Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen Supreme Commander Syed Salaha-ud-Din is not the only one to tell Kashmiri pandits not to return to the Valley. Even topmost votaries, on their return to their homes, have veered around to this point of view.
Kashmiri pandits are a witness to a saga of political betrayal by the leadership in Srinagar and Delhi. They were promised a lot, but in return they have got only a shift from tented colonies to one room tenements and a hope of moving further into the two-room tenements, under construction under Prime Minister's package announced in November 2004.
Two years ago when Manmohan Singh declared that they would get two-room tenements in the migrant camps in Jammu region, that was an admission of the fact that the conditions were not conducive for their return to the Valley, and that they would have to stay put in migrant camps.
They were betrayed even by the BJP, the party that claims to be espousing their cause. BJP first sought victim status for them. Their hopes soared when the National Democratic Alliance came to power at the centre. LK Advani declared that his yardstick of normalcy in Kashmir would be the day when Kashmiri pandits return to their homes in the Valley.
During his six-year long tenure as Home Minister of the country, Advani made a series of claims of the situation having improved in Kashmir Valley, but neither Kashmiri pandits returned to the Valley, nor their condition improved.
Rather, during his tenure as Home Minister, the worst massacre of Kashmiri pandits took place in Nadimarg in south Kashmir in March 2003. Twenty-four Kashmiri pandits including women and children were killed.
Two prime ministers-IK Gujral at Nagrota migrant camp in April 1997 and Manmohan Singh at Muthi camp in November 2004-spoke an identical sentence: "I know what it means to be a refugee". Gujral narrated his tales and Manmohan his, as to how they became refugees with the partition of the nation. They spoke many emotional words and promised that the migrant status of Kashmiri pandits is a stigma for them as prime ministers and their governments.
There were only half-hearted efforts to tear off that unwanted tag. Rather there were no efforts at all.
That their return journey was not safe, also became clear to them when former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah stated early this month that conditions were not conducive for the return of Kashmiri pandits to the Valley.
"It was wrong on my part to have exhorted them to return to their homes in the Valley, when I was chief minister," he conceded, while reflecting on his relentless campaign seeking return of the displaced community to their homes in the Valley.
"It is dangerous for them to go back to their homes," Farooq said.
Immediately after his return to power in October 1996, Farooq Abdullah had put the "return of Kashmiri pandits" as a priority item on his agenda of governance. He had appointed even a panel to study the prospect of their return. Then Planning Commissioner ML Koul headed the panel and recommended Rs 2800 crore "restoration and rehabilitation project". That report was submitted to the then Prime Minister IK Gujral in July 1997. But that report and its recommendation were not spoken of again.
There were two major massacres of the Kashmiri pandits in the Valley in less than a one year period in 1990s. Seven Kashmiri pandits were killed in a sleepy village of Sangrampora in the central Kashmir district of Budgam in March 1997. Within the next 10 months, there was another massacre when 23 Kashmiri pandits were gunned down in Wandhama in Ganderbal, Farooq Abdullah's own Assembly constituency. The killers added horror to the scene for they also burnt down the houses of the Kashmiri pandits.
Farooq Abdullah's successor Mufti Mohammad Sayeed also met the similar challenge. Within a month after he announced his plans for the return of the Kashmiri pandits in a big way, terrorists struck in Nadimarg, a village in south Kashmir. Twenty-four Kashmiri pandits were massacred there in March 2003. That was the highest number of Kashmiri pandits killed in any massacre.
Thereafter, Mufti Sayed did not talk in public about his plans for the return of Kashmiri pandits.
Kashmiri separatists ranging from Syed Ali Shah Geelani to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik-asked them to return to their homes, with much fanfare. But when it comes to ensuring their safety, their stock answer is they will have to face the situation, which means that there is no guarantee of safety.
"We are facing a situation. They, too, would have to face similar conditions. The majority of the community is facing a situation, let them come and experience the same. But their return in safe zones is not acceptable to us", Geelani says in somewhat realistic terms.
Now no one talks about their return. Everything has boiled down to their two-room tenements and relief money in Jammu-a way to keep them away from their motherland and also to cultivate a cult of dependency.