After the ‘Long March’

At a rally that marked the conclusion of Rahul Gandhi’s almost five-month-long foot march—Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY)—covering about 3,570 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, several opposition parties joined the meeting to express their solidarity with the Congress Party’s efforts to challenge the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These parties, barring the communist parties, are actually members of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The march was like a marathon as it traversed 12 states and two union territories. No doubt ordinary Kashmiris took some interest in BJY because of continuous fear-psychosis they are being forced to live in. At least for a moment they heaved a sigh of relief. No doubt lots of people walked with Gandhi during the last few days but lots more didn’t. While unfurling the tricolour at Lal Chowk in Sri Nagar Rahul Gandhi said, “Statehood and Restoration of the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir are very fundamental and important”. But he remained non-committal on the contentious issue of Article 370 which was scrapped by the BJP-led government in August 2019. Initially the Congress Parliamentary Party opposed the abrogation of Article 370 but later backed out and played it safe in the face of hysteria created by the saffron brigade.

In truth many leaders of Rahul Gandhi’s party thanked Mr Modi in silence for taking the ‘courageous step’ to abolish Article 370. It simply encouraged the Modis to come down heavily on Nehru’s blunder! The Congress Working Committee at a meeting on August 6, 2019 critcised the Modi government on the manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and division of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories but shed away from demanding the restoration of Article 370. They opposed it on methodology, not in principle. In truth they were a passive passenger in Modi’s train. The Congress joined the Gupkar alliance with the Abdullah family controlled National Conference, Mufti family managed People’s Democratic Party and People’s Conference for a short period and became a signatory to the joint statement issued in August 2020 that stated that the parties would strive for restoration of Article 370 and 35A. But in November 2020, Congress made a volte face and declared that it was not part of Gupkar alliance or People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration.

In a state without an elected government since 1918, many people in Kashmir saw in the Congress initiated march a ray of hope for return to parliamentary culture. The election-oriented parties of Kashmir, not excluding Gulam Nabi Azad’s recently floated outfit are virtually jobless. The Congress is talking about statehood only. And the BJP has nothing to worry about so long as the grand old party maintains a calculated dilemma on Kashmir’s special status.

Congress stalwarts said that the Yatra was not organised to forge political alliances; they went a bit philosophical in describing the purpose of the Yatra: ‘Hate will lose, love will always win’. Congress doesn’t differ much from BJP on the Kashmir question. Mere rhetoric cannot deliver the goods and satisfy the aspirations of people.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra may have motivated Congress cadres at the grassroots level to some extent but this much organisational activity is unlikely to reverse the political hegemony of the saffron establishment. Nor will it make Rahul Gandhi a national figure for which party leaders; more precisely Gandhi loyalists took so much pain and trouble. Also, this Yatra cannot be a cementing factor in uniting the fractured opposition camp. All the opposition parties, including communist parties, have been talking about united opposition against BJP ever since the Modi party came to power in 2014, only to expose their utter disunity at the time of elections. As most regional parties are too opportunistic to project a viable alternative before the electorate saffronites are likely to make it easy in 2024 unless something dramatic, like farmers’ movement, happens. No doubt secular ethoses are facing continuing assault from BJP and its multiple frontal organisations. But the Congress brand of secularism is too naïve to enthuse the minority community people and the victims of engineered mob violence. The Congress Party cannot fight the BJP on economic grounds because the Modi enterprise backed by the corporate lobby is in reality implementing economic blueprint scripted by the Congress government. Talking vaguely about unemployment and accusing BJP of polarising people on communal lines without taking any positive and sustained agitational approach to counter it won’t help them much in vote market.

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Vol 55, No. 34, Feb 19 - 25, 2023