Kashmiri Pandits out in the cold
I have often wondered why and how the Kashmiri Pandits who once controlled the destiny of this country have suddenly gone into political oblivion. The situation is so bad that there is no Kashmiri Pandit in not only the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for the first time but there is not even one in the two houses of Parliament.
The Kashmiri Pandits are indeed in a minority in the only muslim dominated state of this country and no political party including the Congress which has been led by Kashmiri Pandits over so many years nor the BJP which hopes to exploit their alienation politically have thought of giving representation to this powerful and proud community.
Even the other two top parties like the PDP and the National Conference are content getting their own loyalists elected to the Assembly or Parliament, which in a way reflects their lack of respect for the secular values we all cherish. For them politics has superseded their beliefs.
I can clearly recall that from the very beginning, there used to be at least one Kashmiri Pandit who would get a ticket to contest Lok Sabha and one would be sent to Rajya Sabha. If one goes by Parliament records this is borne out by the fact that Shiv Narain Fotedar, Shyam Lal Saraf were in Lok Sabha and Tirath Ram Amla and DP Dhar were in Rajya Sabha during different times.
This was despite the fact that Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and later his daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi were Prime Ministers. Nehru used to get elected from Phulpur in Allahabad; Indira Gandhi represented Rae Bareilly and Medak in Lok Sabha though she was also once elected from Chikmaglur.
Rajiv Gandhi represented Amethi. One can argue that Rajiv Gandhi’s son Rahul Gandhi is also a MP from Amethi and he too has Kashmiri blood. But the Nehru-Gandhis have been more of National leaders and their being Kashmiri has always been incidental since they have been representatives of the whole country rather than of Kashmir alone.
Over the years, Indian politics, bureaucracy, Foreign Service and intelligence agencies had their share of Kashmiri Pandits. It would be foolish to conclude that who out of PN Haksar or DP Dhar who advised Indira Gandhi was better.
Or whether PN Dhar or Makhan Lal Fotedar who subsequently advised Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi while they were holding the august office of Prime Minister had more insight into things. All of them in their own way had an uncanny ability to render the correct advice without fearing the consequences. Fotedar, Arun Nehru and Sheila Kaul were subsequently also members of the Union Council of ministers.
The TN Kauls or BK Nehrus once dominated the Foreign Service and RN Kau, one of the best spymasters this country has produced, founded the R&AW. In the world of music, Bhajan Sapori, the Santoor Maestro is on top. In the BJP, Atal Behari Vajpayee has a very strong Kashmir connection.
I feel that this issue needs to be taken up by political parties primarily because the Kashmiri Pandits have largely been driven out from the valley and are struggling to make ends meet in several cities of the country including Delhi and Jammu. As compared to earlier times, they would need more representation in Parliament now so that their plight can be focused.
Since no Kashmiri Pandit figured in the list of four Rajya Sabha candidates from the state recently, it would only be appropriate if they can find representation in the list of candidates of major political parties or smaller ones in the state in the Lok Sabha polls.
Alienation of any community can prove counter productive even though many may argue that most of Kashmiri Muslims were Pandits before their conversion. People do not necessarily see things this way.