Why Janta Dal, BJP, and Left Failed to Protect Kashmiri Pandits
Vishwanath Pratap Singh became Prime Minister from 2 December 1989 to 10 November 1990 with the help of both leftists and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). Congress was a part of the opposition led by Rajiv Gandhi during the one-year period. Congress lost because of the negative perception of Bofors.
This one year between 1989 to 1990, was perhaps one of the darkest years of Independent India. Those who have experienced it and are politically aware can say many more things, but we will concentrate on Kashmir.
Mufti Mohammad Sayed was the Home Minister of VP Singh's cabinet. The coalition of Janta Dal, BJP, and Communists crossed the much-needed simple majority in the parliament. LK Advani was leading the BJP and part of the government along with Vajpayee.
The 1989 atrocities of Kashmiri Pandits predate events a few years earlier. Maqbool Bhat was a well-known separatist leader in Kashmir who was responsible for activism related to the plebiscite and later raised an armed group called NLF. He was responsible for hijacking an Indian Airlines plane and later his NLF, which became the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front(JKLF) kidnapped an Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre to release him from custody. Later, Ravindra Mhatre was murdered. Within days of his killing, the then Indira Gandhi Government hanged Bhat. By that time, JKLF, the militant organization started spreading its footprint in Kashmir. Bhat’s execution acted like fodder. It was vitiated by further allegations by JKLF that Kashmir does not have a popular government as they accused of rigging the election for Farooq Abdulla.
While all these were happening, Pakistan saw an opportunity and hijacked the JKLF agenda. It started sending foreign mercenaries into J&K who trained to cause mayhem. Soon JKLF was losing its stage of ISI.
During the same time, another development happened. Jagmohan, who was known for his ruthlessness and was perhaps also speculated as an RSS man, was appointed by Indira Gandhi as the Governor of J&K and when his tenure ended in 1989, his tenure was renewed by VP Singh.
Exodus of Pandits
VP Singh was a very weak prime minister. He was balancing himself with the left and right. On the other hand, he was challenged internally by Chowdhary Devi Lal, who missed the bus of being elected as PM. Devi Lal did not leave any opportunity to sabotage the government from the inside. VP Singh was fully confused and was counting on various inputs from his team.
Pakistan exploited VP Singh’s weakness and opportunism in ruling the Indian political dispensation. It unleashed the terror to free Kashmir from the Hindu population by engineering the murders of Pandits who lived there for decades. Jagmohan, who was the appointed Governor, persuaded Pandits to leave the valley, as it was not safe for them. Farooq Abdullah, the elected CM of the state, immediately resigned in protest. A report by Observer Research Foundation called Days that led to insurgency in Kashmir captures the events which indicate how helpless the ruling coalition was and how it allowed the situation to slip out of control.
Modi joined the BJP in 1987, and a year later he was made the general secretary of the Gujarat branch of the party. He was instrumental in greatly strengthening the party’s presence in the state in the succeeding years. He was busy engineering his party’s victory in Gujarat. While all these were happening, I tried to understand Modi’s involvement in supporting Pandits. What I could find is that he spent his time in the US busy doing his work as RSS Sangh pracharak and enjoyed the memorable foreign trip.
Ruling Coalition’s Role
The ruling members of the JD, BJP, and Communists were partners in the crime as they decided to look the other way, leaving everything to Jagmohan who allegedly lacked support and input as the Government was busy. Jagmohan then decided to do what he felt was right on his own. VP Singh’s priorities were very different and Advani was exploring an opportune moment for the BJP. I have no evidence to believe anyone considered this issue seriously, not even the media as Kashmir was not in the headlines. There is a saying in Hindi, “Hamam me sab nange hain” which means everyone has done the same sins, and everyone can see everyone else’s sins.
Though the then opposition claims it highlighted this issue and Rajiv Gandhi gheraoed the parliament to put pressure on VP Singh to act, that seems like some cosmetic endeavors and indicates the nature of the issue and urgency. In fact, if Congress only remembers that this is what they have done, then it is better to believe that they missed the bus as well. During the period, Congress was busier in looking for opportunities in splitting the ruling coalition, which they did as well.
Key Questions which remain unanswered:
- Why was it not a serious issue for anyone including Prime Minister VP Singh and his coalition partners like BJP and Communists?
- Why didn't BJP and Communists threaten the government with consequences as they had enough numbers could have dismissed VP Singh's government?
- Why the elected state government was not taken into confidence to stop the situation from further spreading?
- Why VP Singh did not send the army immediately and ignored the early warning of genocide?
- Why were other coalition members silent? Did someone want to teach Kashmir Pandits a lesson? Were there any instructions from RSS to delay the response?
- Whom did the polarization of J&K benefit? Whose project it was to divide J&K into religious lines? Was there any political opportunism behind it?
- Why Governor of J&K wanted the Kashmiri Pandits to leave rather than give them security and assurance? Was the power of the state in its most visible form inadequate? Was he trying to polarize the vote bank?
- Hindutva groups like BJP and RSS spared the government which was a mute spectator of the Hindu massacre. Was politics heavier than ideology for them?
- What was RAW doing during that period when Pakistan was fiddling with the stability of J&K?
Indian security agency RAW is responsible for intelligence from external threats. While everything remains shrouded in secrecy, RAW chief Dulat was candid on video on how it unfolded and who was responsible. I have enclosed the interview with AS Dulat.
A few hundred Kashmiri Pandits died, lakhs of them displaced. Several thousand Kashmiri Muslims died in the aftermath and generations after generations suffered. Pandits did not go back for decades. Government after Government changed and none tried to provide any support. For decades, Kashmiri Pandits have been used for religious polarization and political opportunism. Most of the Kashmiri Pandits would explain their relationship with the neighboring Muslims differently and have a different narrative for their historic bond of kashmiriyat. People make movies about their pain and become rich but the movies and divisive politics drive them far away from Kashmir as they are based on hatred, and do not show how the color of the blood was the same and how they had a common culture. My article is dedicated to those Kashmiri Pandits who either died or were displaced or living in the painful memory of an unpleasant past. I leave the rest to the imagination of the readers. In the end, if you watched the movie, watch this short video of 22 minutes.