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‘The return of the native’: Kashmiri Muslims elect migrant Pandit as Sarpanch of Shopian village

Source: Twitter

Srinagar: Phones have not stopped ringing at Chaman Lal’s home in Jammu since the Election Commission declared results for vacant Panchayat seats at Zainpora in the Shopian district on Saturday.

A retired agriculture officer, Chaman was elected as Sarpanch in a Muslim majority constituency of Zainpora despite staying away from the campaigning due to the untimely death of his wife.

Kashmiryat was in full flow as local Muslim youth campaigned for Chaman in his absence. He was in touch with the people through the phone as he was mourning the death of his wife at Jammu.

“I am thankful to the youth who ran the campaign for me. I could not visit my constituency due to the death of my wife. I am thankful to brothers and sisters who reposed trust and faith in me,” he told The Kashmir Monitor.

Coming from a well-to-do family, Chaman was a social worker before he migrated to Jammu in the early nineties. Though his house was set ablaze, he did not lose touch with his friends and neighbors at his ancestral village.

“I visited my village numerous times during the last 30 years. In fact, I had also filed my nomination in the last Panchayat elections. There was a boycott call and the elected Sarpanch resigned. Later the seat fell vacant. This time I filed my nomination as an independent candidate because my people wanted me to contest,” he said.

For the 69-year-old Kashmiri pandit, it was his goodwill and the character that led to his victory from Muslim dominated constituency in the highly volatile district of Shopian.

“I was not elected because of being a pandit. The work and character of a candidate play a crucial part in the polls. Braving the bone-chilling cold, people including women and the elderly came out to vote for me. I was overwhelmed to see the support. Most importantly, I was not physically campaigning in the area,” he said.

A ray of hope has rekindled for reconciliation between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims after Chaman won the polls. “PDPs Chaman Lal, a Kashmiri pandit who was away from Valley for the last 30 years was elected as a Sarpanch today. This is true Kashmiriyat. Hope this is an eye-opener for the rest of India where laws like CAA & anti-conversion bills are brought to punish Muslims,” tweeted Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister.

Chaman is the only second pandit Panchayat member who has won after people came out to vote. Earlier, most of the Pandit Panchayat members were either elected unopposed or only migrants voted for them.

On May 10, 2011, Asha Jee became Panch after she defeated Sarwa Begum by 11 votes in the predominantly Muslim village of Wussan in Kunzer. Asha’s family is among the five pandit families living in the Kunzer belt, which did not migrate from Kashmir in 1990.