Yashwant Sinha is a senior politician and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran. He held two vital portfolios of external affairs and finance during the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. It was expected that his interventions would enlighten the suffering and bleeding nation by presenting a true picture of the restive and jihad-gripped Kashmir Valley, but it was not to be. His interventions have been utterly disappointing and his reports all the more disturbing and dumbfounding.
His whole approach has been lop-sided. Clearly, it is based on the misguided notion that Kashmir means the whole state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and fulfilling the urges of Kashmiri Muslims would be the same as meeting the needs, compulsions and aspirations of the entire population of the state.
Sinha heads a group of four, called “Concerned Citizens Group”. He, along with Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak, Sushobha Barve (executive director of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation) and Bharat Bhushan (editor, Catch News), visited Kashmir thrice between October 2016 and August 2017 and released to the press an equal number of reports. His latest report was made public on 4 September in New Delhi. It is a six-page report consisting of 2,611 words.
It may appear ridiculous, but it is a fact that Sinha’s report did not mention Jammu and Ladakh even once; not even a passing reference. Jammu after Ladakh is the second largest region of the state and both these regions house half of the state’s population comprising Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Pathowari-speaking Muslims. In terms of area, Jammu is 26,293 sq km and Ladakh 59,146 sq km.
In contrast, Kashmir is 15,948 sq km and the area which is adversely impacted by the rise of radical Islamists is approximately 40 x 80 sq km. It is also the area which witnessed wholesale migration of a miniscule minority of Hindus in January 1990. More than 3.5 lakh, these hounded out Kashmiri Hindus, have been languishing in the unlivable refugee camps in Jammu, Udhampur and other places ever since their forced exodus.
One may put in any amount of efforts to find a single reference in the report to the hounded out Kashmir Hindus, he/she would come out of the exercise minus everything. Sinha and his team of self-appointed trouble-shooters and peace-mongers didn’t think it was prudent to make the suffering Kashmiri Hindus part of their report. They, like the people of Jammu and Ladakh, were rigorously excluded. It was not a mere lapse; it was all deliberate given the fact that their earlier reports had also not touched Kashmiri Hindus and people of Jammu and Ladakh.
The point is that Sinha and his team members only visited Kashmir, now more than 99 per cent Muslim, and interacted with Kashmiri Muslim leaders of all hues. They based their reports on what Kashmiri hardcore separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and half-separatists like Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and working president Omar Abdullah, Congress leaders Ghulam Ahmad Mir and Saif-ud-Din Soz and other Kashmiri Muslims told them. They accepted what the protagonists of Pakistan, independence, self-rule and greater autonomy told as the gospel truth and came out with their lop-sided and highly biased reports (Indian Express, Sept 4).
That Sinha and his group didn’t visit Jammu and Ladakh even for an hour should explain everything. It should establish that they have no place for the people of these two regions – plus the nearly two million Hindu-Sikh refuges from Pakistan, Pakistan-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir and Kashmir – in their scheme of things. These refugees are all victims of radical Islamists. While Hindus and Sikhs migrated from Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, Kashmiri Hindus quit their land of Vitasta (Jhelum) in 1990. They all vacated their original habitats to escape the Islamists’ wrath and save their religion, culture, honour and dignity.
Kashmiri Hindus have been struggling to get a separate homeland within the Valley invested with Union Territory status since December 1991. The Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan have been moving heaven and earth to obtain citizenship rights in Jammu since 1947. And the nearly 1.5 million Hindu-Sikh refugees from Pakistan-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir have been knocking at the doors of the concerned authorities, including the doors of South and North Blocks, to get compensation for their properties left behind, abolition of the Jammu and Kashmir Custodian Act and grant of permanent occupancy rights ever since their migration in 1947.
Paradoxically, Muslim refugees from China and Tibet have been enjoying full citizenship rights in Kashmir. They have been settled with dignity in the Jamia Masjid area of Srinagar. Not only this. Rohingya Muslims in Jammu, too, have been enjoying the official patronage. So much so, the Jammu and Kashmir government has placed at their disposal no less than 24 teachers and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has told the legislative assembly that their deportation from Jammu will not be appropriate.
“Initiation of deportation proceedings against Rohingyas would not be appropriate,” she told the legislative assembly on 11 January 2017 (Tribune, Jan 12).
What has Sinha said in his report? Or, what Kashmiri Muslims told him and his team members to write in their report? The report has, inter-alia, said: “The most disquieting conclusion of the interactions that the Concerned Citizens Group had with Kashmiri students, civil society and political leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, this time around was that as compared to the previous visits, the sense of dismay and despondency in the people had grown. The proximate reasons for this not only seemed to be lack of dialogue with the Kashmiris (in this case Kashmiri Muslims) but also because tourism has plummeted, hotel business was in dire straits, there was flight of capital and an overall economic downturn leading to greater unemployment and economic distress. The situation was much worse than the previous two years”.
The report has further said: “At the same time, the distance between rest of India and the Kashmiri youth but also others seems to have increased. This was evident in the fact that even the people who used to talk reasonably earlier were using the language of militants (read Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Saif-ud-Din Soz and so on) and separatists this time. People (Muslims) complained of not only of the military approach to the problem of Kashmir but also of a judicial/constitutional aggression against the people of Kashmir in attempts to undo Article 35A of the Indian Constitution which ensured special rights for the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir”.
The report, in addition, has talked about NIA raids, Armed Forces Special Powers Act, negative role being played by social networking sites and national news channels to paint Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims black, anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir, human rights abuses and so on.
And the operative part of the report urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to translate the Vajpayee’s Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat doctrine into action. To be more precise, it reads: “As of now, many of them (Muslims) felt that the government had boxed both the separatists and itself into a corner and there was no one to engage with to resolve the conflict. They said that Kashmiris would be ready for an embrace but they would want something more than words”.
In other words, they want something more than Article 370 and Article 35A. Going beyond Article 370 and Article 35A would at once mean separation of Jammu and Kashmir from India and the rise of a situation in Jammu and Ladakh similar to the one which forced Hindus and Sikh flee Pakistan, Pakistan-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir and Kashmir.
It must remain a matter of regret that a senior leader like Sinha has become the mouthpiece of Kashmiri separatists and he only talks Kashmir, Kashmir and Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Muslims. And remember, Kashmir is the most developed region in India and Kashmiri Muslims, who have been ruling the state since 1947, the most prosperous people in the country.
It is for the BJP to inform the nation if Yashwant Sinha is muddying the Indian waters in Kashmir and snubbing the nationalist constituency in the state on his own or on behalf of someone else.
Hari Om Mahajan is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu.
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