On 7 January 2016 Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took his last breath. News feeds since are full of eulogies for the supposed saint, nationalist and statesman.
Every paean takes me back to the fateful month of December 1989 when Mufti's youngest daughter Rubaiya Sayed was kidnapped by (Yasin Malik's) Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. The nation was held to ransom for the daughter of the Home Affairs Minister who had taken oath just a few days ago. Bypassing the elected State government led by Farooq Abdullah, Mufti misused his power and influence to engineer the release of five dreaded militants. Locals and friends were confident that Rubaiya was at home, safe and well, all the time. This drama of hostage rescue is the watershed event in Kashmir militancy. Encouraged by weakness of the state and central administration, terrorism took hold in the valley. General population started to believe that 'azadi from India' and 'Pakistan with Pandit women and without the men' was just around the corner. December 1989 and January 1990 was when more than 50 lakh Kashmiri Pandits had to leave their homes to become refugees in their own country. For me and lakhs of Kashmiri Hindus that was the last time we saw home and for that we have Mufti to thank.
1989 was not the first time when the ugly head of communal militancy reared its head in Kashmir Valley. Political experts maintain that the Mufti orchestrated the infamous 1986 Anantnaag riots in which hysterical Muslim mobs took out violent processions, desecrated and destroyed more than 40 temples, and killed and looted the helpless Hindu population. In Mufti's constituency Brijbihara alone, two temples were looted, ancient idols stolen and broken. Kashmiri Hindus should have anticipated what was to come.
One word that comes closest to describing, Kashmiri politicians in general and Mufti Mohammed Sayed in particular, is chameleon. No, it's not a kind word. I don't intend to be kind - the pain is still raw. I call him a chameleon because he switched loyalties like clothes, seizing opportunities to promote himself and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. With subsequent stints in Democratic National Conference, Congress, Jan Morcha and later on by launching his own People's Democratic Party he bargained for more power and more influence with each stepping stone.
He first became Chief Minister in 2002 backed by Congress on a meagre strength of 16 in an 87 member strong State Assembly. In 2008 elections he chose to stay in the opposition even with 21 seats and in 2015 he chose to form alliance with BJP on a strength of 28. Ambition is not a bad thing, manipulating masses for one's own end is objectionable. While in opposition he engineered coups; in 1977, twice in 1986, in 1990 and in 2008; ushering the Governors' rule every time. This marginalised the democratically elected parties and sowed seeds of discord in the electorate. He founded the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999 for which he used the electoral symbol of 'green flag and pen-inkpot' of the Muslim United Front (MUF) the Jamaat-e-Islami-led conglomerate of anti-India parties.
He kept everyone happy ... happily in the dark. To the central government he played the role of a 'Nationalist' who was trying to bring 'healing touch' to the battered communities through peace and dignity. But the modus operandi of this healing touch was far from Nationalist. He was a firm believer in Kashmiris' right to 'self rule'. Ceasefire on the Pakistan border, disbanding of instruments like Special Task Force and Special Operation Group of Police, scrapping of The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) and release of political prisoners was all part of his arsenal. He facilitated bringing the separatists leaders (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) to a tri-partite political dialogue with India and Pakistan. He recommended free trade and travel between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied J&K. His latest preposterous proposal was that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to transact their business in the Indian currency as well as the Pakistani currency. Looking at these steps in totality - these were ploys to weaken the State influence in Law and Order issues and dilute the army control on borders. Making borders with Pakistan porous, Mufti's strategy was to pave the way for uninterrupted smuggling of currency, arms and drugs as well as infiltration of terrorists.
Kind obituaries are flooding in about the greatness of the man now dead. People are calling him a statesman and a visionary. He surrounded himself with wise people and those wise people (often Kashmiri Pandits) must undoubtedly believe in his secular and nationalist credentials. As a common person who never broke bread with him, I am entitled to judge his greatness by his impact and his legacy. To me he was the man who stepped on corpses for his political ambition. For this I cannot wish him peace in afterlife.
Cse Khoda rut karun, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, magar kari na zaahn. May the almighty look after you but I seriously doubt He will.
“Martyr Tikalal Taploo wasn't killed by militants- much before that he was killed by his own brethren - who didn't vote for him (in 1983)”. A friend said that to me in passing. 31 years later its election time again in J&K and we were discussing candidates. 24 Kashmiri Pandit candidates decided to stand for election from Habbakadal this time - '2 for each month’ I retorted, but something snapped inside me. I am intrigued by the seemingly rudderless community of mine. Why in Vitasta's name can't we choose a leader and follow him/her?
The answer coming from all directions is- because we are all intellectuals. We look for flaws in our leaders and highlight them as reason for not following them. Fair enough! We did however vote for Ghulam Mohd. Bhat (Gul Raida) in the election that both Pandit candidates, Sh. Tikalal Taploo and Sh. Piaray Lal Kharihalu lost in a Pandit majority constituency of Habbakadal. Was he flawless? We have also been staunch supporters of the Nehru-Gandhi family and their version of Congress. They aren't blameless either. So this argument doesn’t hold much weight. It is however apparent that we like to salute the rising sun. An already successful leader is more likely to gain our adulation than someone who is still struggling to rise. Sycophancy is one of our exalted virtues.
Another casual chat, another argument surfaced. We Kashmiri Pandits suffer from crab mentality. If there are people amongst us who are doing well (leading), we try and bring them down. In fact, I see that a lot around me. A lot of energy is spent negating good work, creating misunderstandings, denigrating people, their character assassination and holding a moral high ground. I am no expert on human nature, but can safely say that this happens in all communities not just Kashmiri Pandits. However the difference is that in other communities people do this for a reason. Someone will step on you because one wants your fame, power, money, business, promotion etc. In our community someone will step on you but not be necessarily interested in your goals, your promotion, your position. So it is crab mentality, but neither of the two crabs succeeds - and in the process actually the community loses.
I have spoken to many intellectuals in our community and they are all very keen to draw parallels of our similarity to the Jewish community and the Holocaust. However, I fail to see the same commitment for a common cause, a unified community or a purposeful collaboration by Kashmiri Pandits. Many communities vote en`masse so they have political clout. Other communities do business with or recruit within a preferred group so they get financial or professional clout. We Kashmiri Pandits do neither - actually we positively discriminate against our own and that keeps the whole community down.
Coming to the topic of leadership - isn't it strange that we are spread around the world as scientists, doctors, bureaucrats – but not as leaders. I will be happy to be proved wrong – but there is not a single Kashmiri Pandit Member of Parliament (or any other democratic institution) in the whole world – as against Gujaratis, Punjabis, Tamilians etc.
Hari Krishan Kaul, premier of Kashmir in 1930s is fabled to have said: ‘Haro, batt` chuii – Khyavizen Chhavizen, Yezzath karizes, magar Pachizes n zaahn’. Translated: Haro (name) beware of the Kashmiri Pandit, treat him, feed him, respect him, but do not trust him. The master leader, bureaucrat Hari Krishan Kaul (for whom the term Sher-e-Kashmir was originally coined) himself did not trust the community he belonged to. He was actually wary of them. Eventually he was proven right, as on his way out, his own community spurned him. As a community we do not trust each other. Socially we love, respect, go out of our way for each other – but if it was to trust a fellow batt’ with a job, business or our precious vote – we wouldn’t. Sanskrit poet and philosopher Kshemendra (c.990 -c.1070 CE) coined the term ‘Batt’ gav Takshuk’ translated ‘Batt` is a serpent’. This is not the dark ages…but ‘lack of trust’ is still hard wired in our psyche.
My analysis for the lack of leaders in our community has pulled me into a rabbit warren of reasons. Firstly, there is our high horse - ‘b chhus t baey na kah’ (translated ‘no one is as good as me’). Then, there is the habit of pulling people down for no good reason other than that, we have a bit of incriminating information. Lastly, it’s the lack of trust within our own. This lack of leaders is certainly not a good sign. As a dwindling community we need people to represent our interests in the corridors of power. Unless there is a shift change in our mentality as a community, we will be leaderless, rudderless and purposeless for generations to come.
Follow Anu on Twitter: @anu_handoo
My uncle was furious. He was looking through his prized collection of National Geograhics’ for a special edition about Bamiyan Buddhas. He wanted to show me how glorious these were and compare those beautiful pictures to the grim headlines of the day’s newspaper – ‘Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed’. I wasn’t particularly young or naïve, I understood that an act of religious fanaticism had destroyed a monument of world heritage. I had seen this fanaticism with my own eyes in 1989-90 when several Hindu temples were destroyed and desecrated in Kashmir. I was hurt and pained but not enough to loose sleep, refuse food and swear in monologue: I thought that my uncle had lost his mind. I believed that loss of inanimate symbols should never drive sensible people to frustration. I was wrong. Symbolism IS important .
When we were denied the Kausar Naag pilgrimage in 2014, I felt just like my uncle. He had never been to Afghanistan to see the Bamiyan Buddhas – I had never done the Kausar Naag pilgrimage… but the underlying frustration was probably the same… who gave them the right to rewrite history… all over again?
Every time the fanatics desecrate a temple or rename it, an attempt is made to wish away history. With every pilgrimage denied and disrupted, they are denying us our roots. Kashmir was Kashyap V:r much before the influence of Persians. Most of the population can still trace their lineage to Hindu families who were forcibly converted to Islam over the years. Why then this mindless whitewash of heritage? The denial of religious and cultural symbolism may appear to remove undesirable chapters from history – but not for long. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, any denial will come to bite back manifold. It will not be easy to erase the Kashmiri Hindu existence from the history of Kashmir. In the process, the links will get stronger and undeniable. Long after they were mindlessly destroyed, Bamiyan Buddhas have not been forgotten – neither will be Martand Temple, Shankaracharya Hill, or KausarNaag….