As former Congress president Mr Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ enters its last and crucial phase with Kashmir as the final destination, the historic observation made by Mahatma Gandhi during his brief visit to the Valley in August 1947, days before the partition was formalized, that he saw “a ray of hope” in this part of the country, reverberates once again. The times are different so is the context but fundamentals remain the same in the current situation.
The destination this time around is partly politico-electoral. Notwithstanding, claims by Mr Gandhi and his team to the contrary.
While the Mahatma made the historic “a ray of hope” observation as a compliment to communal harmony prevailing in Kashmir at that point in time while rest of the country was gripped by communal frenzy, it has a different but no less significant connotation under the prevailing circumstances. Although the theme of Mr Rahul Gandhi’s walkathon, to unite the nation, finds an underlying similarity in the context of Mahatma Gandhi’s observation- the circumstances then and now are entirely different, but it has a proverbial significance in relation to an important political aside of the ‘padyatra’
The “ray of hope” theory in the current scenario is related to the much talked about but still elusive opposition unity to face the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Although many important political parties and their leaders shared platform with Mr Gandhi during the course of his march-on-foot, there were others, electorally more significant, who gave a short-shrift to his invitation. Certainly, there is no last word in politics. In some manner the foundation of opposition has been laid with ‘padyatra’ acting as a silent catalyst, still lot of grounds needs to be covered.
The most important among those are Trinamool Congress supremo Miss Mamta Banerjee, BSP chief Ms Mayawati and Samajwadi Party president Mr Akhilesh Yadav. Initially, Akhilesh and Mayawati - straightway excused themselves out of the scene, but gradually their rank and file joined the show during the second leg of ‘padyatra’ in Uttar Pradesh.
The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is working out to be a different model, thereby kindling a ray of hope, by presenting a sample, to achieve opposition unity in the months to come. Will this sample be emulated at the national level? The answer to this question squarely rests on the ray of hope which Kashmir is emanating even this time around and how it is carried forward.
Days before Mr Gandhi could walk into Delhi, National Conference president and Lok Sabha MP, the irrepressible Dr Farooq Abdullah had declared that he will join the “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. And he kept his word by symbolically joining Mr Gandhi and Mrs Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in the outskirts of Delhi. Whether he will repeat the act in J and K or not, is not presently known. Nevertheless, the seasoned warhorse had set the ball rolling and initiated the script to be followed by others at least in the UT.
As the “yatra” rolled out of Delhi on way to Jammu and Kashmir, via, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the second largest party in the Valley, after National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party echoed similar views. She announced her participation after accepting Mr Gandhi’s invitation. Although the Left parties have kept a distance from the “Bharat Yodo Yatra”, but the CPM’s state head and former MLA Mr Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami announced his party’s participation too at the UT level.
Ideally speaking the culmination of the march would have been the best occasion to hold an all-party (non-BJP and its allies) public meeting in Srinagar itself with a resolve to strengthen unity and integrity of the country without attaching any political or electoral meaning to it. But that might not be possible partly due to non-preparedness on the part of the Congress for such an event and more due to harsh wintry conditions prevailing in the Valley, leaving aside the security aspect which if the official quarters are to be believed has considerably improved.
This (all party public meeting) is still a most desirable action in pursuit of opposition unity.
The significance of the K-model of opposition unity also lies in the fact that it has come up despite one of the tallest Congress leader hailing from Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, parting ways and floating his own party. Clearly, he is neither favourably inclined towards Mr Gandhi nor his padyatra, but the latest developments related to disintegration in his yet to be registered political party, make this unity model more significant.
The significance of this model, coming ahead of the much talked about but much delayed, J and K assembly elections, can also be read in terms of the contours that it could draw for the polls. The Congress-National Conference-Peoples Democratic Party secular combine will be a formidable alliance to face the might of BJP and in that event making Mr Azad’s outfit insignificant.
The small but significant K-model of opposition unity with a strong message emanating from the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar where Mr Gandhi is expected to hoist the National Flag, could be a good head-start for developing a national model for the unity. Although all the characters involved in this model carry a heavy baggage of political history and the shenanigans of the Abdullahs and Muftis well-known, still the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” can provide a fresh impetus and if they agree to stick together for future electoral battles.
After Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Mr Prakash Singh Badal, it is still to be seen how SAD, since out of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, would react to the padyatra as it passes through Punjab. Dr Abdullah is the senior most political leader in the country. He has good personal contacts with most of the regional satraps in rest of the country which could come handy in replicating the Kashmir model at the national level.
First and foremost, Congress will have to set its house in order in Jammu and Kashmir as it is still smarting under the deadly blow delivered to it by Mr Azad. An organizationally weak Congress without a credible leader in the UT will only become a liability for such a front.
There is all likelihood, as available indications suggest, a sizable number of ex-Congresspersons who had joined Mr Azad’s bandwagon, will use the opportunity of Mr Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” entering J and K not only to become part of it but also for “ghar wapasi”. This can give Congress a psychological fillip and a chance to restructure the organization from top to bottom with a new AICC general secretary in charge of the Union Territory as the incumbent has been found wanting on many counts.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.