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Bharat Jodo Yatra, the first genuine outreach to the people of J&K: Mehbooba Mufti
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In these trying and turbulent times, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a genuine attempt in keeping the very idea of India alive

January 23, 2023 06:47 pm | Updated January 26, 2023 10:12 am IST

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti. File

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra comes at a time when hatred and bigotry against the minorities, especially Muslims, is being fuelled in India. Partition, in 1947, where parties such as the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha played a decisive role, led to shocking massacres and a complete rupture of the trust among Indians. While the Muslim League succeeded in creating a country defined solely by the criteria of religion, the affiliates of the Hindu Mahasabha are still pushing for ‘one nation one religion’, notwithstanding what followed in Pakistan, especially after General Zia-ul-Haq wreaked havoc in the name of Islamicisation of the country.

Reaching out

The bleak state of affairs is eerily similar to what it is in today’s India, where open calls for genocide against Muslims are made still on a regular basis. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was the first casualty of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda to marginalise Muslims in 2019, with its dismemberment and disempowerment. This was followed by the empty and hollow rhetoric of removing ‘ Dil ki doori (the distance from the heart)’ and ‘ Dilli ki doori (the distance from Delhi)’. But the final stretch of Mr. Gandhi’s 3,570-kilometre-long yatra, now in Kashmir, is being seen as the first and genuine outreach to the people of J&K who have been threatened into silence and submission. Despite political compulsions, Mr. Gandhi has made his ideological convictions clear. He has taken the bull by the horns instead of choosing myopic electoral gains. His decision to walk in J&K is being seen as an attempt to heal the wounds inflicted on its people, who are being collectively punished and humiliated.

Watch | Rahul Gandhi’s look-alike becomes attraction at Bharat Jodo Yatra in J&K

While our country has experienced communal riots throughout its history, the difference between the 1984 riots and the 2002 Gujarat massacre is that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not only acknowledged but also apologised for the anti-Sikh riots. But the Gujarat pogrom is being showcased and justified by the government of the day as comeuppance for Muslims. There has been no closure or sense of justice for its victims, who continue to suffer.

A film steeped in falsehood and propaganda such as The Kashmir Files has been actively promoted by the Government of India since it fulfilled the purpose of demonising Muslims, while a credible documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation based on the facts that led to the Gujarat massacre has been illegally banned invoking emergency censorship powers. The culture of impunity it sheds light on still persists — and on a larger scale throughout India with renewed vengeance.

Also read: Bharat Jodo Yatra | Congress will use its full power to get Statehood reinstated: Rahul Gandhi in J&K

The zeal with which this monstrous bigotry has spread its tentacles throughout the country is shocking and surprising. Especially because it is unravelling at a time when India ranks (at 107) below Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (81), Pakistan (99) and Bangladesh (84) in the Global Hunger Index. With 50% of its population below the age of 25 years, India’s youth should have been its most valuable strength . But the reality is that they are facing staggering and record-breaking unemployment. Government assets that were cultivated assiduously over the decades are being sold at throwaway prices to crony capitalists.

The media’s silence

Instead of highlighting these key issues, the mainstream media has become a propaganda arm of the government. They are fanning this bigotry by spreading communal venom by endless debates on love jihad, mandir- masjid politics, etc. During Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in 2011, the media went all guns blazing against the United Progressive Alliance government, raising critical questions. Today, even as an Opposition leader walks thousands of kilometres across the country, the same media devotes all their screen time to undermining and discrediting him.

We continue to live through an undeclared emergency (exponentially more draconian than the one declared in 1975) where all the institutions necessary for democratic checks and balance have been subverted and weaponised to intimidate any form of opposition and criticism.

In these trying and turbulent times, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has come as a breath of fresh air. Mr. Gandhi’s genuine attempts at uniting people across India and the yatra’s message of love and peace have struck a chord with the entire nation.

In 1947, when the Indian subcontinent erupted in communal violence, Kashmir was the only island of peace that did not witness a single case of death due to rioting. Gandhi ji drew hope and inspiration, and rightly so, from Kashmiris. Seventy-six years later, one cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu as Mr. Gandhi with his Kashmiri roots offers a glimmer of hope in trying to unite the country and keeping the very idea of India alive. It is this idea of India that the people of J&K chose despite being a Muslim-majority State and also why I choose to walk in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Mehbooba Mufti is president, People’s Democratic Party and a former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir

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