Kashmir: Those ten most critical days of January 1990

Kashmiri Pandits protesting for their rights. (Representative image)
Kashmiri Pandits protesting for their rights. (Representative image)

“Chapter I of this book (My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir) deals with ten most critical days from January 19 to 28, 1990. It recalls the background of events and also describes the first of a series of stabs in my back,” writes Jagmohan, the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir in the Preface to his above-named book. To the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) 19 January, 1990 remains the day of their holocaust.

Why and in what sense were the ten days critical? What were the circumstances preceding and following the 19th of January and its unfolding aftermath? What and why were the series of stabs inflicted in the back of Governor Jagmohan and who played the et to Brutus part?

Much is written on the rise and quick spread of Islamic fundamentalism as also on the externally sponsored and abetted armed insurgency in Kashmir beginning 1989-90, which rages with unabated intensity even after a lapse of thirty-one years.  This notwithstanding, what Governor Jagmohan saw, felt and understood about a situation of grave criticality which he was called upon to handle on January the 8, 1990, has been scantily focused. A sedition-like situation that had shaped in Kashmir on the eve of his second stint demands dispassionate and strictly objective analysis. Apart from exposing inexcusable flaws in the then government of India’s Kashmir policy, such a study will also lay bare the vested interests playing a dangerous role in the troubled situation.

Today, the 19 January 2021, the Hindus (Pandits) of Kashmir enter the thirty-second year of their holocaust. This day brings to their memory the horrible saga of their genocide, ethnic cleansing and finally their extirpation from their ten thousand year – old homeland of Kashmir by the Theo-fascists of the sub-continent.

What is more, no Union or State Government agency, no national or international human rights forum cared to raise the issue of the decimation and forced expulsion of a direly threatened people. Not even an inquiry has been ordered into the killing of nearly two thousand innocent members, men, women and children of the Pandit community and then the ethnic cleansing of their homeland. Contrarily, there has been no dearth of sadists rubbing salt onto the wounds of the oppressed community because it serves their interests.

Eschewing the saga of their travail, here we would like to briefly unfold how the Kashmirian polity, contrary to propagated stance, was bracing itself for the impending armed sedition and ethnic cleansing of Kashmir through meticulous planning by external conspirators in collaboration with local subversives.

In the light of some questions raised in the opening paragraph of this expose, we focus on some relevant excerpts from the authentic and valuable volume My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir authored by the then Governor, Jagmohan. We have chosen this particular work because an important adjunct of anti-Pandit and anti-India disinformation campaign vigorously carried forward by Kashmir separatists and valley leadership of all hues during the heyday of insurgency was that the Pandits had departed on the prompting of Governor Jagmohan. Such was the virulence of this canard that even the top Muslim leaders who once adorned the Sultanate of Kashmir, too, joined the vicious chorus of this allegation. Therefore it becomes very relevant to examine how the sedition was developing steadily months before 19 January and what was the actual plan for that day and thereafter.

Finding the situation extremely critical in Kashmir, Inder Kumar Gujral, the then foreign minister rang up Jagmohan in Delhi around the midnight of 17-18 January 1990 to immediately proceed to the residence of the then Home Minister Mufti Saeed for an emergency meeting. He was told to take over as Governor of J&K and handle the explosive situation. Jagmohan took the oath of office on Jan 18 at Jammu. NC and Congress both declined to attend the oath-taking function. Farooq, heading the Cong-NC coalition government, resigned on 18 January alleging that he had not been consulted about the selection of new Governor for J&K, reported the New York Times of 19 Jan. On 19th January Jagmohan boarded a BSF helicopter to arrive in Srinagar but owing to highly inclement weather the copter could not cross Banihal and had to return to Jammu.

In retrospect, the morale of Kashmir insurrectionists was boosted by the kidnapping and then murder of Ravindra Mhatre, the Indian diplomat in Birmingham on 3 March 1984 by the activists of Kashmir Liberation Army, an adjunct of JKLF controlled by ISI via Amanullah Khan. Six days later Maqbool Bhat, the founder of JKLF, convicted in a murder case was executed in Tihar jail. A few days later three Central ministers visited the President and complained that militants were dominating the valley. Farooq Abdullah threatened that if Congress did not behave there would be a blood bath.

During the elections, if 1983, naked men, presumably from NC, were seen among the crowds at Iqbal Park where Indira Gandhi addressed a public meeting. On January 15, 1984, four Congress party supporters were killed in police firing in Anantnag. Bomb blasts with alarming frequency were reported from different parts of the valley. Blasts occurred on Independence Day parade, in India Coffee House Srinagar, in the house of Justice Dr Anand, Palladium Cinema, Kashmir University Library and in the house of Sessions Judge Nilakanth Ganjoo. Earlier in an international cricket match anti-India and Pro-Pak slogans were raised. The national flag was disrespected. Strange slogans were raised in public processions like Pakistan zindabad, Khalistan zindabad, Noor-i-Chashm nor-i-Huq Zia ul Haq Zia ul Huq and Muslim Sikh Bhai Bhai/ Hindu qaum Kahan se ai.

As Governor Jagmohan moved to board a Srinagar bound BSF plane on January 20, a functionary of the Information Ministry handed him a file to have a look at as it contained important clippings from July 12, 1989, to date. During the flight, he looked at the banner lines of some of the clippings reading: “Kashmir nearly lost to the nation” (The Statesman Nov 6), “There seems to be a strange conspiracy of silence about the reign of terror in the hapless valley of Kashmir” (The Times of India (Nov 23). Other horrible events preceding 19 January were the gunning down of Tikalal Taploo, BJP Vice President in Habba Kadal, Justice Ganjoo the Sessions judge in Maharaj Bazar, P.N. Bhat, Advocate, poet and historian in Anantnag, SHO Maisuma, and kidnapping of Rubiya Saeed, daughter of Home Minister Mufti Saeed. This indicated the total collapse of administration. (Some analysts raised doubts on the episode of Rubiya’s kidnapping and return saying it was a stage managed show to seek release of several hardcore militants from the prison through a deal)

Jagmohan writes: “We inwardly recognized the infirmities of an immature democracy. We feared that in a plebiscite, ignorance, parochialism, and communal prejudice would be exploited. Yet we did nothing to eliminate these forces which fed this ignorance, this parochialism and communal prejudice. On the other hand, the politics of Kashmir was run in such a manner that these infirmities were multiplied. At the oath-taking ceremony in Jammu the previous day, Lt. Gen. Gobinder Singh, Northern Command chief had talked to Jagmohan in an aside saying the situation in the valley was extremely serious. “Every time I spoke to the previous authority (Farooq) I was assured things would be taken care of. Nothing happened.”

Jagmohan wondered why Farooq resigned at a crucial time. Unmistakably, Farooq knew that under Jagmohan’s administration the insurrectionists and separatists would not be able to get a quarter and his misdoings would be exposed.

The night of 19th January 1990

Let us see what the man at the helm of affairs has recorded about the most critical night viz. 19-20th January 1990, the holocaust night for the Kashmiri Pandits.

“In the day (19 Jan at Raj Bhavan,  Jammu) I received frantic calls from Srinagar that large scale searches were made in Chota Bazar and Guru Bazar areas of Srinagar and 250 youth had been picked up. On contacting DGP Saxena,  I was told me that three days earlier on 16 January, three CRP personnel were shot dead in Guru Bazar and the searches were ordered on the behest of Farooq Abdullah who had told the CRP to do whatever they liked but had privately instigated the people in those localities. On 19 Jan, Jagmohan contacted Peer Ghulam Hasan Shah DGP and offered him to be the Adviser which he accepted. But before morning he changed his mind and excused him telling Jagmohan that he feared a threat to his family members. This was the level of threat and insecurity created days ahead of Pandit exodus.

“The 19-20 January night was the strangest night I ever had. I had just been to bed when two telephones rang simultaneously. Voices of alarm could be heard bewailing “Tonight is our last night. By morning we all Kashmiri Pandits would be butchered. Our womenfolk, our sisters, our mothers would be abducted and we men folk slaughtered.” Some requested that I should hold on to the telephone to hear the slogans and exhortations of Islamists emanating from loudspeakers fitted to mosques.

How come a large number of loudspeakers had been installed and the same calls made from them? How was the technique of arousing mass frenzy acquired? Who had masterminded these well-knit organizations? These questions haunted me. I contacted Srinagar Divisional Commissioner Jalil Khan and DIG SS Ali advising them to take prompt action and depute officers to trouble spots. I spoke to Allah Bux for I knew he was the key man. I also got into touch with the army officers. In between, calls from MHA Additional Secretary said, “Sir, we are getting frantic calls from Hindus in Srinagar.  Hell seems to have broken loose. The Pandits are in utter pain. We cannot get any officer on phone in Srinagar.”

This was the depressing state of security particularly about a small defenceless religious minority. The insensitivity of the Home Ministry — deliberate or inadvertent —- was so deplorable that the ethnic revolt in Azerbaijan and Rumanian Liberation struggle were being telecast as special programmes and huge crowds of Srinagar youth were watching these in the cinema halls of the city. The State administration at that time was not different from what it was on January 13, 1989, when on the occasion of Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday, 15 persons were killed in a riot in Jammu within an hour at a short distance from the office of Farooq Abdullah.

Jagmohan in Srinagar

On January 16, Farooq arrived in Srinagar. In a meeting at the Police Headquarter, he said that the National Front Government was taking serious note of non-action, and he was under pressure to show positive results. Some officers said they were not allowed to do certain things. Losing his temper, Farooq called local police as thoroughly corrupt. “Do what you want to do?” he told them in an angry mood.  The police deployed CRP in Chota Bazaar and Guru Bazaar area to conduct searches. I was not briefed on searches. Dr Farooq had “instructed his secret men to incite reaction when searches were made only to create hindrances in my way.”

On the night of 20-21 January” ,  records Jagmohan “outside, the events moved with same feverish speed. The voices of horror, fearful harangue and exhortations soaked in Islamic fundamentalist terminology filled the air. Crowds were goaded to gather in mosques and people were mobilized from rural areas to the city. No civil authority existed anywhere. The passivity was unbelievable. The DG, later on, told me it took him more than six hours to get the DIG out from his house for duty.”

The situation was grim. Jagmohan summoned Adviser Ved Marwah and the Corps Commander of Northern Command. The crucial meeting decided to act in minutes not hours. Curfew hitherto existing nominally was firmly imposed in the city. Crowds had gone berserk burning public property like SIDC office Narpora, Women’s Polytechnic Saida Kadal, Mahjoor Bridge etc. The frenzied crowds had to be dispersed. The firing took place at Hawal, Tulsi Bagh, and Gav Kadal. Lal Bazar, Safa Kadal etc. all in the city of Srinagar. The story of the miraculous escape of one Ramesh Marhatta — a hair-raising saga of the lone Pandit survivor from the captivity of the terrorist— was published by the Daily Excelsior of 8 December 2019. Militants and their supporters churned stories of excesses by the forces. In public life, you have to choose the lesser evil. The city was quiet by evening and arson stopped. The plan for 26th was thwarted. Twelve lives were lost in the action.”

The plan for 26th January

A diabolic plan of subversion had been worked out by the terrorist for 26th January the Republic Day which fell on Friday. A million people would come together and exhort through harangues delivered from loudspeakers fitted on mosques to proceed to Idgah in small groups. Hordes of people would move from outlying areas, villages and small towns by buses and private vehicles. Friday prayer (namaz) would be performed with all the religious fervour. Slogans of independence would be raised; the terrorists would shot fires in the air as a mark of celebrating the “dawn of independence.” The national flag would be symbolically burnt and the flag of Islamic Republic hoisted. Foreign correspondents and photographers would be there in any number to report the event and do photographic coverage. The planners had calculated that the government would allow free movement it is the Republic Day. They thought that leaders and civil servants would be in Jammu taking salute of Republic Day.

This was a closely guarded secret. The only calculation not made was that Farooq government was not there. It will be reminded that on August 14 in the previous year viz. 1989, the then government had virtually permitted the terrorists to take the salute in a parade at the Islamia College.

Jagmohan writes that he was informed that Simranjeet Singh Mann, the Sikh leader, had arrived in Srinagar and desired to meet with me. He met with me and talked in a rambling manner. But he went on telling me that nothing should be done that would endanger the lives of the masses. He kept his purpose of visiting Srinagar a closely guarded secret.

The events that unfolded with time are bizarre but for want of space, we need these to be recounted at some other occasion.

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