Kashmiri Pandits are ecstatic yet wary of the BJP’s Mission 44+.
They are happy that the party has become a contender in the Valley. But some also see the BJP’s presence in the hive of a decades-old separatist movement as a reminder of the early ’90s when the community was uprooted from their homes and forced to migrate.
Srinagar’s Habbakadal, home to some 16,000-odd Pandit voters, is one constituency where the BJP hopes to open its account — at least to make a psychological point that the party is not confined only to the Jammu region.
It has fielded Moti Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit, based on a political calculation that voters from the community will help the party win Habbakadal, which has always responded to separatists’ poll boycott calls.
In 2008, the constituency saw only 11% polling and in this year’s parliamentary election, a mere 4% votes were cast.
The Mission 44+ mathematics has, however, triggered unprecedented polarisation, prompting Pandits in Habbakadal to speak to Hindustan Times in hushed tones and on the condition of anonymity.
“I didn’t migrate in 1990. I had decided then to take a bullet and die in my own home. There is palpable fear again because our neighbours think we will favour the BJP. I prefer staying indoors because I don’t want to have a political conversation with my neighbours,” said a Pandit during an interaction with families belonging to the community at an ashram and their homes.
A Pandit woman waited for the Kashmiri Muslim driver to leave the room before she opened up. “Only the BJP can abrogate Article 370 and only that can pave the way for the migrant community to return,” she whispered.
Will she vote? “Only if my neighbours do … We Pandits can’t be seen as the only ones going to the polling booth. The neighbours are talking of not boycotting because they want to keep the BJP out and if they go to the polling stations, we will too.”
Fear runs deep for families that have seen the horrors of militancy and the same anxiety has returned to haunt them as Pandits have become a part of the campaign discourse.
Candidates in Habbakadal are politically correct, but only just. “I have joined the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) to save Kashmir from the BJP onslaught. They are trying to divide Pandits and Muslims. We don’t want a Gaza here. We welcome the migrants but among us and not in separate colonies,” said Zafar Meraj, the PDP’s Habbakdal candidate and a journalist.
Kaul too sounded politically correct. “Yes, all parties make political calculations and look at winnability but I am trying to convince the majority community that only Modi can deliver development and that Article 370 is not a political plank. I don’t talk about 370 unless asked to.”
The candidates are not the only ones side-stepping political landmines that litter Habbakadal’s labyrinth. Its bylanes are once again being identified as Hindu and Muslim. The cloak of anonymity that the Pandits cling to in 2014 is a reminder of the political resolution the state still needs.