Flagging off a new consciousness.

The BJP’s Tiranga Yatra was seen by skeptics as a charade; by the centre as an irritant; by secularists as a red herring; by the J&K Government as a threat to peace; by the Congress as a double edged sword and by nationalists as an act of faith. But it was really an attempt at redistributing the emphasis on the Centre’s policy on Kashmir, which the BJP believes is skidding in the wrong direction. The good news is, it worked.

The campaign by the BJP that aimed to lead thousands of its youth wing members to Lal Chowk in Srinagar to hoist the tricolour on the Republic Day and which was foiled by the obdurate resistance of the Chief Minister of J&K under clear instructions of the centre, is a strategic move by the party to bring balance back to the Kashmir policy of the Centre that was seen to be veering off course after the inept handling of stone throwing mobs by the greenhorn CM.

It has been a serious concern of the BJP that the anointment of the youngest Abdullah under the National Conference Government propped up by the Congress is taking the same treacherous road that has been tread on Kashmir each time the parties run out of ideas or a crisis is thrust upon them. The recent eruption of violence in Kashmir, the quickie solutions offered by the centre through a troika of mediators and the cut-piece all-party delegation notwithstanding, the BJP is mindful of the evolving theatre and concerned that Kashmir should not have more actors than necessary and within that, that there should be no room for more villainy than we have seen so far.

Many news reports have suggested that there has been strong public support to the Yatra ever since it was flagged off from Kolkata, mirroring figuratively the journey of one of India’s proudest sons and one of the founding fathers of the BJP, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who died trying to enter the valley. Some sections of media has responded with some degree of consternation as to why the BJP needed to do this now, insinuating that there was brownie-point scoring underlying this exercise and more importantly asked why there were no similar attempts in the past years and particularly in the duration of the NDA regime. To take the second set of arguments first – that it wasn’t done before – is really no disqualification for doing it now: there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. That point about organizing such a campaign in the duration of the NDA is patently disingenuous; neither the situation, not the accompanying circumstances merited this response then and which remain rooted in the present set of conditions that have been created by the combination of the powers at the centre and the state and the real and present danger of accommodating more separatist sentiment within a cloaked argument for autonomy.

On a television show in the duration of this campaign I encountered representatives of the National Conference and the PDP, both parties which have umbilical connections with each other and in varying degrees with the Congress. It was astounding to see them argue against the BJP Yatra without once explaining their own stasis. I charged that it was in the interest of the NC and the PDP to sustain the fragility of the situation and that the parties were really just shadow boxing the separatists. It remains one of the ugliest truths that the entire political class in Kashmir is the beneficiary of unrest and cultivates it in one subtle manner or other. The criminal status-quoist attitude of the principal actors on the political stage is just another reason nothing moves, or if it does, it is always one step forward and two steps backwards. The larger impact of the Yatra effort is being missed by them for it serves to remind them that it has fallen to the national opposition party to bring Kashmir centre stage in a manner that injects the serum of seriousness in an issue which is continually juggled between sub contracted agencies which have held the valley and its aspirations hostage to their familial power play.

The BJP leadership is seized of the criticality of the situation and it is alive to the influences and pressures of the geo political dynamics in the region. The BJP is only too aware of the growing clout of China, the difficulties of America and the dangers of desperation in Pakistan. It connects the dots in west Asia, sees the emerging picture of Islamic extremism and notices the beginnings of the new great game. It is thus that the BJP is carefully and cautiously and consciously trying to reassign weight to the elements that will not only protect but pre-empt any sudden shifts of policy on Kashmir. It is trying to build a framework which would act as a bulwark to foreign interests in our pursuit of our internal affairs.

The BJP’s Yatra was a huge responsibility for the party and it has discharged it well enough to cause fervour and ferment where it was needed. The job is not done. It has only begun. Even as it wound its way through 11 states, the massive mobilization created echoing support all through the country. The internet is ablaze with all kinds of opinion on the issue and today, after being thwarted, the angst is only serving as a contrast to the Government’s pusillanimity on Kashmir. The youth are engaging with the issue – and not just out side the valley, but inside it as well. The questions that must be asked are being asked. The government is being forced to revisit the issue and see another perspective. The public discourse is rebalancing itself. A group of students from Kashmir gate crashed into the hunger strike meeting called by a BJP leader in Delhi in protest against the detainment of BJP leaders and for twenty minutes launched into a diatribe castigating everybody involved in keeping Kashmir in ferment. He had no kind word for the Congress, or Pakistan or the politicians of Kashmir – but he did mention the promise that was held out by the then Prime Minister Vajpayee when he visited the valley. Yousuf, he said his name was, reminded me that 50,000 Kashmiris collected to hear Mr. Vajpayee on that day but the hope evaporated as soon as the NDA was out of power, he added – perhaps for effect, perhaps to serve the truth.

On the other hand, the suspicion expressed by a section of media and some perennial skeptics that this was mere posturing on the part of the BJP would do better to attend to the commitment shown to the planning and execution of the campaign by the party on the whole, securing as it did the combined leadership of both the leaders of opposition in the Rajya Sabha as well as the Lok Sabha. The bucolic response of the state government in detaining them and then interning them in the Punjab and finally arresting them [It would be pertinent to note that the same CM was bending over backwards to receive BJP leaders as a part of the all party delegation just a few months ago when his government was at the receiving end of the stick] along with thousands of youth on their second attempt has created new benchmarks for evasive administrative behaviour which confounds reason as well as rationale. That the Yatra was blocked at the throat of the valley is not a cause to despair for it will remain just a foot note to this historic attempt. What will be remembered, instead will be the resolve of a people and a party to illustrate the fallacy of the policy that the Congress follows, and has continued to follow in Kashmir since independence to the detriment of the nation.

 ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

This post has appeared as an op-ed piece in The Pioneer, New Delhi of 29th January 2011 under a different headline.

Image credits: www.rediff.com

Photograph by Amit Gupta/Reuters: A group of youth hold the Indian flag during independence day celebrations in Jammu

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