Let me begin by admitting that I would not be writing about the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits today if I had not been shamed into doing so. I would have written about the flip-flop currently going on in the Congress over whether Rahul Gandhi should be declared their future prime minister or not. The whole debate is pointless because we all know that whether he is officially anointed heir apparent or not, he is, and will continue to be, the most powerful Congress leader after his Mummy. Nobody else matters. Not even the prime minister. There really is almost nothing more to be said on the subject. So when a young man called Rashneek Kher called to remind me that today (January 19) was the anniversary of the Pandit exodus from Kashmir and asked if I would write something, I started off by making excuses. Then I thought about what he had asked and felt ashamed that I had never written about something as important as the only instance of ethnic cleansing in the history of India.
I happened to be in Srinagar around the time this happened and, like a lot of others, thought then that the overnight exodus was simply a cynical move by the hated Governor Jagmohan to clear the way for aerial attacks on the mass protests in the Valley. Jagmohan had been so brutal in the manner he dealt with unarmed protesters that the worst rumours about him were believed. But, more than two decades later, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits continue to be unable to go home, and somehow this bothers hardly anyone except those who are victims of the tragedy.
When Rashneek called me, he told me that his own home had been burned and that he had lost relatives in the violence and that the hostility of ordinary Kashmiri Muslims to their Hindu brethren made it impossible for even those living in pitiful conditions in camps in Jammu to go home. So why does nobody speak for the Kashmiri Pandits? Where are those noisy human rights types who shriek nightly on national television about ‘internally displaced’ people in Muzaffarnagar? Where are the Hindutva wallahs and why did a Bharatiya Janata Party government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee make no effort to rehabilitate the Pandits? As for us in the media, why have we done no more about this horrible tragedy than write token remembrance articles every anniversary?
When I thought about these questions, I found myself wondering if this was not of a piece with the false secularism that our political parties have propagated ever since Partition. Under this ‘secular’ worldview, the only victims of communal violence can be Muslims. And, even here, some victims are more equal than others. So if the refugee camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli had been in Gujarat, there would have been much greater outrage. Can you imagine the names that Narendra Modi would have been called if his government had allowed 40 children to die of cold? But, Akhilesh Yadav is a ‘secular’ chief minister, so he is treated more indulgently.
Ever since Modi burst upon the national political stage, ‘secular’ politicians and journalists have fallen over themselves trying to have him disqualified as a possible prime minister on the grounds that he is a ‘mass murderer’. But, if you so much as try to say that Rajiv Gandhi was for a while a very popular prime minister despite being a ‘mass murderer’, you will find yourself shouted down and reviled. Has something not gone very seriously wrong with the Indian idea of secularism? Has it not become a tool that is used mostly to perpetuate a sense of grievance among Indian Muslims? I have written before in this column that if we stop thinking of Muslims as an aggrieved minority community and start thinking of them instead as India’s second most powerful majority community, some of the distortions in our secularism may begin to disappear.
Instead of thinking along these lines, we have in the rule of Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi spent the past decade convincing Muslims that they really have every reason to be constantly aggrieved. First, there was that very dodgy Sachar report, and now we have the Home Minister order state governments to ensure that Muslim youths are not detained wrongly in prison. Are all India’s 2.41 lakh undertrials Muslim? Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state, and it happens to be the only state that has been responsible for ethnic cleansing. So today, on this tragic anniversary, can we stop thinking of Indian Muslims as an oppressed minority and think of them instead as our second most powerful majority community? India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. It has been ghettoised and handicapped by fake secularism.