BJP Places its Political Creed Above Country
On 26th January 1950, India will be an independent country. What would happen to her independence?…What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people….This anxiety is deepened by the realisation of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against.
- B.R. Ambedkar, Speech to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949
“If the parties place creed above country…” Ambedkar’s fear was strikingly realized on January 26, 2011 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to hoist the national flag at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. It was not the first time that a party had professed its political creed while ignoring the repercussions on national and social well-being. However, the choice of January 26, the day when India celebrates the enforcement of its Constitution, added greater irony to incident. What was even more perplexing was the fact that BJP referred to its divisive operation as the “Ekta Yatra” or unity march. According to the BJP hoisting the national flag at Lal Chowk would assert the fact that the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is an integral part of India. The Central and State Governments feared that BJP’s provocative act could reignite the public anger exhibited during numerous street protests in the summer of 2010.
It is interesting that the supporters and opponents of the Ekta Yatra invoked the discourse of nationalism to support their rationale. According to the BJP, Indian citizens had the right to hoist the national flag anywhere across India. Many BJP supporters on twitter defended the Ekta Yatra as revenge for the unfurling of the Pakistani flag at Lal Chowk last year. Hoisting of the national flag at Lal Chowk was, according to the BJP, an act of challenging the separatists who did not consider Kashmir to be a part of India.
Opponents of the Ekta Yatra supplemented their nationalist discourse through legal and political arguments. Flag hoisting is a qualified right, subject to the condition of not disturbing public order. Flag hoisting ceremonies can be disallowed if the government invokes section 144 which prohibits assembly of persons or imposes curfew in a specified area. BJP’s decision was criticized as unwise political opportunism. Apart from the official flag hoisting by the State’s Chief Minister in Srinagar, numerous flag hoisting functions took place across the of Jammu and Kashmir. How would hoisting the flag by BJP at Lal Chowk be more potent in communicating with the separatists? The BJP has been accused of using the flag hoisting issue to gain public attention and compound the challenges for the UPA Government. BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s speech in Kolkata at the start of the Ekta Yatra focussed more on corruption charges against the Congress Party than the future of Kashmir. According to the Indian position the undivided state of J&K is part of the Indian Union. If the BJP was genuinely patriotic, why did it not consider hoisting the flag on the territory referred to by India as Pak Occupied Kashmir (POK)?
Despite all the controversy, the Ekta Yatra drew attention to two important developments.
First, the youth wing of BJP, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) took the lead during the Ekta Yatra. Though leaders like Sushma Swarj and Arun Jaitley became the face of the march, the movement was initially launched as a project for the BJYM. Anurag Thakur, President of the BJYM, carried the flag from Kolkata on a 14 day yatra covering a distance of 3,037 kilometres over 12 states. Involvement of the youth was an attempt by the BJP to counter the criticism that new generation was less interested in the party’s aggressive right wing agenda and focussed more economic issues. Perhaps, after Rahul Gandhi’s involvement with reinvigorating the Congress Youth wing, the BJP had to push its own youth body into the limelight. However, involvement of a handful of youth volunteers and party members failed to capture popular imagination. Ekta Yatra passed unnoticed through a dozen Indian states from West Bengal to J&K. BJYM’s efforts invited more debate on twitter and other social media than supporters on the ground.
The second development was more positive and welcoming. Despite the aggressive posturing, the BJP’s flag hoisting endeavour was foiled by Omar Abdullah’s Government in J&K. Rising Kashmir, a Kashmir Daily which was critical of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah during the street protests of 2010, praised him for taking a “tough stand against this divisive act of provoking people.” Omar Abdullah’s resolute action not only averted BJP’s misadventure but also prevented the attempt by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to unfurl its own flag at Lal Chowk. Yasin Malik and other leaders including Bilal Gani Lone and Shahidul Islam of (moderate) Hurriyat Conference were arrested as they were marching towards Lal Chowk. Chief Minister Abdullah demonstrated that he took no sides in the flag controversy and made decisions to ensure peace and stability in the state.
It appears that BJP continues to identify nationalism with religious nationalism and equates posturing with politics. If the BJP desires to indulge in political opportunism, the party will have to choose such opportunities wisely and construct a plausible strategy.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.