Bharat Jodo Yatra literally means an India uniting march. Recently, the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, completed this march after walking from the south to the north of the country. His aim was to unite Indians against hatred and fear in society. The march was also aimed at boosting the Congress Party for 2024 elections. The march started in Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of India, and ended in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir in the north.
Rahul Gandhi, Nehru’s great grandson, claimed that the march was safe and hate-free. That claim turned out to be untrue when he entered the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. By the time the march ended on January 30, the air was thick with tension and allegations.
For decades, Jammu and Kashmir has suffered from political and military insurgencies. When Gandhi commenced on the last leg of his march, the entire opposition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joined him. The Congress scion claimed that he was “warned of grenades but Kashmir gave [him] love and hugs.” The truth is not exactly as straightforward. Jammu and Kashmir has long fallen out of love with the Congress Party.
Congress has tortured history in Jammu and Kashmir
After independence, the Congress Party lost the trust of Jammu and Kashmir. When Pakistan sent irregulars to take over Kashmir, India sent in its troops to defend the state. Both the king and Kashmiri leaders turned to India to escape the violence inflicted on them by Pashtun tribesmen. As prime minister, Nehru overruled opposition to take the issue to the United Nations. He also pushed through Article 370. Jammu never reconciled itself to either decision. Neither did Ladakh, which until 2019, was a part of the state.
The fatal sin of the Congress came under Rajiv Gandhi, Nehru’s grandson and Rahul Gandhi’s father. He ordered the authorities to rig the 1987 state elections and install Farooq Abdullah as chief minister. Like Rajiv, Abdullah inherited his position, instead of earning it. Abdullah’s father had been Nehru’s contemporary and had even been jailed by the prime minister.
The rigging of the election caused many Kashmiris to lose faith in the political process. They abandoned the ballot for the bullet. Separatists rose to the fore. Society degenerated. Pakistan sent mercenaries and Islamic fundamentalists to the state. Call of jihad arose, leading to the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandit minority. They fled for their lives and have yet to return to Kashmir.
Over time, the Congress abandoned Kashmir completely. Gandhi’s march was an empty gesture that has not won back the hearts and minds of the local population. The BJP government abrogated Article 370 as well as Article 35A on August 5, 2019. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two union territories: Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir. This decision was popular in Ladakh and Jammu but unpopular in Kashmir. Neither the Congress nor Rahul engaged with this issue. Their support dwindled further in Jammu and Kashmir. This current walk culminated in Kashmir because Rahul is playing traditional Indian vote bank politics and gunning for the Muslim vote.
Nehru’s great grandson plays divide and rule
In his address at a public rally in Jammu, Gandhi spoke about unemployment, inflation and restoration of statehood. He also referred to “outsiders” trying to snatch land and jobs from the people of Jammu. This statement is highly problematic in the context of last year’s killings of poor migrant workers in Kashmir by Islamic terrorists.
Gandhi is playing divide and rule to attract votes. In Tamil Nadu, he raked up Dravidian ideology to stir emotion against the BJP. In Kerala where he was elected to parliament, Gandhi dwells on the north-south divide. In West Bengal, Gandhi has used derogatory language against Gujarati businessmen and politicians to undermine Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Non-Indians could do well to remember that Modi was chief minister of Gujarat before becoming prime minister and that Gujarati businessmen have long thrived in India’s former colonial capital Kolkata, now the capital of West Bengal.
Gandhi made a show of sympathy for Kashmiri Pandits. He met a delegation of protesting Pandit employees who have been protesting for more than 250 days since Islamic terrorists killed members of their community. A small number of Kashmiri Pandits are posted to Kashmir and they fear for their security. Hence, they have been demanding relocation to Jammu. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has demonstrated a tone-deaf attitude on the issue as has Amit Shah, India’s powerful home minister. To his credit, Gandhi promised to raise this issue in the Indian parliament and kept his promise. Yet Gandhi’s sympathy lacks credibility because he has long flirted with dangerous Islamists. Nehru’s heir was practicing divisive identity politics to gain votes.
The Opposition Gangs Up
During the last stage of Bharat Jodo Yatra, many opposition parties joined Gandhi. Leaders from the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party and Shiv Sena marched with Nehru’s scion. Many members of civil society joined them too. Few mentioned or cared to remember that, before the BJP government took power in 2014, the government of Jammu and Kashmir would not allow any opposition leader from entering the state on security grounds. Gandhi and his posh friends might claim that Kashmiris met them with open arms but the reality is that Kashmiri Pandits are still being threatened and killed.
The reality is that the opposition wants to unseat the BJP in the 2029 elections at any cost. This march was a useful way for the opposition to test the waters. For the Congress, it was their chance to project the great grandson of Nehru as the natural heir to his legacy and as the undisputed leader of the party. This dynastic party believes and hopes that the name recognition of Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi is key to their success. True believers in the Congress think that Rahul’s long march has emblazoned him as a fourth generation prime minister of the Nehru family.
On his part, Gandhi is making promises he cannot keep. He is stirring up grievances left, right and center. Nehru’s scion is widening every is fissure and fanning every grievance in society. Such politics has been done before and has worked for brief periods. However, practicing makes mockery of Bharat Jodo Yatra, which was purportedly to unite India. Gandhi has the looks, the stamina and the bloodline to boot but he lacks three key qualities fundamental to leadership: judgment, foresight and integrity. [Sukhjeet Kaur edited this article.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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