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BJP's 'Israeli policy' in Kashmir

Hinting at forcible resettlements to change the demographic prolife of Kashmir India’s Consul General in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, recommended that the Indian government ought to follow the policy of Israel in Palestinian territories. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan immediately reacted to the diplomatic faux pas by pointing to the “fascist mind-set” of the Indian government.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and Beijing’s efforts to settle Han Chinese in Xinjiang, its north-western Muslim-majority province, have fired the imagination of many a Hindutva fanatic. The removal of Article 35A of the Indian Constitution which freed up land-purchase in Kashmir to outsiders, has given their imagination wings.

The history of Jewish settlement shows how “facts on the ground” were changed to make a case for integrating Palestinian territories into the state of Israel.

Up to the 1880s the community of the Palestinian “Yishuv” Jews comprised only 3 per cent of the population in the area that today comprises Israel and Palestinian territories. They lived peaceably with their Arab neighbours, and had no political ambitions for establishing a Jewish state. When the Zionist movement grew as a political ideology in Eastern Europe, it claimed that the Jews were a nation and cited the Bible to claim a Promised Land in Palestine. Initially land was purchased for setting up settlements called “Kibbutzim”. By the 1940s the number of settlements had grown significantly and their distribution determined the proposed boundaries of the Jewish and Palestinian states under the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947.

Zionist paramilitary groups subsequently initiated a brutal process of ethnic cleansing. By 1949, nearly 78 per cent of territory historically known as Palestine had been taken over by the Jewish state. The remaining Palestinian territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem were under Jordan’s control while Gaza was with Egypt. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel occupied even these areas. Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights were added to the occupied territories. Israel then “annexed” East Jerusalem and declared it as part of its capital. West Bank was occupied but not claimed as part of the Jewish state. However in the next five decades, the Israeli government ensured that 600,000 to 750,000 Jewish Israelis settled in the West Bank and Gaza.

There is real apprehension that attempts will be made to dilute the concentration of Muslims in the Kashmir Valley by settling Hindus  to strengthen the so-called Hindu identity of the nation. Potentially the BJP-led Union government could emulate Israeli methods.

To carry out demographic change in J&K, the government needed to change the land acquisition and property ownership laws there. After August 5, the same land-acquisition laws apply to the Union Territory of J&K as in the rest of India. Thus settlements could be created on land already owned by the State or by requisitioning land or using absentee lands for “public needs” or military purposes.

Some contours of the Modi government’s strategy are becoming evident.

They consist of restoring temples allegedly destroyed or fallen into disuse and appointing Hindu priests and caretakers, setting up a medical township, and creating special settlements for Kashmiri Pandits and ex-servicemen.

Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy announced on September 23 this year that a survey for renovation of 50,000 temples in the Kashmir Valley had been ordered. This number is highly exaggerated considering that the total number of temples in the erstwhile sate of J&K never exceeded 4,000. Local Kashmiri Pandit activists say that there are only 1842 sacred sites in the Kashmir Valley including temples, springs, caves, cremation grounds and trees. They include only 1100 temples. 

Kashmiris suspect that the intention behind the temple renovation project is to settle Hindus, especially RSS men, in the Valley. Were each temple to house a priest and a caretaker it could add one lakh additional Hindus to the Valley’s population. With their families, the number could go up four times. There is apprehension that this strategy could be applied to Muslim-majority Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu as well.

In September, the J&K administration also announced the setting up of two Medicities – one in Jammu and one in the Kashmir Valley. A possible site for the Medicity in Kashmir is the area between Zukura and Gandarbal. It is expected to house hospitals; super-speciality centres; medical, dental, nursing and hospital management colleges, pharmaceutical shops, Ayurvedic colleges and hospitals, research centres with residential areas, staff quarters and guest houses. Garbed as a “Development Project “ Kashmiris may find it difficult to oppose it.

Two other arrows in the BJP government’s quiver are creating settlements for Kashmiri Pandits and Hindu ex-servicemen.
Since 2015, there has been a proposal to create self-contained, secure enclaves for returning Kashmiri Pandits complete with schools, shopping malls, hospitals and playgrounds. Five small transit colonies for 6,000 returning Kashmiri Pandits in their home districts were created a few year’s ago by providing them local employment. Although this experiment has not been successful, the change in the status of J&K has given a new impetus to the idea.

There are reports that the local administration has already started identifying land for Kashmiri Pandit settlements. Separatists in the Valley have supported the return of Kashmiri Pandits but they want them integrated into their old communities rather than be ghettoised. Such gated enclaves could in the long run escalate social strife rather than re-integrating the Pandits into Kashmiri society.

Sainik Colonies were initially proposed for resettling Dogra soldiers in Muslim-dominated Poonch and Rajouri. The plan was then extended to Kashmir Valley. Rumours abound that land is being acquired for several such settlements.

Along with delimitation of constituencies for the proposed legislative assembly of the Union Territory, these changes in the demography of the Valley could alter the political profile of the Valley. These gated ghettos may help the BJP electorally. That is why it is fascinated by the Israeli model of cartographic, political and military aggression on Palestinian territories. But what is good for the BJP may not necessarily be good for the Indian nation.
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