‘Fake’ Narratives?


With nearly 10000 employees comprising the migrant Kashmir Pandit Package employees and the reserved category SC employees on protest since May 2022, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha announced that employees not working will not be paid. When his statement triggered a reaction from the political class including the BJP, Sinha suggested that killings in Kashmir should not be seen from a faith prism, reports Tahir Bhat

LG Manoj Sinha visited the family of slain Puran Krishan Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit who was killed in Shopian on October 15, 2022

After governing Jammu and Kashmir as Lt Governor since August 7, 2020, BJP leader Manoj Sinha literally stunned everybody by suggesting the people in India avoid seeing killings in Kashmir from a religious prism. Though he was responding to a particular development, the statement burst, and what he said was “a false narrative”.

“It is true some Kashmiri Pandit became victims of targeted killings. But there is another side too… I want to say that people from the Kashmir valley are also killed. A lot of other people have also been killed. There are also labourers who come from Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand during the apple season…,” Sinha told reporters during an interaction in a Delhi newsroom. “The country should stop seeing this issue on the basis of religion.” He said the “two-three incidents” should not become the basis for spreading “a narrative”.


On May 13, 2022, militants barged into Tehsil office in Chadoora (Budgam) and shot at a revenue clerk, Rahul Bhat. He was declared brought dead in the hospital. The killings triggered mass unrest among the Kashmiri Pandit employees serving in Kashmir, who instantly went on strike. Initially, they were seen protesting in the districts, and later they to Jammu where they are still in protest.

On May 31, 2022, a militant duo was waiting for a school teacher Rajni Bala in Gopalpora area of Kulgam. Within seconds after her husband, also a teacher, left her nearby and went to his school – in the same area – she was fired upon and killed. A resident of Samba, Bala has been serving as a teacher along with her husband for years. They were appointed in Kashmir as teachers in reserve category posts (Scheduled Castes).

This killing triggered another wave of protests with thousands of reserved category employees from Jammu plains moving to roads and later leaving for Jammu where they are still protesting.

The two categories of employees number more than 10,000 and they are not working in Kashmir and their jobs are being performed by their native colleagues. The government continued releasing their salaries till August and later stopped it.

The protesting employees are demanding that they should be relocated out of Kashmir till the security situation improves and they are able to perform their duties. The administration has relocated some of them to better-secured areas, mostly within towns and the main offices, which have adequate security arrangements. However, both categories of employees have refused to report back to their duties. A select few, however, were transferred to Jammu also.

LG Sinha reaches Pandit Colony in Budgam on May 23, 2022

It was against this backdrop that Sinha announced publicly that employees sitting home will be paid. “We provided salaries to employees till August this year after they asked for a cooling period following their departure from Kashmir to Jammu,” Sinha told a presser n Jammu. “The government cannot pay salaries if the employees are sitting at home and not joining work.” He said the protesting employees must “listen and understand” the “loud and clear message.”

Fierce Reaction

While the reaction from the striking employees was obvious, the entire political class from Jammu and Kashmir ferociously reacted to the statement.

“Shoddy handling of the situation with the employees relentlessly protesting in Jammu is a clear reflection that the situation in Kashmir valley is far from normal,” Dr Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir’s five-time Chief Minster said at an event in Delhi. “What else does it reflect? This is contrary to the claims of the Lt Governor and his administration.” He added: “These employees are willing to work. But whose responsibility is it to provide a safe working atmosphere to them.”

Grieving family members of Rahul Bhat, the revenue clerk who was killed in a militant attack in Chadoora on May 12, 2022. Basically from Sangrampora, he was living in Sheikhpora Budgam. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

“Giving an ultimatum to join otherwise, your salaries will be stopped is wrong. The administration needs to know their problems and try to resolve those,” Mehbooba Mufti told reporters in Jammu when asked about the controversy. “When they are satisfied that the situation in Kashmir has improved, they will return but should not be compelled like this.”

“The government instead of providing some kind of relief to the agitating employees has started threatening them of stopping their salaries,” Choudhary Lal Singh said. “We are firm with the genuine cause of these Jammu-based employees and Kashmiri Pandits.”

Sinha’s statement, AAP spokesperson Appu Singh, is “unfortunate” as it shows that the “LG administration is trying to crush the voice of these employees through muscle power instead of talking to them.”

“Life is most important. What I suggest is that Kashmiri Pandits should be sent to Jammu for safety. When the situation improves, they can be called back,” Ghulam Nabi Azad, who now heads Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) said in Jammu. “Jobs can’t be more important than lives. Appeals have been made for relocation of Kashmiri Pandits in view of safety and security concerns.”

“We cannot leave anyone to die. The jobs were given to them by Congress (government). They lived here for 12 years and never said they want to return to Jammu. After the (recent) targeted killings, they have been on a protest,” Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) President Vikar Rasool Wani told reporters in Srinagar. “The Congress party stands with them and supports their demand.”

However, a severe reaction came from the ruling BJP. A day after the salary halt statement, the Dogra SC employees and Kashmiri Pandits went to protest outside the BJP’s headquarters in Jammu on December 24, 2022.

There, the BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir president, Ravinder Raina came out and interacted with the protesting employees. “When the LG hears out the agitating employees, he will learn the ground realities. Probably, officials did not present the details to the LG, which is why he made such a statement,” Raina said while asking Sinha to meet the protesting employees. “I am confident that he will not disappoint us. Bureaucrats do not understand the pulse of the people, but politicians do.”

During the protests, two BJP general Secretaries – Tarun Chugh and Dilip Saikai – had detailed meetings with protesting employees, assuring them they will not be allowed to become “sacrificial goats”. On December 25,

Dr Jitendra Singh, a minister in the PMO, jumped into the ring and issued a strongly worded statement. “I would say if the life of one person is under threat it is better to close one dozen offices to save a life,” Dr Singh said. “Saving a life is more important.”

Sinha Reacts

With almost everybody including the BJP supportive of the protesting employees, the Lt Governor told a Delhi newsroom that killings in Kashmir should not be seen from a faith prism because a lot of “others” are also getting killed in Kashmir.

Kashmiri pandits appointed under Prime Minister’s employment package protest against Chadoora killing on Saturday, May 14, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

This is being seen as a statement of facts because almost all the people killed by the militants in Kashmir were killed for being supporters of the idea of India. Apart from soldiers, paramilitary men and cops who are killed during routine skirmishes in the last more than 30 years, hundreds of workers of mainstream political parties including the National Conference, the PDP, Congress, CPI (M) and other political parties.

Interestingly, all these political parties including the federal governments led by Congress and BJP have all along been sympathetic to the cause of migrant Kashmir pandits. It was during Congress’s government that a major package was announced for the return and rehabilitation of the migrant Pandits.

Sinha made a mention of the two aspects of the package in his Delhi interaction, which is implemented on the basis of only one condition that the people who wish to get benefitted will have to work in Kashmir. Sinha said that so far 5866 Pandits have been given jobs. He revealed that 1,200 homes are being given to Kashmiri Pandits in April and by December 2023, 1,800 more houses will be allotted. At the same time, work on a major housing complex in Srinagar is in fast-forward mode.

Security Situation

The key reason behind Sinha’s statement, however, is different. His assertion that the SCs and KPs must work in Kashmir is based on his assessment that the security situation has fairly improved in Kashmir. In 2022, there were no strikes and the offices, educational institutions and businesses operated for almost all days.

In 2022, nearly 200 militants were killed. During different militancy-related incidents, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told the parliament early December 31 civilians and 62 armed forces personnel including cops were killed. Later, Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh 86 of the 102 local youth, who had joined militant ranks, were neutralised.

Daughter of Rajni Bala, a teacher from Samba mourning the killing of her mother in Kulgam on May 31, 2022

“The militancy is taking its last breath,” Singh said. “Stern action is being taken against those involved in giving such threats. Such blogs and websites are under our watch. FIRs have been registered against them. Action is being taken against their supporters as well.”

The administration is on tenterhooks to ensure that the employees work properly. There have been a lot of dismissals and suspensions for one or the other reason. Against this backdrop when 10,000-idd employees stay almost 300 km away from their places of posting and insist the security situation is not good, it burrow’s a hole in the official stand. This is precisely what the political class also believes in.

BJP Stand

In this ‘battle of narratives’, however, it is BJP that is distinct. While it has routinely used the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s successes to justify its actions on Jammu and Kashmir, Sinha’s “loud and clear message” to the striking employees runs the risk for the party to lose votes in its key support base. So on this, BJP has chosen to take the side of the rest of the political class.

What next? Wait and watch.


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