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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Patriotism or Petty Politics: BJP's plan to hoist national flag at Lal Chowk in Kashmir

The BJP has certainly managed to create a stir in large parts of the country with its plans to take another 'yatra' and reach Srinagar's Lal Chowk to hoist tricolour on Republic Day.

Call it our naivete or success of BJP's propaganda machinery,  the reality is that in North India, the party has to an extent managed to give an impression as if tricolour is not unfurled in Kashmir at all.

While the truth is that the flag is unfurled at all government buildings in Jammu and Kashmir apart from flag hoisting functions here on lines of all state capitals on August 15 and January 26.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has a much larger (and louder) active cadre than any other party and has the support of scored of RSS-affiliated groups apart from the right-wing leanings in vernacular media in parts of North India, somehow creates a false impression about Kashmir.

As one can see the photograph on the left, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is hoisting the national flag in Srinagar.

However, newspapers also don't often clear the myth and simply air the fiery statements, that suggest to the man on street as if it is prohibited or banned to hoist Indian flag in the state. And when along side such news, reports of Jammu and Kashmir government's stern warning to BJP not to press with its plan are published, it creates an altogether different picture.

Other parties and their spokespersons don't seem to realise and the layman also feels that Kashmir is the most pampered state where 'anti-Indians, Pakistanis and separatists' rule the roost. The BJP has a state unit in Jammu and Kashmir and it can very well unfurl the flag rather than the 'Rashtriya Ekta Yatra'.

They can join the official functions or unfurl the 'Tiranga' at hundreds of places in Srinagar and send the message to separatists. But by taking out marches from across the country to reach Srinagar, does the party want to question the nationalism of Kashmiris or sort of threaten them.

Or if the party really wants to unfurl flag, it can go to territory claimed by Pakistan in Northern Kashmir or China's claimed parts in Arunachal Pradesh. Will they dare do it in Red country, Abujhmad, in the heart of BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh where Naxalites hoist their own flag?

The reason is BJP's obsession with communal issues. Despite having ruled the nation, a large section of the party workers have tendencies to create controversies. It never utters a word about a North Eastern state like Nagaland where an Indian citizen needs permit to go, it speaks no word but it spends all its energy over J&K where every Indian is free to go.

True there are separatists and there is a strong sentiment for Azadi but it doesn't mean that things should be given such a twist that create a false impression about the state among the mind of millions of Indians. The BJP has a sort of specialization over taking out such 'marches'.

It can't seem to forget that LK Advani's 'rath yatra' had created a frenzy in India. Though Murali Manohar Joshi's similar venture was a failure, BJP has announced several such marches in the past. Until a few years back, the same party used to make lot of noise demanding that the flag be hoisted at Idgah Maidan in Karnataka's Hubli.

Though it was a childish demand but it had potential to create communal divide. Places of worship in India don't have national flag atop them. But local Muslims punctured the movement when they themselves hoisted flag at Hubli's Idgah Maidan.

Interestingly, national flag was never unfurled at RSS offices or the Sangh Parivar's programmes. Till recently even on Independence Day and Republic Day the flag was not hoisted at its headquarters in Nagpur. But perhaps the self-styled patriots can't be questioned about their own nationalism.

In fact, barely a year ago a BJP woman leader had unfurled saffron flag on Independence Day which had caused controversy. Once again the party is aiming to get political leverage though the truth is that it doesn't help BJP at all.

Personally one feels that the State government could have handled it better by letting BJP leaders undertake march in the real sense and made them go on foot [walking just a few hundred kilometers--320 kms] after entering the state up till Srinagar's Lal Chawk rather than going for confrontation. In that case it could have served the objectives of both.

But the reality is that BJP remembers Kashmir only for Afzal Guru, Article 370 or similar contentious issues. It has no positive agenda, a healing touch or even a statement of empathy when youths die of bullets. Why should a national party repeatedly act in a manner that gives a spur to such elements who can use it to further label Indian Kashmir as a conflict zone?

General elections are far away. The issue will not help it in West Bengal assembly elections either. Even otherwise political gimmicks no longer fetch votes. But it seems that old habits die hard. Though its leaders are comparatively more measured [and less provocative] in their public utterances it seems that the BJP has to go a long way towards realising that it needs to behave much more sensibly and in accordance with its strength in parliament and vast acceptability in the country.

When its leaders issue statements that sound like 'war cries' rather than playing the role of statesmen, it reduces itself to the level of the fringe groups. And when a Yasin Malik retorts and threatens that 'the yatra can set the sub-continent afire', it gets too ugly.

How will this sort of politics help the country or even the BJP?