Jammu and Kashmir’s Opposition parties, including the Abdullahs of the National Conference (NC) and the Muftis of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were enthused on Wednesday to walk with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the last leg of his Bharat Jodo Yatra here from January 19-30. For them, it is an apparent move to align ideologically with the national-level Opposition to the BJP, which ended J&K’s special constitutional position in 2019.
Former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, also president of the NC, J&K’s oldest regional party, is scheduled to receive and walk with Mr. Gandhi once he enters the Union Territory at Lakhanpur in Jammu on Thursday. His son Omar Abdullah, the NC’s vice president, is likely to walk with Mr. Gandhi in the Kashmir valley. Senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M.Y. Tarigami will join the yatra in Jammu.
“I am planning to join the yatra when it crosses from Jammu into the Valley. I think the yatra brings an important message of unity and the need to fight against divisive forces. Kashmir had set the benchmark for this in 1947 while the rest of the country, including parts of Jammu, were swept by communal violence,” Mr. Omar Abdullah told The Hindu.
Referring to the present administration in J&K, Mr. Abdullah said, “We believe it’s important that the current rulers in J&K (and I deliberately use the word ‘rulers’ rather than ‘administration’) work to unite people rather than divide them at the behest of the BJP”.
‘Hope for choked voices’
In the Kashmir valley, the Muftis, including PDP president and ex-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, her mother Gulshan Nazir and daughter Iltija Mufti, will also walk shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Gandhi.
“I would like to join him and so does my grandmother. I think I speak for everyone when I say that the environment in Kashmir has been suffocating to an extent where it has been turned into a military garrison,” Ms. Iltija Mufti told The Hindu.
Of late, the regional Opposition parties in J&K have been seeing Mr. Gandhi’s yatra as a hope for “choked voices” in J&K. “There is absolutely no freedom to speak or voice one’s opinion, especially against a government that in broad daylight has disempowered people of J&K and keeps heaping humiliation with new laws and policies. In this stifling environment where every resident of J&K suffers only because it’s a Muslim majority State, Rahul Gandhi’s walk of peace with a message of love and brotherhood is a welcome change. It is emblematic of what this country stands for -- diversity, pluralism, freedom to hold one’s head high without fear,” Ms. Mufti added.
Focussed on national realities
Ellora Puri, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Jammu, noted that only the two largest regional parties seem enthused, pointing out that Altaf Bukhari’s J&K Apni Party and Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) are staying away from the yatra.
“Mr. Gandhi, through this yatra, has been able to restore the missing conversation in Indian polity. We saw many faces joining Mr. Gandhi in south India like Stalin and it was but natural for the NC and the PDP to align with a national-level Opposition movement led by Mr. Gandhi. I don’t see them joining Mr. Gandhi only because of local sentiment but national realities too,” Ms. Puri said.
However, she was cautious about whether this yatra could translate into major electoral gains for Mr. Gandhi at the national level. “I don’t foresee much change in electoral fortune of Congress even after the yatra,” Ms. Puri said.
Grand conclusion planned
Sources said that national leaders from across the country would participate in the yatra’s final rally scheduled to be held at the historic Sher-e-Kashmir Park on January 30.
The Congress is also lining up members of civil society, within J&K and outside, to join the final rally in Srinagar. A special Congress team is vetting and clearing the names of those who will join the yatra. Sources said that more than 350 hotel rooms have been booked by the party in Srinagar to accommodate the guests.
Meanwhile, J&K Director General of Police Dilbag Singh, who chaired a security review meeting of senior officers in Kashmir on Tuesday, said, “Every possible security would be provided for the Bharat Jodo Yatra in J&K.”