Farooq Abdullah speaking to NDTV's Barkha Dutt at the launch of a book of first person accounts by two Kashmiri Pandit authors, A Long Dream of Home.
26 years ago on the 19th of January began the forced exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland. Pushed out by militant violence and direct threats, Pandits were forced to become people without a state in their own country, with families pushed into migrant camps and one-room tenements. Over the years, every party has paid lip service to the return of Pandits, but more than two decades later, there has been virtually no progress on creating an environment that would enable their homecoming.
Now, as the Pandit community commemorates this day as the #KPExodusDay on Social Media, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah has stirred a major controversy by saying that the "onus is on the Pandits" to make a comeback. "They (the Pandits) have to realize one thing- nobody is going to come with a begging bowl and say 'come and stay with us' , they have to make the move, " Mr Abdullah said to NDTV's Barkha Dutt.
He went on to argue that he had made several attempts over the decades to try and get Pandits to return to the Valley, but many of them had sold their homes and were not willing to come and live in Kashmir any longer. "When (J&K) government made a move that the officers and doctors who are settled here (Delhi) should come back, they came to see me and said 'look, our children are in schools here, our parents are ill and they need medical care...we can't take them back, so for God's sake, let us live here." Asked directly by NDTV if he was suggesting that the onus was on the Pandits to come back, he said "Absolutely."
Mr Abdullah's comments were made at the launch of a book of first-person accounts by two Kashmiri Pandit authors.
The remarks provoked a spate of sharp and angry protests from the audience and other panelists present. Neeru Kaul, a Kashmir Pandit and writer, argued with the National Conference leader, asking him, "Are we, the Pandits, like cattle for you?" Author Siddharth Giggoo told the politician, "I dont just want a house in Kashmir, I want a home."
Also present were Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and retired General Syed Ata Hasnain who both disagreed with what Mr Abdullah had said. General Hasnain, who has served in the Kashmir Valley as the General Officer Commanding of 15 Corps, said , "You (Farooq) are the symbol of the best value of integration in Kashmir. Why can't you today take (the) initiative?"
But Mr Abdullah stuck to his controversial statements. "I met them as a Chief Minister and even after that also. It's not only me, but even Hurriyat leaders have come to you (Pandits) and said 'please come back'." Militancy has declined, he argued, adding " It is hard, but they will have to make the first move now."