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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Barkha Dutt

Dangerous politics
Barkha Dutt, Hindustan Times
January 21, 2011
First Published: 23:28 IST(21/1/2011)
Last Updated: 13:48 IST(4/7/2011)

I am NOT a nomadic citizen of a mobile republic. Nor do I believe that the Nation-State is a fossilised concept that has been rendered irrelevant by the new ‘global village’. As a long-standing admirer and lover of the fauj, I believe that the Indian military is one of our most inspiring institutions and the Indian Soldier our most unsung hero. I’m also a bit embarrassed to admit that the strains of the national anthem always trigger tears — tears of pride, nostalgia, and an intangible, but deeply sentimental sense of belonging.

I love my flag, my anthem and my country.

To me, the most dangerous caricature of the argument around the BJP’s Tiranga Yatra to Jammu and Kashmir is to position it as some sort of choice between patriotism and treason. The sudden determination to hoist the tricolour at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on Republic Day also creates a false impression that the Indian flag is not unfurled in the Valley, as it is everywhere else in the country.

Not true. Srinagar’s Bakshi stadium plays host to the Republic Day parade every year, as it will this time.  Multiple other venues in the city will also see the tiranga fly high.

So, while the Ekta Yatra seeks its legitimacy in the cover of ‘nationalism’, in fact, it is a patently dangerous and destructive political approach that will only tamper with an already-fragile peace in the state. If Jammu and Kashmir erupts into unrest and violent regional conflict as a result of this yatra, won’t that be the very opposite of national interest?

January 26 is in any case a sensitive time; a day when the entire state machinery is on guard for any possible militant strike. Does the BJP really want to multiply the headaches for an already over-burdened security personnel?

Indeed, coming from the BJP the decision is especially ironic. It was after all Atal Bihari Vajpayee who first laid the foundation stone for a real dialogue process within the state. I remember how he even took his aides at Srinagar’s Amar Singh Club by surprise when he declared with quintessential poetic flourish that he was ready to do whatever was possible within the bounds of humanity  (the famous “insaniyat ke dayre mein” speech) to bring peace to the state. It was the BJP that first began formal talks with the separatist Hurriyat Conference. And it was under the BJP that the government had its first and only round of negotiations with the state’s largest indigenous militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen.

When the BJP was in power it was willing to make so many imaginative interventions in the state. No such ‘flag-march’ was ever contemplated in all the years of NDA rule. Now, in Opposition, why does it suddenly want to use cynical politics to force a kind of manufactured nationalism?

Even today, leaders like Arun Jaitley have a very evolved understanding of the state’s politics. Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were both part of an all-party panel that reached out to the people of the state during its violent summer last year. The fact that India’s politicians were able to unite in that moment of crisis and make a united, human intervention was one of the prouder moments  of our democracy.

Why would the BJP want to reverse its own contributions to the state’s peace process? The decision also seems to mark a return to an old form of ‘yatra rajneeti’ which is utterly perplexing at a time when the party has so successfully put the government on the defensive on non-performance, corruption and inflation. Whether it’s the successful Vibrant Gujarat summit or the recent victories in Bihar, the writing on the wall is clear. There is space for a Neo-Right party that is driven by smart economics, effective governance and yes, a robust, but modern and humane nationalism. This yatra, unfortunately casts the BJP in a tired, old, stereotypical mould.

What’s especially tragic is the timing. The state had begun to emerge from the shadow of a terribly  volatile period. For the first time, separatists  admitted that key political assassinations were not the work of the army or the police, but men “within their own ranks.” Downtown Srinagar which witnessed the worst incidents of stone-pelting last year, now saw labyrinthine queues at a police recruitment camp. The government’s interlocutors were finalising their recommendations amidst the promise of a 25% troop reduction of paramilitary forces. And the Supreme Court was rightly focusing on the suffering and repatriation of Kashmiri Pandits.

At this time to do anything that could inflame emotions and provoke violence is hugely irresponsible. To do so, in the name of nationalism, is not just dangerous; it is frankly, sad. This isn’t just the skepticism and disappointment of so-called bleeding heart liberals. Ask the former Army Chief General VP Malik who was at the helm when the Kargil war was fought and won in 1999. He is blunt in his belief that the BJP must call off the yatra. Or ask B Raman, the former Research and Analysis Wing official who writes that the party must “conduct itself with a sense of wisdom and responsibility”.

The BJP promises that the yatra will be peaceful. But, history is littered with examples of crowds that have a violent mind of their own. The prospect of clashes between the yatris and the security forces; or between different communities is all too worryingly real. India cannot afford to take the risk.

Omar Abdullah has made multiple appeals to the BJP to suspend its plan. He is absolutely right in saying that his administration has no option but to stop the yatra, just as it must stop the separatists from proceeding with a counter-yatra to the heart of the city. Srinagar’s  Lal Chowk cannot and must not become a pitched and bloody battleground on January 26. That was never the dream of the Republic.

Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV n barkha@ndtv.com The views expressed by the author are personal


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