The Rahul Gandhi-led ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ (BJY) sprung a bundle of surprises and it has proved the critics and sceptic wrong. Will Mr Gandhi be able to traverse such a long distance on-foot? Will his mission attract crowds in the face of eight-year well-planned offensive by the BJP against him and the Congress? Will it have any impact when the walkathon enters the Hindi heartland particularly in the BJP-ruled states?
And, what will be the reaction in the sensitive and polarized Jammu and Kashmir?
There were questions galore, and all met with surprises galore. Every question had a surprise in response. The padyatra took off well. It evoked surprising response in BJP-ruled states as well the Hindi heartland.
But the biggest surprise awaited the BJY at its culmination in Jammu and Kashmir. Divided into two Union Territories- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh- post August 5, 2019 Constitutional changes, and at one point in time divided vertically on the issue of abrogation or dilution of Article 370 four years back- Kashmir and Jammu regions one side, and Leh and Kargil divisions of Ladakh on the other side, thought differently on this issue.
Consider this significant statement by Magsaysay award winner and environmentalist Mr Sonam Wangchuk, who undertook a five day “climate fast” in Ladakh:
“Seeing current situation in Ladakh, I now think Ladakhis were better-off as part of the pre-2019 Jammu and Kashmir”. He was once a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and strongly backed abrogation of Article 370.
His statement and the fast came as the BJY was traversing through the freezing cold Kashmir, and after a Ladakhi delegation having interacted with Mr Gandhi in Jammu.
Similar voices were earlier heard during the BJY’s course through Jammu region with strongest reaction coming from the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community, ex-servicemen and farmers living in the Indo-Pak border zone. All had complaints against the post-2019 system that had borne out of the premise that Article 370 was the root cause for all ills terrorism included.
The crescendo became louder in the snow-clad Kashmir Valley as people thronged to welcome Mr Gandhi-must be to his utter surprise also. But there was a reason and a cause too, as to why the viewpoints of three diverse regions of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir seemed converging. The BJY provided them the platform and a receptive Mr Gandhi the reason.
The single largest achievement of the BJY was that it provided Kashmiris with an opportunity to break what was being described as the “eerie silence” with all means of communication broken during the last four years. People, more so in Kashmir, poured their heart out, profusely welcoming Mr Gandhi and expecting something to happen better to the Union Territory caught in a vortex of strange uncertainties.
The BYS, apart from other developments, has unknowingly achieved something of a great significance- opening channels of communications with the general public particularly in Kashmir. The Centre and the Lt Governor’s administration was better advised to let the ‘padyatra’ culminate as planned and unhindered. It resulted in people getting a chance to give vent to their genuine feelings and grouse.
There is no doubt that the 4000-kilometeres BJY is a landmark in the recent history of India. A single largest initiative undertaken to establish mass contact with the people and Mr Gandhi achieved it with aplomb, dignity and lot of resilience. Whatever happened in Kashmir conveys the true spirit of accomplishment.
The BJY has opened new vistas for Congress- particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, and elsewhere in the country- to rediscover its moorings and set an all-encompassing alternative agenda, there is certainly a wake-up call for the ruling dispensation. In the context of J and K they must dispel the impression that all is well and moving in the right direction.
There is a strong reason- for the Centre and the UT administration- to listen to the emanating voices rather than outrightly rejecting.
Protesting in the sub-zero temperature of Ladakh under open sky, Mr Wangchuk’s might look and sound to be a lonely voice that ended up becoming a rallying point, or people braving snowfall and icy-winds to join Mr Gandhi’s bandwagon might seem to be a pleasurable visual.
These are the indices of people’s thinking and aspirations and could be addressed through strengthening the channels of communications which the BJY has knowingly or unknowingly thrown open.
It is appreciable that keeping aside provocations and criticism, Mr Gandhi stuck to his guns to keep is marathon-walk apolitical at least in terms of electoral calculus. This single factor encouraged people of all hues to come out and narrate their tale of woes particularly in Kashmir.
On account of this reason, it was a rare sight in the Valley to see people fearlessly facing TV-cameras to express their concerns without hiding or muffling their faces.
They did express their political preferences including Article 370 while strongly criticising the ruling BJP. This should be viewed as a healthy development in line with the democratic spirit and a means to restore confidence among people.
For Congress and particularly Mr Gandhi, the BYJ should not be an end in itself but means to carry the fight forward, and much beyond merely rejuvenating the party’s organisational set up. His mild and dignified mannerism and offering himself as a listening post, has triggered hope among the people.
Connecting with all sections of the society including the media while warding off all controversies, is no mean achievement either. For instance, in Kashmir there was a concerted attempt to force Mr Gandhi at taking a clear position on Article 370 in the face of new changes despite the fact that the provision stands intact as part of the Constitution and was only diluted. He stayed away from what he described as the “diversionary tactics”.
What makes it more interesting that despite his perceived ambiguity on issues such as Article 370 and avoiding sensitive political issues, the people understood and appreciated the political compulsions under which he was operating. The same proved true of people in Jammu- normally any utterance in one region has a counter effect in the other- who remained silent and stoic when he shared the grief of Kashmiris through his personal example.
The BJY has opened a window and a ray of hope has once again been generated from Kashmir. The logical step forward for Congress and Mr Gandhi is to follow it up both in short and long terms and build upon his hard-earned goodwill.
This is high time that the Centre should hold assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and allow people to elect their government. Lest the confidence expressed by them in the democratic processes through the means of BJY is once again shaken.
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.