As the Congress ‘scion’ proudly culminated his revivalist ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ in Kashmir with a photo finish, unfurling the Tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk and enacting playful snowfights before the cameras, one could not but wonder at the irony of things… and at the convenient opportunism of those who kept the pot boiling in Jammu and Kashmir for almost seven decades!
It was the Congress leadership that injected Article 370 into the Constitution of India (CoI), virtually at the last stage of its making, by pushing the Constituent Assembly to agree to it despite many reservations. It was the same Congress that allowed separatists and anti-India forces to propagate the narrative that Article 370 gave some kind of ‘special status’ to Jammu and Kashmir, when in fact the CoI itself made it clear that 370 was just a temporary provision related to J&K.
It was none other than the Congress that slyly and silently added Article 35A into the appendix of the CoI, bypassing the Parliament, and used it secretively to benefit forces inimical to the unity of India. Article 35A denied basic rights to many communities living in J&K for six decades, while allowing special benefits to separatists and pro-Pakistan agents. It also took away the rights of all Indians living outside the erstwhile Jammu Kashmir state from settling in the state, which has always been as integral to India as any other state. The party then in power at the Centre allowed all this and more, even as India continued to cut a sorry figure before the world community for not being able to solve the “Kashmir problem”.
As a reader who has followed news since the 1980s, and as a journalist who has covered J&K news extensively since the 90s, those headlines are etched in my mind forever. The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus; the killings, bomb blasts and suicide attacks; the anti-India slogans and stone pelting on streets; the black flags and shutdowns that greeted central ministers and officials… How the Government of India, mostly Congress-run governments, used to kneel before the Separatists with folded hands. The Separatists would be invited for talks, they would answer with demands and conditions, then the ‘talks’ would fail and huge monetary packages would be sent for the benefit those predators who were hell bent on making Jammu and Kashmir a part of Pakistan, where their masters resided. The glorification of terrorists, talks of human rights of terrorists and stone pelters but complete silence on the martyrdom of our soldiers who fought Pakistan sponsored terror on Indian soil. The radicalization of Kashmiri youth by terror supporters who sent their own kids to study abroad and settle for safe government jobs.
Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti walked with Rahul in the yatra but skipped the Tricolour ceremony. Nobody, least of all Rahul Gandhi, sought an explanation from them for refusing to pay respect to the symbol of national pride. In fact, Rahul had no qualms in giving them his platform to speak their mind
The regional parties of the state of J&K – be it the National Conference (NC) led by the Abdullah family or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by the Mufti family – used every opportunity to stoke the fire of separatism under the garb of ‘special status’ and exploited the situation to the hilt to stay in power. There was no concept of progress, infrastructure development or governance. The common man’s grievances were lost in the labyrinth of separatism and terrorism. Corruption was at an all-time high.
Nobody felt safe in Kashmir, known as the ‘Paradise on Earth’ – neither locals nor tourists. The local families preferred to send their sons to study in other states across India so that they are not lured to be terrorists and stone pelters. Tourism was at an all-time low.
That was Kashmir in a nutshell during the Congress’s rule at the Centre till 2014.
It was in that Kashmir that Rahul Gandhi, the proud inheritor of Congress’s legacy, walked up nonchalantly to conclude his cross-country trek that began in September 2022 from Kanyakumari. However, much to his good fortune, Kashmir has changed since 2014. Lal Chowk, that used to be infamous for burning of the Indian flag and shouting of pro-Pakistan slogans, is a peaceful area now. This was the place where people were arrested if they tried to hoist the national flag for fear of pro-Pak elements.
Mehbooba, Omar skip Tricolour ceremony
In 2017, PDP leader and former CM Mehbooba Mufti had (in)famously warned that if Article 35A was ‘tinkered with’, there would be no one left to hold the national flag in the state.
Both Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba, who demand the revocation of Article 370, walked along with Rahul when the yatra entered the Kashmir valley. However, on the day Rahul unfurled the Tricolour at the Clock Tower near Lal Chowk, they were conspicuously absent. They joined back the ‘yatra’ a day later, deliberately giving the flag ceremony a miss.
Nobody, least of all Rahul Gandhi, sought an explanation from his yatra partners as to why they did not attend the ceremony. After all, it was a ‘historic’ moment. How could a national party allow its partners in the yatra to send out such a blatant anti-India message?
Rahul, the Congress’s “tallest leader” today, obviously had no qualms about walking alongside those who refused to honour the Tricolour and stand with him when the national anthem was played. In fact he appeared rather happy in their company and gave Mehbooba and Omar the platform to speak as well.
Congress stand on Article 370?
People across India had rejoiced when the Modi government rendered Articles 370 and 35A ineffective on 5 August 2019. However, it needs mention here that the Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolution of August 6, 2019 said that it “deplores” the abrogation of Article 370.
The Congress had promptly joined the Gupkar alliance with the NC, PDP, and the People’s Conference and was part of the joint statement that said the parties would strive for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A. It was later, in November 2020, that the grand old party had a rethink and decided to stay away from the Gupkar Alliance.
In 2021, veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was heard saying in a leaked audio chat that the Congress “would certainly have to relook” at the decision of revoking Article 370. When the statement created a furore, the party fell back to the CWC resolution, calling it the party’s ‘official stand’.
Till date the Congress is confused as to its stand vis-à-vis Articles 370-35A. Rahul Gandhi also skirts the issue whenever the media asks him.
One thing is crystal clear – the Congress’s ambiguity simply stems from the perception that the people of India are in favour of the Modi government’s decision of August 2019. The oldest political party has no principled view that takes into account the welfare of the people and the nation.
It is obvious the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s conclusion at Srinagar was just designed with the photo opportunities in mind. The cultural and emotional thread that connects Bharat from Kanyakumari to Kashmir is a concept beyond the understanding of this political party.
The Congress needs to ask itself a few questions. Is it reduced to being an opposition party that opposes just for the sake of it? What is the significance of its ‘Tricolour ceremony’ if it is willing to walk with those who refuse to respect the national flag? The message of ‘Bharat Jodo’ rings hollow in the backdrop of such mindless opportunism.