A Republic Day to forget for India’s opposition party
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched India’s 61st Republic Day parade in the New Delhi sunshine on Wednesday morning, senior opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were in a Jammu prison, where they had spent a night under arrest.
Detained for attempting to lead thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers into India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir to provocatively raise the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule, Swaraj and Jaitley’s politically-driven mission had ended in failure.
The BJP appear to have thought that the nationalism-drenched plan to hoist the flag in the centre of Srinagar, the state capital, would galvanize their Hindu support base, and show the ruling Congress party as ineffective in defending the disputed state from separatists who rile against New Delhi’s rule.
Thursday’s media post-mortem strongly suggested that they failed on both counts.
“Omar steals a march as BJP flag mission foiled,” summed up Mail Today on Thursday, as the opposition’s plan to paint the Congress-backed state chief minister as a weak leader spectacularly backfired.
The provocative rhetoric that accompanied the march also risked alienating moderate Hindus and a large section of secular voters, as newspaper editors strongly criticized the brazen attitude to stirring tensions in the unstable region where more than 100 people were killed last year.
The Hindu declared that the BJP’s plans appeared “more like an expedition to conquer enemy territory than a march for national unity. The political target was not separatism in Kashmir but the secular foundations of India.”
“Given the sensitive situation in the state, the party’s attitude has been irresponsible,” Mail Today agreed, as the BJP’s main political ally, the similarly Hindu-targeted Janata Dal party, publicly voiced its opposition to the provocative plan
“For all its talk of making corruption and governance the key issues in its poll campaign, the Hindutva party does not seem to tire of working for a Hindu-Muslim polarisation of the vote in its favour,” the Hindu wrote in its Thursday editorial.
“The people and the government of the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir certainly did not need this disintegrative march by leaders of the country’s principal opposition party, who seemed intent on heightening tensions and provoking violence rather than on healing wounds and restoring normality”
Released from prison on Wednesday morning, the leaders conducted a hoisting ceremony before 200 party workers in Kathua, a small border town over 300 kms from Srinagar.
Sushma and Jaitley have vowed to bring up the issue in Parliament, and called it the worst scenario since the Emergency during the 1970s where freedom of speech rights were curtailed.
The Indian flag was hoisted in the state capital anyway, as planned, in a government-sponsored function at a sports stadium in the city, where Abdullah called for separatists to join a peaceful dialogue process.
Bereft of provocative rhetoric, the annual ceremony went without a hitch – which is more than can be said of the opposition party’s upside-down hoist in Orissa.
All round a Republic Day to forget for the BJP, then.