New on my other blogs

Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel
Supreme Court accepts idea of nഹാൽ ew Mullaperiyar tunnel


28 February, 2017

A push to Africa outreach

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s visits to Rwanda and Uganda last week marked another step forward in India’s Africa Outreach initiative, designed to place its ties with the countries of the continent on a firm footing after two decades of neglect.

The third India-Africa Summit, held in New Delhi in 2015, was attended by a record number of heads of states and governments, and convinced Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the need to revitalise ties with the continent which is a vast treasure-house of natural resources and is set to emerge as a big market. With its numbers in the United Nations it also has the potential to provide many valuable allies in global affairs.

In the 16 months since the summit, President Pranab Mukherjee, the Vice-President and the Prime Minister have visited more than a dozen countries in the continent. Many Central ministers have also undertaken missions to the continent.

On emerging as a free country, India, under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had taken a keen interest in the liberation movements of Africa and vigorously supported them in international forums. Africa had a special place in the minds of India’s freedom-fighters as it was there that Mahatma Gandhi had evolved his unconventional political strategies. Many African leaders who participated in the New Delhi summit acknowledged their debt of gratitude to Gandhi and Nehru.

After Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s time, ties with Africa became a lower priority in foreign policy. But China, as the world’s fastest-growing economy, made much headway in the continent. In 2009 it displaced the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. India’s current trade turnover of $70 billion is way below China’s $220 billion.

Since 2000 China has provided more than $30 billion in aid to African countries. Its state-owned companies have invested in the energy, mining and infrastructure sectors.

A 745-kilometre-long electric railway line connecting the capitals of Djibouti and Ethiopia, built by Chinese engineers, was opened to traffic earlier this month. It cost $4 billion, and half the money was put up by Chinese banks. “This line will change the social and economic landscape of the two countries,” Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn said.

People-to-people contacts have played a big part in Indo-African relations. During the colonial period, Britain had taken Indians to the continent to work. Today there are about 2.5 million people of Indian origin in 46 of the 54 countries of the continent.

Barring the expulsion of Indians by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, there was no major hostile action against Indian immigrants. That phase is now forgotten and Uganda’s Indian community, which numbers about 30,000, has invested more than $1 billion in its economy.

A scholarship programme for African students, initiated by Nehru, helped the continent’s newly independent countries to find personnel to run the administration. Two years ago 25,000 young Africans were studying in Indian universities, and India decided to push the number up to 50,000. Stray racial attacks in some Indian cities damaged the goodwill generated by this decision. Narendra Modi disappointed the Africans by failing to condemn the attacks.

Some Africa watchers have noted that while China is involved in huge, high-profile projects, India is pursuing a soft-power approach. It is providing essential medicines to African countries by selling generic drugs, ignoring US assertion that such action violates its intellectual property laws.

The India-Rwanda Innovation Growth Programme launched during Ansari’s visit exemplifies the soft-power approach. It envisages the adoption of 20 Indian technologies and innovation in the next two years by joint ventures set up with Rwandan partners.

Ansari said it was a pilot project and would be extended later to seven countries of East Africa and still later to seven other economic zones across the continent.

Talking to Indian correspondents who accompanied him on the African tour, Ansari discounted suggestions by the western media that India and China are involved in a scramble in the continent.
The continent is so big and the current Indian and Chinese engagement so diverse that there is no need for them to step on each other’s toes. India’s main concern is to ensure that China’s pet projects like the “One Belt One Road” initiative do not hurt its interests. -- Gulf Today, February 28, 2017.

21 February, 2017

Twists and turns of blast probes


A Delhi court’s acquittal of two men who spent more than 11 years in jail, implicated in terror cases, has revealed how shoddy investigation and prosecution are ruining the lives of young people.

Mohammed Rafiq Shah, a MA final year student, was attending classes at the Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies in Srinagar when a series of bombs exploded in Delhi on October 29, 2005, killing 67 persons. Members of a special cell of the Delhi police and a task force of the Kashmir police picked him up from his home some days later. The Delhi cops said he had planted a bomb in a bus.

The police had two eyewitnesses who gave differing descriptions of the man who planted the bomb. Neither account matched Rafiq Shah’s appearance. The cops got a barber to trim his beard to correspond to one of the accounts.

Three of Shah’s teachers testified before the Delhi court that he had attended classes in the Srinagar campus on the day of the blast.

The judge found several infirmities in the police version and acquitted him and the other two accused, Mohammed Hussain Fazli and Tariq Ahmed Dar, of charges related to the blasts.

Dar was found guilty of having links with a Pakistan-based terrorist group and sentenced to 10 years in jail. But all three had been in prison for a longer period already. Their repeated attempts to secure bail had failed as courts labour under pressure from the state and presumed public opinion in cases linked to terrorism.

In sending Afzal Guru to the gallows in the Parliament attack case, the Supreme Court had famously said, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to this offender.”

The Chhattisgarh police had accused Binayak Sen, reputed paediatric surgeon and human rights defender, only of maintaining contacts with leaders of the banned Maoist party and not of any act of crime. Yet even the apex court refused him bail when he was facing trial. After his conviction, it granted him bail, pending disposal of bail. Its approach changed presumably because a different kind of pressure worked on it with more than 30 Nobel laureates from different lands deploring the action against Sen.

“It seems I am being victimised only because I am a Kashmiri Muslim,” Rafiq Shah had told the court when charges were being framed against him. But, then, young men in other states, too, have been through such bizarre experience. Nine persons implicated in the Malegaon blast case in Maharashtra and five in the Mecca Masjid blast case were acquitted by courts after trials that went on for several years.

Muthiyur Rahman Siddiqui, a Bangalore journalist, who was picked up with 10 others for plotting terror, was lucky to regain freedom in a few months as the investigating agency admitted it had found no evidence against him. He said later media reports of the arrest had denied him the presumption of innocence and many had assumed he was guilty.

The most famous victim of vexatious prosecution is Abdul Naser Mahdani, founder of the People’s Democratic Party in Kerala, who was acquitted after he had spent nearly 10 years in a Tamil Nadu jail as an accused in the Coimbatore blast case. Later the Karnataka police arrested him in connection with a blast in Bangalore. Police in Gujarat and Rajasthan are ready with reports implicating him in blasts in those states.

Muslims are not the only victims, as Binayak Sen’s experience shows. Kobad Ghandy, a 68-year-old Parsi, whom the police describe as a Maoist ideologue, was acquitted by a Delhi court last year in a case under the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. He is still behind bars as 14 cases against him are pending in different states.

Some bomb blasts in which Muslim youths were implicated were later found to be the work of Hindu extremists. Thereafter investigation slowed down, indicating political considerations are at play.
The twists and turns of the blast probes have damaged the credibility of the investigating agencies. The government needs to initiate measures to strengthen them professionally to ensure that they do not target innocent people. It must also take steps to rehabilitate the young people whose lives have been wrecked by wrongful prosecution on terror charges and consequent stigmatisation. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 21, 2017.

14 February, 2017

A chilling message to litigants

BRP Bhaskar

The Supreme Court sent a chilling message to public interest litigants last week by imposing fines on two persons for filing frivolous petitions and asking a third one to establish his bona fides or face similar action.

Ravindra Singh, a member of the Bihar Assembly, had approached the apex court with a petition questioning the veracity of an article published in a Hindi publication in the 1990’s after being turned down by the Patna High Court. It threw out the petition and asked him to pay a fine of Rs 1 million.

Chief Justice JS Khehar who pronounced the judgment apparently took into account the fact that Ravindra Singh had declared assets of more than Rs 9.34 million when he filed nomination papers in the 2015 Assembly election.

Justice Khehar imposed a smaller fine on a retired teacher from Maharashtra who had challenged a Gujarat government circular on reservation in school jobs. A car mechanic of Madurai, who filed a petition about a hospital in Thanjavur building an additional floor, was told to establish his locus standi in the matter at the next hearing to avoid penal costs.

“Every day we waste precious judicial time by going through voluminous frivolous petitions. These busybodies must be stopped,” the Chef Justice said.

The Supreme Court has on its roster about 61,000 pending cases and Justice Khehar is keen to bring the number down. Elimination of frivolous petitions will surely help to achieve the goal. But the court must take care not to scare away those who approach it genuinely concerned about a bad situation.

Under the system left behind by the British, only an aggrieved person had the right to approach the courts for a legal remedy. This limitation was overcome four decades ago when the Supreme Court allowed Kapila Hingorani, a lawyer, to take up the case of Hussaianara Khatoon and other undertrial prisoners rotting in jails in Bihar. Her effort resulted in the release of not only Hussaianara Khatoon but about 40,000 undertrial prisoners across the country, and a grateful society hailed her as the Mother of Public Interest Litigation.

The Supreme Court witnessed a phase of judicial activism when VR Krishna Iyer, who was a judge in the 1970s, and PN Bhagwati, who was the Chief Justice in the 1980’s, widened the scope of PIL to render justice to the poor who lacked the resources to approach the court directly.

There were occasions when courts treated complaints received on postcards as writ petitions or took suo motu action on the basis of newspaper reports.

Over a period a large body of non-governmental organisations and individuals specialising in PILs arose all over the country. Not all of them were actuated by considerations of public good. Some were seeking personal glory through the publicity they could attract. This prompted some judges to argue that judicial activism had gone too far.

The Supreme Court should take care to avoid throwing the baby with the bathwater. A fair assessment of the working of PIL will show that it has had a salubrious effect on the working of the democratic system.

A PIL by Sheela Barse, a freelance journalist, who took up the issue of custodial violence against women in prisons led to a court order for setting up of separate lock-ups for women. The first court directive on cleaning up of the Ganga came on a PIL filed by MC Mehta, a lawyer, who raised the issue of contamination of the river by tanneries located on its banks in Kanpur. The 2G scam cases in which politicians and bureaucrats figure as accused were also the result of a PIL.

When the court fines a petitioner for wasting its time it may actually be punishing him for its own failing. Take, for instance, the case of the MLA who has been slapped with the fine of Rs1 million. He had approached the Supreme Court after losing in the high court. Why was his petition entertained when its frivolous character was so evident?

Under the Constitution the Supreme Court need entertain an appeal only if the case involves a substantial question of law relating to interpretation of its provisions. The court can reduce its burden by strictly applying this criterion instead of entertaining every matter brought before it in the form of an appeal or special leave application.
In this matter, it can profit from the example of the US Supreme Court which only takes up as much as it can handle. That court receives each year 7,000 to 8,000 petitions. It grants and hears oral arguments only in about 80 of them. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 14, 2017

07 February, 2017

Steps to limit poll expenses: a cosmetic exercise

BRP Bhaskar

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which now heads the government at the Centre and in many states, has been for long an advocate of state funding of election expenses. Since the idea has not found favour with other political parties, it is not in a position to initiate any measures in this regard.

The enormous cost which the contesting parties and candidates have to bear is one of the factors responsible for rampant political corruption. There is no limit on the amount a party can raise and spend. However, there is a ceiling of Rs 7 million on the expenses of a Lok Sabha candidate and of Rs 2.8 million on those of an Assembly candidate in all but nine very small states where the limits are lower.

In the big states a parliamentary constituency may have more than two million voters. Many candidates are believed to exceed the set expenditure limit and falsify the statement of accounts given to the Election Commission to hide the breach of the law.

The political parties can accept donations from individuals as well as private companies. Until now they were required to file statements every financial year giving details of contributions of more than Rs 20,000 which they have received from individuals and companies. To qualify for tax exemption they had to provide names and addresses of those who donated more than Rs 20,000 but most of them are lax in following this rule.

There is no scrutiny of the accounts submitted by the political parties. Although the Election Commission has the power to de-recognise a party if it is not in full compliance with the rule, it has never invoked it.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, a reputed non-government organisation, which studied available data, found that as much as 63 per cent of the donations received by the seven national parties during the 11-year period from 2004 to 2015 were in the form of cash.

It is said that during the last financial year they received Rs 1.02 billion from 1,744 donations of more than Rs 20,000. The BJP which received Rs 760 million from 613 donors was the major beneficiary. The Congress which received Rs 200 million from 918 donors was a distant second.

The ADR concluded that the relatively small number of donations above Rs 20,000 disclosed by the parties indicated that they got most of their funds from unknown sources.

In last week’s budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced reduction of the limit on anonymous donations from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 and introduction of electoral bonds for the benefit of those who wished to make large donations anonymously.

Under the new scheme, donors can buy bonds from designated banks and present them to parties of their choice, which can redeem them through the Election Commission or a regulatory body set up for the purpose. This will not make for transparency, as the government claims.

If the government is serious about ensuring transparency in political donations it should evolve a foolproof scheme after discussions with the major parties on the basis of the recommendations the Law Commission made two years ago.

The Commission did not consider state funding feasible. It proposed amendment of the Companies Act to vest the power to decide on political donations in the annual general meeting of shareholders instead of the board of directors.

At present, candidates are required to furnish information on expenditure incurred by them after filing of nomination papers. The Commission suggested that they should be made to account for all expenses incurred from the date of notification of the elections.

To ensure transparency it asked the Election Commission to make available at its website or on file for public inspection all contribution reports submitted by the political parties. In the same way the election officer of each district should make available to the public the expenditure reports submitted by the contesting candidates.

The ADR has proposed bringing party finances under the purview of the Right to Information Act so that the members of the public can seek information about the donors and the amounts donated. This will make it possible for the voters to find out who are financing a party and ascertain if the party is returning the favour in any form.
Unfortunately, political parties wish to operate in secrecy. They are, therefore, unlikely to go beyond cosmetic measures. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 7, 2017

06 February, 2017

Billionaire Newspapers Go Under The Knife To Make Up For Being Late Bloomers In Adopting Technology

The HT editions that have closed down are the ones at Kolkata, Bhopal, Indore and Ranchi and the bureaus those at Allahabad, Kanpur and Varanasi.  Media managements rarely tell their readers or even the staff the reasons for closures. HT Media has reportedly mentioned two reasons for the latest closures.  One is the massive investments it has made in its digitization programme and the other is the impact of demonetization. 
On the digital front, too, HT Media has an erratic record. It entered the dotcom business early with a website dedicated to the south, which was beyond the reach of its newspapers. Unable to sustain it, the company pulled out quickly.
If demonetization has impacted the media adversely, it should have hurt the less resourceful newspapers more than HT Media, a listed media company which had an income of over Rs 24.57 billion in 2015, the last financial year for which data is available.  But there is no report of any small or medium newspaper closing down as a result of the currency curbs.
Election time is a good time for all media.  Newspaper circulations keep rising as the political scene hots up and the trend continues until the votes are counted and a new government is installed. Yet HT Media has chosen to close three bureaus in UP when the state goes to the polls, along with neighbouring Uttarakhand which was its part not too long ago.
All these call into question the rationale behind the HT Group’s move. But, then, in the current phase of technology-driven changes our newspapers, especially those in the big league, have not exactly crowned themselves with glory.  They have been slow in taking to new technology.
While in the US to attend a seminar organized by the American Press Institute in 1970, this writer spent a week at the Associated Press’s newly computerized Atlanta bureau and the Minneapolis Tribune which had switched over from hot metal and rotary printing to cold metal and offset printing. On my return I tried to impress upon the management of United News of India, with which I was then associated, the need to go in for computerization.  “Who will put in the money?” asked G.G. Mirchandani, the Editor and General Manager. “No newspaper will pay us a penny more because we have computerized,” he added. He was right. I could only tell him, “If we fail to upgrade technologically, we will become a back number”.
I assumed the Government’s highly restrictive import policy was the main stumbling block in the way of modernization of newspaper production. The Registrar of Newspapers for India was the designated officer on whose recommendation the Commerce Ministry gave licences for import of newspaper machinery.  I told the RNI, who was a personal friend, about the changes taking place in the newspaper industry elsewhere.  “You are killing our newspapers by not letting them get new machinery,” I said. He laughed off the allegation and narrated his experience. The Commerce Ministry referred to him two applications for licences to import phototypesetting machines. Both were from commercial printers, not newspaper companies. He held on to those applications and contacted the managements of The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Statesman and The Indian Express and asked whether they did not want these machines. None of them wanted them.
 He explained his understanding of why they were not interested in new technology. They were chains with many units. Simultaneous switch-over at all centres would mean a huge investment.  They felt no compelling need to embrace new technology at a heavy cost.
 K.P.P. Nambiar, who headed the Kerala State Electronic Corporation in the 1970's, learnt about the work on newspaper pagination in the West and toyed with the idea of developing a system for Indian newspapers at a much lower cost than the imported product. He placed the idea with great enthusiasm before the leading newspapers. There were no takers.
 The Electronic Corporation of India, Hyderabad, developed a machine which can transmit photos over telephone lines. The big newspapers showed no interest in it. The Rajasthan Patrika bought a set and used it to transmit photographs from its New Delhi bureau to the newsroom in Jaipur.
 If the media had evinced an interest in the offerings of ECIL and Keltron and the Government had the vision to support them on the research and development side, the newspaper industry, the electronics industry and the country may well have benefited.
 The big newspapers adopted the new technology only when they found that small and medium newspapers had taken to it and improved their competitive ability. Udayavani, a new Kannada daily launched by the Pais of Manipal in the early 1970's, was the first Indian newspaper to typeset matter using phototypesetting machines and print by offset process.
In the next stage, that of computerization, too, small and medium enterprises took the first steps. All newspapers, big and small, have now got on to the digital platform but a close study will show that they are not making optimum use of the immense possibilities the new technology has opened up. And the technology is still evolving.
 According to published reports, the HT Media closures have rendered about 1,000 persons, journalists and non-journalists, jobless. There are reports that the Bennett Coleman and Co Ltd, publishers of The Times of India – with a reported income of Rs 87.78 billion in FY2015 it is the country’s largest media company – has frozen recruitment and is planning salary cuts.  In 2009 it had effected salary cuts in the name of the global meltdown. Now there is a handy excuse in demonetization.   
 HT Media’s website statement on career prospects adds insult to the injury caused to those who have been thrown out of job. “Media is the sunrise sector and is poised for growth,” it says. “The brand HT Media is a force to reckon with. With a growth rate of 39 per cent, HT Media is the place to avail opportunities and add dimensions to one’s career spectrum.”

31 January, 2017

Deepening strategic relations

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s relations with the United Arab Emirates are evolving into a wide-ranging strategic partnership which, if nurtured carefully, can have a salutary effect on a region which has the potential to play a decisive role in the global economy.

The joint statement issued at the end of the visit of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed forces, who was the chief guest at India’s 68th Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi last week, laid emphasis on the deepening of the relationship between the two countries in the past two years.
India’s ties with the Gulf region go back to a remote past. “We knew India and Indians long before we knew anyone else,” a leading functionary of a Gulf state had told this writer while on a tour of the region 36 years ago.

Colonial intervention disrupted the ties. We are now witnessing their re-establishment on a new basis in the light of current realities. Within five years of the founding of the UAE, the first President, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan visited India and had talks with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Among the agreements the two governments signed on that occasion was one to foster the age-old cultural relations between the peoples of the two countries.

India’s President Fakhruddin Ahmed visited the UAE the following year and Indira Gandhi in 1981. At that stage, bilateral relations were defined largely by India’s need for oil and the Gulf States’ need for labour. Indians, skilled and unskilled, made their contribution to the phenomenal growth of the region after the oil boom, and remittances from expatriates boosted India’s economy.

Two years ago the United Nations estimated that about 2.8 million Indians working in the UAE send home $13 billion in a year.

Vastly altered conditions in the two countries and in the region and the world as a whole have dictated a qualitative change in India-UAE relations in recent years. An investment protection agreement, signed in 2013, paved the way for infusion of Dh7.34 billion in India’s infrastructure project.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE in 2015 and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit to India last year underscored the two countries’ determination to carry forward the good work of their predecessors and redefine bilateral relations in keeping with the needs of the time.

India is now the UAE’s third largest trading partner after China and the US, and the two countries are committed to increase bilateral trade, which stood close to $50 billion last year, by 60 per cent by 2020, when Dubai is due to host World Expo.

During 2015-16 India received foreign direct investment of $1 billion from the UAE. Investment by Indian companies in the UAE also increased. The UAE is now a favourite destination of Indian start-ups.

During Modi’s visit the two countries signed agreements to set up the UAE-India Infrastructure Development Fund of $75 billion and to establish petroleum reserves in India as part of a strategic partnership in the energy sector.

The Crown Prince’s visit saw an expansion of the area of strategic partnership. One of the 14 bilateral agreements signed on the occasion specifically mentions a comprehensive strategic partnership. The others envisage, among other things, cooperation in varied fields such as defence industry, cyberspace, energy efficiency services, maritime transport and road transport and highways as also partnership in agriculture and allied sectors.

In the joint statement, India and the UAE reiterated their strong condemnation of terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whomever”. Earlier this month the UAE had lost five of its diplomats in a dastardly terrorist attack when they were at Kandahar in Afghanistan to open a slew of humanitarian, educational and development projects.

A UAE contingent of 149 personnel drawn from the land, navy and air forces led this year’s Republic Day parade, along with the President’s Bodyguard, and a UAE military band in attendance. Its participation is indicative of the importance India attaches to its expanding relationship with the UAE.

Bilateral defence interaction between the two countries has been on for some time with exchange of high-level visits and a meeting of National Security Advisers of the two countries every six months. Significantly, elevation of relations to the level of strategic partnership is taking place at a time when the UAE is playing an increasing role in regional affairs. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 31, 2017.

24 January, 2017

An empty political gesture

BRP Bhaskar

The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly last week adopted, with a lone abstention, a resolution calling for the return of the Pandits who had fled the valley in 1990 after militants targeted members of the community.

The resolution was passed even as Pandits, living as refugees outside Kashmir, were marking the 27th anniversary of their forced exit from the valley. They had left as they felt insecure. In the absence of any steps to guarantee their safety, the resolution is an empty gesture.

Though a small minority in the population, Pandits, who form the Kashmiri cadre of the Brahmin order, wielded influence in many administrations by virtue of their educational attainments and ownership of land and faced hardship under rulers who promoted conversion to Islam.

When communal violence engulfed the northern parts of the subcontinent on the eve of Independence the state was calm and the slogan “Hindu Muslim Sikh unity” raised by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s Jammu and Kashmir National Conference reverberated in the valley. Muslims and Pandits worked together in the resistance against the 1947 tribal attack to force the state’s accession to Pakistan.

The idyllic atmosphere was shattered when militants shot dead Tika Lal Taploo, a lawyer and vice-president of the state Bharatiya Janata Party unit, in September 1989. Migration of Pandits in search of security which began as a trickle after this incident turned into a flood four months later with militants ordering them, on pain of death, to convert or quit.

Chilling accounts of the night of January 19, 1990 when loudspeakers blared out threats and youths wielding Kalashnikovs roamed the streets of Srinagar have been provided by some who lived through the nightmare. “By morning,” Tej Kumar Tikoo, a retired colonel, wrote, “it became apparent to Pandits that Kashmiri Muslims had decided to throw them out from the Valley.” According to Rahul Pandita, a journalist, in the next few months hundreds of Pandits were tortured, killed and raped, and by the end of the year all but a few families had left the valley.

There is no authentic figure of the Pandit population in the valley at that time since there has been no mention of caste in the state census since 1941. Pandita put the number of migrants at about 350,000.

When the developments of the period are viewed in a wider perspective, it will be seen that the militants terrorised the Muslims too, targeting members of the community whose conduct they did not approve of.

VP Singh’s government at the Centre and Farooq Abdullah’s in the state also share the blame for the Pandit exodus. In the summer of 1989 militants had started serving notices asking prominent Pandits to quit Kashmir. On January 4, 1990, the Urdu daily Aftab published a press release of the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen asking all Pandits to leave immediately. Neither the Centre nor the state acted to protect the threatened minority.

The VP Singh government, in which Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the Home Minister, had a disastrous start with the J and K Liberation Front kidnapping his daughter Rubaiya in Srinagar, obliging the government to free five jailed militants to secure her release.

The fateful January 19 saw more ominous developments. The Centre sent Jagmohan, a former bureaucrat with a dubious Emergency rule record, to the state to serve a second term as Governor and he took over the administration following Farooq Abdullah’s resignation. Many Kashmiris suspect he facilitated the Pandit exodus.

There are 60,452 registered Kashmiri migrant families in the country, according to the Centre. Of them, 38,119 are in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi and 1,996 in other states. The Jammu figure includes 2,168 Muslim and 1,749 Sikh families, who too left the valley following threats from militants.

The state government gives to each member of 17,428 “eligible” families in Jammu Rs 1,650 (subject to a maximum of Rs 6,600 per family) and specified quantities of rice, wheat flour and sugar. The Centre bears the cost of Rs 1.36 billion a year. Other states provide similar assistance to the Pandit refugees at their own cost.

This is not the first time that the Pandits fled to escape forced conversion. The last such migration occurred under an Afghan ruler in the 15th century. A later ruler allowed those who were forcibly converted to return to their original faith. He also sent emissaries as far away as Maharashtra to bring back those who had fled.
The return of the Pandits and ensuring their security cannot be divorced from the wider issue of restoration of normalcy in Kashmir and creation of conditions in which the entire population feels secure. That calls for a meaningful political process. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 24, 2017.