Rahul Gandhi in Kashmir: Ignoring the Elephant In Room

Rahul Gandhi with Ghulam Nabi Azad at a function in Srinagar- KO Photo Abid Bhat

Altaf Hussain

DURING his just concluded visit to Kashmir, Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi tried to strike an emotional chord with the people here. But the visit did nothing to restore the confidence of Kashmiri people in India's political class.

Speaking after the inauguration of Pradesh Congress  headquarters in Srinagar on Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi talked of his family's roots in Kashmir. “My family lives in Delhi. Earlier, it lived in Allahabad. And before that, it lived here (in Srinagar)" he said to a loud applause by party workers gathered for the occasion.

Pertinent to mention that Rahul Gandhi's great grandfather and India's first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru was a descendant of a  Kashmiri Pandit, Raj Kaul, a Sanskrit scholar who migrated from Srinagar at the instance of Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar, in 1716.

Kashmiri Pandits, by and large, identified themselves with the Nehru family. That largely changed after their exodus from the Valley in 1990s. Many vocal members of the migrant community have since become ardent supporters of the BJP.

While calling Kashmir his home, Rahul minced no words in saying that the Modi government had committed aggression against Jammu and Kashmir. He also demanded restoration of Jammu and Kashmir's statehood. But, he did not say a word about Article 370 which the Modi govt revoked in August 2019.

Majority of people in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the majority Muslim community, feel deeply distressed by the abrogation of Article 370. They see it as breach of faith and a conspiracy to change the Muslim-majority character of the state. Worse still, they see people from other states occupying land in J&K and consequently both Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus losing their common cultural and political  identity. There was nothing in Rahul Gandhi's speech that would assuage an average Kashmir's fears. Ordinary people in Kashmir understand that Congress will not take the risk of annoying people outside Jammu and Kashmir by demanding or promising restoration of Article 370. The BJP has convinced most Indians that this constitutional provision (370 ) came in the way of J&K's integration with the Indian Union and reinforced the separatist sentiment. It warrants mention that Congress itself had eroded much of J&K's internal autonomy and reduced  Article 370  to a skeleton. The BJP has done in a single stroke and brazenly what the Congress did slowly and not so brazenly.

True that Congress and many other secular parties in India did not support abrogation of Article 370 or the bifurcation of J&K into two union territories. But, except for a couple of regional parties, the Opposition in India took an equivocal stand. Omar Abdullah says the party's like the Congress, perhaps, could not afford to oppose the revocation of Article 370. But he says these parties "let us down" by being silent on the withdrawal of J&K's statehood and its bifurcation  into two union territories. His dismay and disappointment is shared by many ordinary people in Kashmir. They have totally lost faith in the Indian political class, except for a few individual politicians.

The BJP has, indeed, strengthened itself by revoking Article 370. But it has harmed wider national interest. For, it has caused such alienation in Kashmir as never before.

Such is the resentment and deep depression that a prominent Kashmiri Pandit leader, Sanjay Tickoo, who has stayed put in the Valley, fears a repeat of 1990. Participating in a debate on Media Swaraj on Tuesday evening, he said if the lava bursts, "not only Kashmir, the whole of India will burn.

The author is a freelance journalist, formerly North India Correspondent of the BBC. He also worked with Times of  India.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of Kashmir Observer.

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