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Bharat Jodo In J&K: Amid Political Crisis, Can Rahul Gandhi Lift UT's Spirit?

Political Excitement and Scepticism go hand in hand as Congress's nationwide political rally nears its culmination.

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Bharat Jodo In J&K: Amid Political Crisis, Can Rahul Gandhi Lift UT's Spirit?
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The air of J&K is spiked with political excitement as Rahul Gandhi’s much anticipated Bharat Jodo Yatra(BJY) —that is trying to revive the sinking fortunes of the Congress by tapping into the shared political angst against the ruling party and stitching together the otherwise fissiparous national opposition, has entered J&K as the 3570 km-long national walkathon nears its culmination.

The J&K leg of BJY is being touted as a consequential political development as the UT is reeling under a direct Central rule since 2018 with the regional political parties being on a collision course with the Union government over the Abrogation of Article 370.
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Implications of Bharat Jodo Yatra on J&K

The BJY, thus, is likely to resurrect the intense political action in the erstwhile state where all the marquee political faces have pledged to throw their lot behind the Congress-led agitation.

Invitations to join the ‘yatra’ or the procession were sent to 21 ‘like-minded’ parties in the UT. As per press reports, 350 hotel rooms have been booked in J&K to accommodate Gandhi and his entourage.  

The National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah will greet Gandhi just on his arrival.

“Omar Abdullah will be joining the yatra after it enters Kashmir on January 23,” one senior NC source told The Quint, speaking of the former chief minister’s participation. “We are registering our outrage over what was done to J&K on August 2019 and what is continuously being done since then.”

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Tight Security Measures in the Wake of Terror Attacks

Security has been heightened in the Jammu region. On Tuesday, top brass of security agencies held a high-level meeting to deliberate over the security arrangements. The yatra is scheduled to pass through the three districts of Samba, Kathua, and Jammu before entering Kashmir through the Ramban district.

The forces have also sounded an alert on the Jammu-Pathankot Highway as well as in some other areas adjoining the International Border (IB) in the wake of the yatra.

The gruesome killings on New Year's Eve in Jammu and a series of other militancy-related events in J&K have elicited a renewed concern. Two Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT) militants were killed near the District Court Complex in the central Kashmir district of Budgam on Tuesday.

According to police, the duo was travelling to Srinagar where Congress under the aegis of yatra programme is likely to hold a big gathering on January 23.

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Controversy Over Ex-BJP Leader’s Participation

On Sunday, the proposed yatra in Jammu also became mired in controversy after Congress spokesperson Deepika Pushkar Nath resigned from the party after it came to the fore that Lal Singh, a former J&K Minister in BJP-PDP coalition, has decided to join the political march.

Singh, who was part of BJP before being expelled in 2018, heads Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party. He sparked a political furore in 2018 after he publicly came in support of the accused in the case of rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim nomad girl in Rasana village near Kathua district.

Deepika as a lawyer was representing the family of the deceased girl in 2018. “This Yatra is an ideological war against hatred. It is a thought. If Rahul ji walks alone with the thought of going against the hatred and division, the Yatra is successful,” she told the press recently. “There is no need for support from a person who has the background of creating division, polarising the state in 2018.”
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The Political Drama in Kashmir

As part of the yarta, a big rally is going to be organised at Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar, right next to the official residence of Chief Justice of JK&L High Court.

Events taking place in the same stadium in the year 1983 had led to a national political uproar after local audiences jeered and booed the Indian cricket team playing a test match against West Indies. 

Calling the development as “alarming and most disturbing”, the Congress had then set in motion a chain of events leading to the dismissal of Farooq Abdullah, who was enjoying his first stint as a Chief Minister of J&K. Eventually, both parties reconciled under an agreement called Rajiv-Farooq Accord.

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A Rally in Srinagar

According to several press reports, the attendance will be limited to those invited formally in view of the security situation.

The rally was first proposed to be held at Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar where the Republic Day and Independence Day commemorations are normally observed. But the J&K administration refused to sanction permission on the grounds that it was an official venue and no political events were permitted.

In Srinagar, political leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami will also join the programme. “The country is going through a bad phase right now. There’s a politics of division going on,” Mohit Bhan, spokesperson for People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said. “Rahul Gandhi is walking miles to connect to the people and it becomes imperative for us to join because we believe in the idea of secular India and that’s why we are registering our support. Our entire rank and file is in Jammu to welcome Rahul Gandhi. Mehbooba ji will walk with Rahul."

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Will the Yatra Usher In Significant Change in Valley?

Political analysts say that beyond driving home a realisation that Congress is becoming more assertive, the yatra will not account for much political change in the region.

“The political class here is looking for a political space that has been missing,” said Rekha Chowdhary, a Jammu based academic. “Yatra becomes an opportunity for opposition parties to recapture the political space they have lost.”

Chowdhary said that the yatra had pan-India dimensions and is at the centre of the polarised politics that the country is currently grappling with. 

“Political parties in J&K are looking for an opportunity and this gives them a platform to articulate a sense that they are not alone,” she said, adding that the yatra’s political resonance will mostly be limited to like-minded political formations with which the Congress can imagine a common ground. “We are not going to see a situation where people from one camp will jump into another,” she said.

Last year, the Congress faced a setback after Ghulam Nabi Azad, a veteran leader from J&K, ended his 5-decade-old association with the party over its alleged recalcitrance towards reforms.

Azad’s exit came on the heels of restructuring of the J&K unit of Congress which saw Azad being pushed to a “subordinate” role such as Chief of Campaign Committee headed by Tariq Hameed Karra, a relatively new entrant in the party.
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The decision to appoint Vikar Rasool, a former MLA as new Chief of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee had also sparked a wave of resignations from the party that appears to have become plagued with internecine rivalry.

The defectors joined Azad and formed the new Democratic Progressive Azad Party. However, Azad’s party too has recently struggled with dissensions as a result of which bulk of the erstwhile Congress renegades rejoined the party, leaving Azad grappling with an internal mess.

“The yatra will give a boost to the Congress which is facing a crisis especially since Azad’s exit," said Ms Chowdhury.

(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The Wire.inArticle 14CaravanFirstpostThe Times of India, and more. He tweets at @shakirmir. Faizan Mir is an independent multimedia journalist and tweets at @faizanmirtweets.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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