Eyes moist, heavy voice:
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was helpless after meeting 10 Kashmiri Pandits
Former IAS officer Jarnail Singh writes in his book 'With Four Prime Ministers' about the meeting former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had with Kashmiri Pandits.
It was in the evening of the first day of the visit and a number of delegations and individuals wanted to meet the PM. These meetings were arranged in the Srinagar Raj Bhavan. The Private Secretary to PM informed me that he wanted to look at the golf course in Srinagar and try his hand there. As such, I would be covering all the PM’s meetings alone and provide all assistance needed. Even if the PS to PM was there in these meetings, I had to be present in PMs meetings as the officerin-charge of Jammu and Kashmir in the PMO. I would have to brief the PM on the status of various issues raised in the meetings by various delegations, and the possible actions which could be taken. I was to also note down any direction by the PM in respect to any point raised by any delegation, and then take follow up action. The last meeting of the day started after 7:30 pm with a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits.
The delegation consisted of about 10 people who came wearing saffron-coloured turbans and looked majestic. The PM warmly greeted them and invited them to sit. The members of the delegation included eminent Kashmiri Pandits and different organisations representing the community. Raman Mattoo, who was an MLA and had been a Minister of State (Tourism) in the state government, was also a part of the delegation. After they settled in, they began to recount their problems. The members of the delegation highlighted various incidents for about half an hour and the PM listened attentively. They informed him about 878 incidents of desecration or demolition of temples in Kashmir. They spoke of being very scared of sleeping in their houses at night even in Srinagar because of frequent incidents. They recounted how they sent their young girls to sleep in neighbours’ houses in the night. They narrated incidents of violence against Kashmiri Pandits and their family members, while Prime Minister attentively listened to their woes.
The Kashmiri Pandits live all across Kashmir and are not limited to any specific region. The Hindus and the Muslims have traditionally lived in harmony in the remote villages of the state. Since they were not staying in clusters, it was not possible to provide security to each Kashmiri Pandit family. They became tempting targets for militants, who begun to single them out in these remote villages and create panic. The community had no choice but to flee to Jammu or big cities like Delhi.
After listening to them for more than half an hour, the PM asked for their views on possible solutions to their problems. They, however, did not have any solution in mind. It was difficult to imagine that this was what citizens in India had to face and the government was not able to do anything. After about 45 minutes the delegation left while promising to submit a proposal of possible solutions. It was around 8:30 p.m. by the time the delegation left. I found the PM in a pensive mood. After a while he rose up saying, Harey Ram, Harey Ram! Is desh ka kya hoga? (Good heavens! What will happen to this country?). His eyes were moist, and I sensed a heaviness in his voice. He too seemed helpless to provide any solution to ease the pain of the Kashmiri Pandits. This was the last delegation to meet the PM that day. I stepped out and asked his personal peon to come in and escort him to the room.
Through the thick fog outside, all I could see was the blurred lights of the lamps. It was a very eventful meeting, but it also filled me with sadness. I kept thinking about possible solutions to protect such a spreadout population. The only possible solution that came to me was their protection by the majority Muslim community.
I had requested the delegation to suggest some possible solution which the government could consider and asked Raman Mattoo to expedite the submission of suggestions as a follow up to the meeting. Despite following up with the Minister and the delegation, the PMO did not get any concrete suggestion which could be taken forward. It seemed that the Kashmiri Pandits also did not have any suggestion for the Government of India. The situation was complicated. The conditions in which Kashmiri Pandits were living in Kashmir was very scary and painful. Instead, after some time, the PMO got requests to provide temporary relief to the Kashmiri migrants or internally displaced Kashmiris staying in Delhi and other places. These requests revolved around giving second cylinder of LPG gas to each family, reserving seats in medical and engineering colleges in other states for the children of Kashmiri internally displaced persons, etc. These suggestions, I felt, would encourage more Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley and go to Delhi or to Jammu. However, given the dispersed settlements of the community across Kashmir, it was neither desirable nor possible to ask Kashmiri Pandits to stay in segregated villages.
This excerpt from With Four Prime Ministers: My PMO Journey by Jarnail Singh has been published with permission from Konark Publishers.
Courtesy The Print