instead, you tried to address it through President’s Rule.
Before all this, Pakistan always had an agenda of having accession of J&K’s with it but this political instability gave it an opportunity to create a conflict between local Hindus and Muslims. And the most vulnerable section of the Hindu community in Kashmir was Pandits.
Yes, he couldn’t (assess). Now, I was also part of his administration when the exodus took place. Administration didn’t send Pandits out but what it must be blamed for its failure to not resist it. When a small community is feeling threatened, you (as governor) should have given Pandits a sense of security. He was asked to make appeal to Muslims to stop their neighbours (Pandits) from leaving through a televised address but he didn’t agree to the suggestion. Instead he announced setting up of refugee camps within the Valley for anyone who felt insecure. In my view that precipitated the exodus.
The way to ask Pandits to come back is to ask them to start investing in the Valley. They are well placed. They will be happy to invest. And same goes for Kashmiri Muslims who left the country and run huge businesses. Ask them to invest here and only thing government has to do is give them facilities. In case of Pandits, if they invest, government can even consider giving some special concession. There can be special norms like employment of local communities in different sectors. For example, people from outside should be asked to invest in the Valley and give employment to locals, including Pandits. If one has to go there just for their old house, I don’t think anyone is going to do that.
People (bureaucrats, government officials) working in Kashmir are all very capable, but unfortunately, I think it is only the political compulsion that stops them. You have to have the confidence of the people. With widespread disaffection that exists there, you (the system) have to go out to the people rather than them approaching you.
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