First Person | Let’s Grow Apples

Settling ex-servicemen in Kashmir would endanger their lives instead of honouring it

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

For a former journalist, author, thinker and a social worker (description on the Wikipedia page devoted to him, apparently written by a fan), the Rajya Sabha member from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Tarun Vijay, clearly lacks both in understanding and empathy. Or he is simply a crafty right-wing politician on a look-out for opportunities to polarise public opinion. Since I don’t know him personally, I wouldn’t dare to judge him, though his current fancy does point to the latter affliction.

On 8 May 2015, Vijay raised the demand in Rajya Sabha that there was a need to give greater respect to soldiers and martyrs. One of the ways in which this could be done was to give land and ‘well-made’ apartments to the soldiers or their families (in case the soldier is martyred) in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on a 90-year-lease. Why Kashmir, one may ask. Because, ‘those who shed blood for our motherland in the Valley should be respected and honoured,’ Vijay told a news channel.

Ever accommodative of his party-men, defence minister Manohar Parrikar forwarded the request to the government of J&K for consideration on 15 July 2015. While some media reports suggest that this raised the hackles of the alliance partner PDP, not much is known about the chief minister’s reaction. But Vijay is not about to let go of this issue. He has since raised the matter a number of times. Taking the cue, the BJP state president (J&K) Ashok Khajuria has assured countrymen that he will take this issue up with the state chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

For the record, Vijay has been the editor of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) weekly magazine Panchajanya for nearly 20 years. Currently, he is the director of a BJP think-tank, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. He is also a columnist for the newspaper Daily Pioneer. Clearly, in the BJP/ RSS pecking order, he is considered a cerebral person and not in the league of loose cannons like Yogi Adityanath or Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti. So his statements cannot be dismissed lightly.

So, what could be his motive in saying this? Forget about Kashmir for the moment and the persecution complex that most Kashmiris suffer from. Think from the perspective of the soldier and his family. A man, let’s say, from Andhra Pradesh, serves in the army for about 25 years, travelling all over the country, serving in high altitude or desert terrain, imperilling his life several times due to military operations or weather conditions. He spends a good part of his youth away from his family and his social milieu.

Upon retirement, would he not want to settle down in the place he is comfortable with, where everybody speaks his language, eat the kind of food he likes, have similar worldview as his? Sure, he may not want to settle down in his village, wanting urban upbringing for his children, but isn’t it a bit too stupid to imagine that from Andhra, he would like to settle in Sopore? What would he do there for a living, grow apples with fellow Kashmiris against whom he was carrying out operations just a few years ago? Why does Vijay want to rob a soldier of his right to decent, stress-free and violence-free retirement?

Or take the case of his widow and orphaned children. Knowing that their loved one was killed in some part of Kashmir during an operation, why would they want to leave their filial-social support system in the place of their residence to settle down in Kashmir?

What could Vijay be thinking of when he made this suggestion? How is it possible that neither he, nor anybody in his party, not even the defence minister thought that something was grossly foolish in this idea? How could he forward it to the J&K government for consideration?

If one wants to express respect and gratitude for the soldiers wouldn’t it be better to help them settle down in, or close to, their villages or hometowns? Why is it so difficult for the government to find land or ‘well-made’ apartments there? Psychologically also, wouldn’t it be a huge morale-booster for a soldier to come back to his place of origin with honour and financial resources for a decent life, where local policemen or junior government functionaries don’t harass him?

Given all this, the only conclusion that one can draw is that this was a mala fide suggestion, made deliberately to provoke reaction from the Kashmiris. Since this suggestion was couched in the language of ‘paying respect’ to the soldiers, anyone who opposed it would be disrespectful towards the soldiers and by extension the nation. And a needless issue would be created out of nothing, linking it to Article 370 and what not. Sure enough, some ex-servicemen would also jump in the fray demanding land in Kashmir on the grounds that the Indian Army blood has been spilled in that state hence, they have greater right to live there.

Honestly, if the Mufti government has any sense, it should accept this suggestion, allot land for Kashmiri soldiers and urge the ministry of defence (MoD) to build habitat for them in the state. This way, in addition to paying respect to the soldiers, the MoD would also hold up military service as a lucrative career option for the locals.


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