Making trouble, not peace and unity, was the real purpose of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Ekta Yatra to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day. The people and the government of the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir certainly did not need this disintegrative march by leaders of the country's principal opposition party, who seemed intent on heightening tensions and provoking violence rather than on healing wounds and restoring normality. In the face of a potentially explosive situation, the law-enforcing authorities in Jammu and Kashmir had no choice but to stop the yatra at Lakhanpur and arrest the leaders. Clearly, the BJP wanted to use the Kashmir Valley as another stage for furthering its communal agenda; the political dividends were to come from elsewhere in the country. For all its talk of making corruption and governance the key issues in its poll campaign, the Hindutva party does not seem to tire of working for a Hindu-Muslim polarisation of the vote in its favour. Kashmir, like the Babri Masjid, is seen to be a tool for political mobilisation of Hindus across the country. Kashmir is a complex issue that admits of no straight or quick solutions. The very least a responsible political party can do is to avoid disrupting the uneasy calm that prevails in the Valley after months of street protests last year.

As it neared Jammu and Kashmir, the yatra, which set off on January 12 from Kolkata, looked more like an expedition to conquer enemy territory than a march for national unity. The political target was not separatism in Kashmir but the secular foundations of India. Sushma Swaraj, one of the expeditionary leaders, outlined how the BJP intended politically to use the stopping of the yatra: while those who burnt the national flag were being given security, she said, those who held up the tricolour were being arrested. Such oft-repeated confrontational tactics offer limited purchase. An opposition party would be expected to concentrate on issues that resonate with the people. Interestingly, the BJP's own allies have seen through the latest misadventure. Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, who runs a coalition government with the BJP, saw no meaning in the yatra in view of the situation in the Valley. Surely, if the BJP turns a deaf ear to friends and foes alike, it will find itself isolated on key issues. Its interests would be served by learning to look ahead instead of repeating old discredited tricks. Any further attempt to make political capital of the travails of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be worse than a crime — it would be a historic blunder.

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