Thirty-one years after the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, the Nehru-Gandhi family has for the first time unambiguously spoken up for the community. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi wrote in Hindi saying that the nation cannot forget the pain that the families had undergone.
He also posted a picture of a lighted earthen lamp with ‘bow to the martyrdom of Kashmiri Pandits’ written across. The day is observed by the Kashmiri Pandits (KP) as Martyr’s Day in memory of Tikalal Taploo, a Hindu leader who was assassinated on this day in 1989 in Srinagar. Taploo was the state vice president of BJP and was associated with the RSS.
Rahul Gandhi’s expression of solidarity with the Kashmiri Pandit community and the homage to a fallen BJP leader could well have come as a surprise to the community as also the BJP.
Rahul Gandhi’s post is really more than recognising the pain of the Kashmiri Pandit families. It is being regarded as a smart move to counter the BJP on playing the Hindu card. Rahul, for some time now, has been describing himself as a Kashmiri Pandit and trying to identify himself with them — a community which has faced the brunt of terrorism in Kashmir and was forced to flee the Valley in early Nineties.
In the past few weeks, Rahul Gandhi has visited Jammu and Kashmir twice. His first tour to Kashmir, after the abrogation of Article 370, was on August 10 when he prayed at one of the most revered temples for Kashmiri Pandits, Mata Kheer Bhawani.
A month later, he visited Mata Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu and met a Kashmiri Pandit delegation there where he said, “I am a Kashmiri Pandit. My family is Kashmiri Pandit”. He said that the delegation of Kashmiri Pandits met him and said that the Congress party had implemented many welfare schemes for them but the BJP had done nothing. “I promise to my Kashmiri Pandit brothers that I will do something for them,” Rahul Gandhi said this during his address to party workers.
While the Kashmiri Pandit community could be amused at these developments, the Congress leader could well be hoping that the community tag would help him in the upcoming elections in several states, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are crucial for both the Congress and the BJP. Since Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is handling the party in the state herself, a lot is at stake. In the caste-ridden politics of UP, 12-13 per cent of the Brahmin population can be crucial for electoral success. And this time all the political parties are trying to woo the Brahmins in the state.
For the Congress here, Rahul’s Kashmiri Pandit caste card assertion is aimed at influencing the Brahmin community in the state to cut into the BJP’s vote bank. Sources in the Congress said that the party is mulling changing its chief in UP and replacing the current one, who is from the OBC community, with a Brahmin leader.
It was at Pushkar Sarovar in Rajasthan in November 2018 that Rahul Gandhi had first declared himself a Datattreya Brahmin and a Kashmiri Pandit, his priest who carried out the rituals had informed.
By repeatedly highlighting his caste, Rahul Gandhi may be trying to woo constituencies, but the BJP has been quick in slamming him. It said that Rahul had “very conveniently” forgotten that the woes of the Kashmiri Pandit were because of the politics of appeasement of Congress and like-minded parties.
While the BJP, Congress or others tussle over caste-politics, the Kashmiri Pandit community is suddenly finding its political relevance. And Rahul Gandhi’s repeated assertion of being a Kashmiri Pandit is being seen as a politically correct move. His electoral win in the Muslim majority Wayanad had painted him in a certain colour and the right wing has often called him ‘anti-Hindu’. To counter this the Congress leader began frequenting temples and recently started highlighting his Kashmir Pandit connection.
(Deepika Bhan can be reached at email@example.com)