Hindustan Times (Jammu)
Exiled Kashmiri Pandits struggle for political representation
As the Jammu and Kashmir delimitation commission draws new electoral constituencies in the erstwhile state, Kashmiri Pandits have demanded that a few seats be reserved in the proposed legislative assembly.
Two weeks after Pandit bodies met the delimitation commission, Congress leader Vivek Tankha, the son of a migrated Kashmiri Pandit, has requested the Prime Minister to consider grievances of the community before the delimitation process is completed.
Tankha said he was optimistic as delimitation was the only way to get Kashmiri Pandits back on the political landscape of the Valley: “Post-migration we hardly ever saw any Pandit assembly member from Kashmir. Even before the migration when the presence of Pandits was thick in the Valley, there were just one or two constituencies that were represented by them, ” Tankha said.
As per data from J& K migrant relief commission, as of January 2021, around 1,54,000 Kashmiri Pandits were living as migrants.
Around 40,000 families were registered in the Jammu, and 20,000 in Delhi and other states. Thousands are also still present in the Valley.
However, there has hardly been any representative of this community that has been part of the elected assembly in Kashmir for decades.
The last time someone from the Kashmiri Pandit community made it to the Assembly was 2002. Even before the migration, the Assembly formed in 1996 had a lone MLA who belonged to the community despite their population being around 2 lakh in the Valley at the time.
Tankha says from 1951 to 1996 (when insurgency in was at its peak), Pandits were elected from many constituencies such as Khulgam, Devsar and their bastion Habbakadal and these representations contributed to the overall empowerment of the community. However, post-migration, the community was scattered and there was not a single member to represent their demands.
‘Community has become political fodder’
All India Kashmiri Samaj president Tej K Tikoo, however, said the community had become political fodder for politicians.
“There is nothing concrete going on ground. There have been delimitations in the past as well, which did nothing better the condition of Kashmiri Pandits. At least till the 1960s, there were a couple of constituencies that were Pandit strongholds but when delimitation took place, even those four seats slipped from our hands,” Tickoo said, adding that there had been no response from the government despite multiple representations being made.
“We had proposed that the upcoming 2021 census be considered for reference and a total estimate of all Kashmiri Pandits be done and seats reserved accordingly, but no one seems to be paying heed. Though they are planning to reserve seats for tribal communities, no plan has been formulated for us,” Tikoo added.
The delimitation commission headed by the former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Desai is using the 2011 census as the reference data to draw a new electoral map of the UT. This is unique considering the readjustments made recently for other regions were done on the basis of the 2001 census.
A MEMBER FROM THE KASHMIRI PANDIT COMMUNITY WAS LAST ELECTED TO THE ASSEMBLY IN 2002
PM’s intervention sought
In a letter dated April 8, Tankha had written to the PM saying the commission was powerless to draw constituencies exclusively for minorities and asked for his intervention.
“As a student of law, I know the delimitation commission is powerless to draw political constituencies for exclusive representation of minorities, unless so empowered by law,” he wrote.
Speaking on the issue, Congress stalwart, Shashi Tharoor, had also said the issue needs sympathetic consideration and genuine attention: “This is a very interesting idea to address the disenfranchisement of Kashmiri Pandits & it does deserve a serious and sympathetic consideration (sic),” Tharoor had tweeted.