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Jagmohan’s death a personal loss for Kashmiri Pandits. He saved us, became a victim of lies

The propaganda around Jagmohan, former J&K governor who passed away at 93, has been carefully crafted over the years to peddle lies about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits.

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Inside New Delhi’s India International Centre library, for the last nearly two decades, sat a man for hours reading books silently. His back towards the glass wall, which partitioned the library from the passageway outside, one could see him absorbed in books, making notes with his pencil and only momentarily taking a break for lunch or tea. This, over the years, became his dedicated spot. Come rain or harsh summers of Delhi, he would make it a disciplined ritual to be at the library around noon and leave just before dusk. Often onlookers, many of them bureaucrats, would stand at the library gate waiting for him to exit to pay their obeisance, almost in awe of his personality.

The man Jagmohan Malhotra, better known as Governor Jagmohan, is no more. He breathed his last on 3 May in New Delhi, at 93, after a life of immense goodwill earned through public service, first as a civil servant and later as politician and governor. Jagmohan had the rare distinction of being the youngest Lt. Governor of Delhi and held the prestigious office for two terms. India’s national capital saw massive infrastructure development during his term, which only Sheila Dikshit has been able to replicate during her three terms as the chief minister of Delhi. Jagmohan’s second term as L-G saw the successful culmination of Asiad, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and even the Non-Aligned Movement conference of 1983. The exceptional Asiad Village Society, which was built for the Asian Games in South Delhi, and where I had the great fortune of being a resident for over 27 years, was also built under his able watch.

While Jagmohan also had the distinction of being the Lt. Governor of Goa and Daman and Diu, his most phenomenal stint was his role as the Chief Executive Officer of the Delhi Development Authority for over seven years. Earlier, Jagmohan was given one of India’s highest honour, Padma Shri, for ‘significant contribution to the formulation and implementation of Delhi Master Plan’. “I had a passionate urge to make the Capital one of the cleanest and disciplined cities in the world. I was dead against encroachments, a phenomenon encouraged by selfish politicians to create vote-banks,” he wrote in Hindustan Times in June 2007. Although Jagmohan proved to be a game-changer for Delhi in many ways, several demolitions of illegal structures ordered by him during the Emergency years came under criticism of politicians and the media.

Also read: Kashmiri Pandits’ return to Valley is a must for ‘idea of India’. But here are the obstacles

The most turbulent stint

Jagmohan’s most controversial stint, however, was his appointment as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, for the second time, on 19 January 1990. The same brutal night when the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits began due to the onset of Islamist terrorism and separatism in the Valley. For over three decades after his short stint in J&K, half-truths perpetuated by Kashmir-based radicals and self-styled intellectuals have blamed Jagmohan for being instrumental in the violence and exodus of Pandits. Known as the ‘Jagmohan theory’, it is often countered by several other minorities from Kashmir who see Jagmohan as their saviour. While the lies have traveled in circles and often gone unchallenged, the truth, however, has to be written without mincing any words today.

Upon his re-appointment, Governor Jagmohan was in Raj Bhawan, Jammu, on 19 January 1990. That same evening, Raj Bhawan landlines began ringing from Kashmir. We were being threatened. Mobs had collected outside Pandit houses. Mosques were asking Pandit men to leave and Pandit women to stay back,”  Jagmohan said during a conversation with me some years ago. The calls were also made to North Block and the headquarters of the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi where many Kashmiri Pandits worked in the national security apparatus. By midnight, the helpless calls from Kashmir had gained momentum from across the Valley. “We will be butchered alive. You have to rescue us,” Pandits began to plead with Governor Jagmohan.

On the morning of 20 January, my family left for Jammu. As did many other Kashmiri Pandit families in buses, trucks, taxis — whatever one could afford. Jagmohan reached the Valley on the morning of 21 January. In the previous 48 hours, the history of Kashmir had significantly changed. The Pandit exodus was ongoing. Selected targeted killings of Pandits had also begun, carried out mainly by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and its terrorists including Yasin Malik, Bitta Karate alias Farooq Ahmed Dar and Javed Nalka.

Years later in 1997, in an interview to The Times of India, Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, the editor of Srinagar Times, said about the ‘Jagmohan theory’, “It is a total lie. It is part of systematic propaganda. The Pandit flight from the Valley was the sequel to a plan hatched well in advance from outside the state. It had nothing to do with Jagmohan”.

“There was no administration worth the name anywhere in the state… I mean in the Valley. Police stations all over the Valley were centres of operation for the militants. Jagmohan could not have done anything. Nearly 32,000 Kashmiri Pandit houses have been burnt since 1991. Is there Jagmohan’s hand in this too?” Sofi added.

Also read: For Kashmiri Pandits, Azadi slogans are bringing back a three-decade old nightmare

In Jagmohan’s words

Jagmohan himself has penned an accurate record of circumstances that led to the Kashmiri Pandit exodus and terrorism in Kashmir Valley in his book, My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir.

“Hardly had I gone to bed when the two telephones at my bedside started ringing, almost continuously. At the other end, there were voices of alarm, of concern, of fright, sometimes muted voices of men too terror-stricken to speak. “Tonight is our last night”, moaned one voice. “By morning, we – all Kashmiri Pandits – would be butchered”, said another voice. “Send us aeroplanes; take us out of the Valley; evacuate us at night if you do not want to see our corpses in the morning”. Pleaded another. “Our womenfolk, our sisters, our mothers, would be abducted, and we menfolk slaughtered”, shrieked yet another voice. Some callers told me that they would just hold on to their telephones so that I could hear the terrible slogans and exhortations that were emanating from hundreds of loudspeakers fitted on the mosques. The noises, they said, were deafening and it appeared that a number of recorded tapes were being simultaneously played at a overloud pitch, causing horrible effects in resonance and permeating the atmosphere with terror and fear of imminent death,” Jagmohan wrote.

Later, to challenge the propaganda, Jagmohan wrote an article in The Indian Express in January 2011. “Soon after I took over, I did my best to stem the exodus. This would be clear from the press note of March 7, 1990, which was given wide publicity at that time. This note, inter alia, said: “Jagmohan appealed to the members of the Pandit community who have temporarily migrated to Jammu to return to the Valley. He offered to set up temporary camps at four places, namely, Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla and Kupwara for those who return from Jammu,” he wrote.

“In the meanwhile, treacherous and brutal killings of innocent Kashmiri Pandits continued in the Valley. Those killed included prominent persons like engineer B.K. Ganjoo, poet Sarvanand Premi and his young son Virender Kaul, Professor K.L. Ganjoo and his wife, the teacher C.L. Pandita. Press notices were prominently put out in the widely-read Srinagar dailies Aftab and Alsafa, requiring Kashmiri Pandits to leave within 48 hours, failing which they would run the risk of being exterminated. Photocopies of these notices have been printed by me in my book My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir,” he further wrote.

Jagmohan knew there was a sinister plot to spread disinformation against him and the Pandits. “There are many other pieces of hard evidence which show that the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was caused by relentlessly pursuing the ISI-sponsored plan of “killing one and frightening 1,000.” Disinformation was built into this plan. Tragically, for petty political ends, persons like Mustafa Kamal have been committing the crime of disinformation. They have been butchering truth, while the militants have been butchering individuals,” he wrote in the article.

Also read: Why Kashmiri Pandits may never return to the Valley

A personal loss for Pandits

Many years later in 2014, as I was reporting on the Lok Sabha election in Varanasi constituency of Uttar Pradesh, I met a senior Congress parliamentarian, who was seen as a close aide of the Gandhis, at the party’s local office. Just before I could record his interview, he whispered into my ears, “Please ask me a question on Kashmir. I want to bring up Pandits exodus and question Modi. I will talk about Jagmohan doing it.” I left the room in dismay and never met the Congress leader again.

The propaganda around Jagmohan has been carefully crafted over the years to peddle lies and fabricate the truth about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. It has been done to shield and mask the Islamist terrorism by its ideologues sitting in Kashmir as well as New Delhi. Over the years, Jagmohan had also maintained a dignified silence on it, refusing to engage in rhetoric with people with a single-point objective of hatred and whitewash the crimes against humanity committed in the name of ‘azadi (freedom)’.

Pandits have always seen Jagmohan as a messiah. Many Pandits across the globe observed a fast in solidarity with Jagmohan’s family. Many took to social media to express their sadness and deep pain at his passing. There are others who mourn silently at home in this pandemic. There isn’t a Kashmiri Pandit eye that isn’t moist today. His death, in many ways, seems to be a personal loss to the community since they see Jagmohan as their saviour, as their only hope when they were staring at death. Pandits see him as a man who kept their dignity intact. And swallowed silently the poison thrown at him for years. In Jagmohan’s passing, India has lost the man who saved Kashmir for India.

Aditya Raj Kaul is Contributing Editor at CNN-NEWS18 with more than a decade-long experience of tracking Jammu & Kashmir. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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