Varad Varenya mourns the political oblivion of Kashmiri Pandits: One Asha Jee winning a panchayat poll is no big deal!
The panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir, which were held this year after a decade, have been successful with nearly 80 per cent people turning out to vote. This exceeds the polling percentage in the 2008 assembly polls, which was nearly 60 per cent. The people of the Valley have defied the diktat of separatists, who as always have remained against the democratic process of elections.
Asha Jee, a Kashmiri Pandit woman who won the panchayat elections from Wussan Village in Baramulla district, is the first woman from the community to achieve this feat. The population of the village is nearly 1,000, of which just 11 are Kashmiri Pandits. Asha Jee defeated her lone rival, Sarwa Begum, by 11 votes.
Asha Jee, a mother of two, hails from Doda district (in Jammu division). She got married to Radha Krishan Bhat in 1984. Asha's elder son Suresh Kumar works as a constable in the Jammu and Kashmir police while her younger son Ashok works with his father in their grocery store.
Without undermining the victory of the minority community in the panchayat elections, it has to be said that the post-victory narration is not appropriate. A minority candidate winning these polls has hardly changed the internal problems of the Kashmir valley.
Some sections are portraying this victory as reflective of a change in the situation in the Valley and it is being depicted as a move towards 'normalcy'. Projection of this victory as a picture of communal harmony and brotherhood in the entire Valley would be naive. Some sections are interpreting this victory as signs of a conducive situation for the return of Pandits to the Valley. But the protests in 2008 over the temporary allotment of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board and the unrest in the summer of 2010 can't be ignored.
Since 1990, Kashmiri Pandits have hardly been in the political arena of the Kashmir valley. Since the last two decades, the votes of Kashmiri Pandits have been scattered. Pandits are unable to cast their votes as they are living in exile in different parts of India. And now the situation is such that Kashmiri Pandits don't even know who their elected representatives -- the members of Parliament or members of legislative assembly -- are.
Kashmiri Pandits, who once controlled the destiny of this country, have suddenly gone into political oblivion. No political party has thought of giving representation to the intellectual community of Kashmiri Pandits.
There used to be a significant presence of Kashmiri Pandits in Parliament once; the community was represented by leaders like Shiv Narayan Fotedar, Shyam Lal Saraf, Tirath Ram Amla, DP Dhar, and Makhan Lal Fotedar. But there is no Kashmiri Pandit in the House today.
Kashmiri Pandits have been marginalised in the political affairs of the Valley also. There was a time when Pandits had their say in the political affairs of J&K. At one point of time, the prime minister of J&K was a Kashmiri Pandit -- Ram Chandra Kak. But today, not a single minister hails from the Pandit community. There is not a single MLA from the minority community in the state government.
The political empowerment of Kashmiri Pandits is necessary for introducing change on the ground. As Kashmiri Pandits are living in exile, they would need more representation in Parliament/assembly now to focus on their plight. A mere win by a woman from the community in the panchayat polls is not a big deal.
Elections have never illustrated a clear picture of the prevalent scenario in the Valley, though undoubtedly the people have participated in the electoral process in huge numbers in recent times.
It would be childish to take this one victory by the minority community as a sign of change in the entire Valley. It is a welcome step that the majority population of Wussan village elected a candidate irrespective of her religion. But generalising this trend through the Valley may not be appropriate.
Congratulations to this brave Pandit woman for winning the election and applause for the people of Wussan village. But don't make a big fuss about this win!