The ruling National Conference- Congress coalition in Jammu and Kashmir is willing to walk the extra mile to give representation for Kashmiri Pandits in the state cabinet.
But as, for the first time, no Pandit got elected to the state assembly, Chief minister Omar Abdullah and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have reportedly agreed to bring someone from the community to the upper house and appoint him to the cabinet.
The move will be a political reassurance to the community, which has been at the receiving end of militancy, leading to the displacement of about 90 per cent population of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley.
The recent elections saw the rout of all the 47 Kashmiri Pandit candidates in the fray. Now, several organisations are demanding “adequate space” for the community in the politico-administrative set-up.
“Why should we ask for it? We are not beggars. The powers that be should create an adequate space for us. We have given blood for the last 50 years,” Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti president Sanjay Tikoo told Hindustan Times over the phone from Srinagar.
He is among the few hundred Kashmiri Pandits who decided to stay back in the valley after the outbreak of militancy in the late 1980s.
Pooja Shali, a Mass Communication student, said it is equally important that Kashmiri Pandits possess a fair representation in the cabinet. “But, this should not be at a titular level,” she added.
Echoing her views, Roots in Kashmir co-founder Aditya Raj Kaul said, “we would be glad if a true representative of the Pandit community, and not someone who will only be of an ornamental value, is chosen.”
CM Omar Abdullah already promised that he would give representation to the community in his cabinet. “It is a large community and requires representation in both the cabinet and the legislative council,” he said soon after his talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on government formation.
However, Jammu-based Panun Kashmir convenor Dr Agnishekhar has a different take. “For the first time in its political history, NC did not give mandate to a Kashmiri Pandit. This makes one suspicious about their intentions and designs,” he said.
Omar is likely to induct former chief secretary Vijay Bakaya in the cabinet. He was part of the committee that drafted the NC’s ‘Vision for Governance’ document.
The names of two Kashmiri Pandit leaders – Makhan Lal Fotedar and Ashok Bhan – are also doing rounds for the coming elections to four Rajya Sabha seats from the state. Bhan, a senior Supreme Court advocate, has good rapport with all shades of opinion in the valley and had been instrumental in bringing many senior separatist leaders to the negotiating table.
While the ruling alliance is unanimous in giving representation to Kashmiri Pandits, a section of Congress leaders from the state have impressed upon the party high command to leave a Rajya Sabha seat for him in case he decides to enter the fray.