Sunday, December 10, 2023
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‘Bathindi’ Alliance’: New Twist in Jammu’s Political Landscape
Straight Talk

K B Jandial

Politics is strange, at times interesting too, as many times unthinkable happens. In the world of politics, alliances and coalitions are not odd and made to have a common strategy to attain power. Ideological affiliations usually serve as the foundation for such partnerships. Like-minded parties come together to expand their voter base. However, recent national-level developments have given rise to a rather perplexing trend where numerous political parties with diverse ideologies have united with a singular aim: to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In this new era of Indian politics, defying traditional norms, I.N.D.I. Alliance has been forged, not based on ideological alignment. This newfound unity is primarily fuelled by a shared disdain for Modi, overshadowing all their ideological differences, in some cases fierce, that exist among these diverse political parties.

Shiv Sena and Congress which had been traditionally at daggers drawn because of the ideological clash between the staunch Hindutva and the secular ideologies (pro-Muslim), but when BJP declined to make Uddhav Thackeray Chief Minister after winning 2019 election jointly, he formed an alliance with its former traditional rivals- Congress & NCP, signalling a significant departure from its traditional pro- Hindutva stance, just to become CM. Now, he is one of the top leaders of I.N.D.I. Alliance which has ‘secular” parties and Congress which at times make objectionable comments against the iconic Veer Savarkar and Hindutva. This does not matter now because his opposition is not now against any ideology but PM Modi who deprived him of CM post. Similar strange tie-up is between AAP & Congress despite congress leaders having been the co-crusaders on liquorgate in Delhi. The violent rivalry between Congress leaders and TMC supremo is well known but blood shedding doesn’t come in the way of anti-Modi alliance.
The opposition leaders’ hatred against Modi is the only unifying factor. Afraid of its collapse even before taking off, the Alliance has rightly postponed the choice of PM face of the Alliance before the 2024 election. As the general elections loom, the Alliance leaders are positioning themselves as the next rulers, to which they are entitled. The Alliance leaders and spokespersons are upbeat on prime-time TV debates. To their credit, they are very articulate and are creating a popular perception against PM Modi, confidently asserting to form the next Govt. Nobody can deny them the right of self-aggrandisement.

This national 'trend' has travelled to J&K as well, thanks to the charismatic and towering leader, Dr Farooq Abdullah who is intensely upset by the “abrogation” of Articles 370 & 35A. He along with his once political nemesis, Mehbooba Mufti has stitched ‘Bathindi’ Alliance’ against Modi & BJP in Jammu. With his matchless charm and political acumen, the veteran leader has succeeded in roping in even those who are known to be anti-Kashmiri leadership and anti-Articles 370/35A. They had illuminated Jammu and broken the Jammu’s silence and political dismay, with crackers on 5th August, 2019, genuinely thinking of liberating from the anti-Kashmir leadership. They had been heaping praise on Modi-Shah duo for ‘respecting Jammu’s sensitivities’ on this count.

But Jammu’s sensitivities seem to have given way to political, may be personal, expediencies. What Nehru-Sheikh did to Maharaja Hari Singh, has been conveniently forgotten, though they still are seen in the frontline during celebration of Maharaja Hari Singh's birthday, whose holiday Sheikh had stopped and Modi revived. Jammu political leaders who had cursed and called names to Mehbooba Mufti during investigation of January 2018 Rasana gang rape of a tribal 8-year-old girl (accused since convicted) are shamelessly sitting by her side, burying their ‘hatred’ for her. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends but only permanent interests.

Why this development? Maybe, they did not get for themselves political space and rehabilitation in the aftermath of August 5-6, 2019, they were expecting. Those who had been criticising Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are seen proudly sitting in their lap despite being called “anti-Jammu.” Jammu’s cause and aspirations and past ‘wounds’ have been pushed to the back seat. This is the politics of opportunism. It is time to stop blaming Kashmiri leadership for everything.

When Kashmir based political parties formed Gupkar Alliance in October 2020 under the leadership of Dr. Farooq Abdullah to seek restoration of State’s special status under Article 370 and Article 35A, every Tom, Dick & Harry of any political party or social organisation, raced in condemning it calling it anti-Jammu. Moreover, it was bereft of Jammu’s voice and popular sentiments. This Alliance too has now become defunct in Kashmir with many of the parties and leaders having deserted it. The remaining four of these parties – NC, PDP, CPM & Muzaffar Shah’s ANC, have now moved to Jammu to launch’ Bathindi’ Alliance.

Who all have attended this ‘Bathindi’ Alliance on 3rd October? Going by the press reports, the major political party in it was none other than the Congress which has a substantial base in Jammu with committed cadres and active leaders. The Congress otherwise also is the major challenger to BJP at national level and in Jammu, its leaders joining Dr Farooq’s anti-Modi meeting was natural. The Panther party had some pockets of influence of Bhim Singh’s vision. It has changed colours in the past two years, with its chief Harsh Dev Singh and his other leaders and workers joining the Aam Admi Party and dissolving it. But they quickly left AAP to revive the Panther Party. Another recognised party joining the Alliance is CPI which too has hardly any popular base in Jammu.

Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party and Gh. Nabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party were not invited as these are considered to be pro BJP parties. But there is no explanation for not inviting well known leader and founder of Dogra Swabhimaan Sangathan Party, Ch Lal Singh, may be, for his then popular stand on Rasana rape case. He still has some influence in Kathua district.
Who else were there at the ‘high table’? Manish Sahni’s Shiv Sena and Dimple’ Mission Statehood do not have any electoral base in Jammu. There was an unattached leader, former MP & fire brand former President of Jan Sangh, Sheikh Abdul Rehman. Even though he is a respected leader, he too has no base now. Then there was another former Congress leader in ‘Bathindi Alliance’, Th Gulchain Singh Charak who is socially very active and crusader for many of Jammu’s issues. He had quitted congress and politics in 2015 but holds offices of the President of historic Dogra Sadar Sabha besides Gandhinagar's Lakshmi Narayan Mandir. His presence surprises many as both Dogra Sadar Sabha & Lakshmi Narayan Mandir are nonpolitical, bereft of any political affiliation. The organisers have claimed to have more local (nondescript) organisations which perhaps did not qualify to be mentioned in the media.
Dr. Farooq led ‘Bathindi’ Alliance has called for a peaceful protest in Jammu on 10th October against, what he alleged, “suspension of constitution and assault on rights in J&K.” They also decided to invite the I.N.D.I Alliance to hold a meeting in Jammu (surprisingly not in Srinagar).

While Dr. Abdullah rightly asked for the rationale behind not holding the elections in the UT when the entire pre-election is complete, the veteran communist leader, M Y Tarigami spoke of “Suspension of the constitution which is not a small thing as we got it after a protracted freedom struggle.” Which Constitution has been suspended and which constitutional rights the people of Jammu are deprived of?
The meeting also condemned Indian Govt action against China funded NewsClick which has been charged with terror funding and money laundering pertaining to foreign funding. While Kashmiri leaders are historically supporting tacitly anti- India actions of Pakistan & China, what is the stand of Jammu Dogras who attended the meeting.

Holding elections from panchayats to Assembly have been the political talk and various political parties are demanding it along with return of Statehood. These issues have been comprehensively debated before the Supreme Court during the prolonged hearing on a bunch of petitions challenging constitutional changes effected on August 5 & 6, 2019.
NC’s MP Akbar Lone, who had vociferously raised slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad” in the J&K Assembly in 2018, is the main petitioner and the Supreme Court had sought an affidavit on it but he avoided regret on raising pro-Pak slogans in it. How intriguing is that Jammu opposition parties and group leaders are unmindful of the pro-Pak DNA of Kashmir based parties before joining hands with them.

It is a fact that there is an undercurrent against BJP in Jammu which is intentionally avoiding elections at almost all levels, as per popular perception, but to what extent, it is proper for Jammu leaders who do not stop claiming to represent Dogra ‘Swabhimaan’, to join hands with Gupkar Alliance leaders to get this right. While it is good to bridge the Kashmir-Jammu gap for creating a harmonious society, it is now difficult to believe the rhetoric of being proud Dogras. Jammu leaders do not need Kashmir leaders to stitch the Opposition Front of Jammu against BJP for whatever reason. Many observers feel that ‘Bathindi Alliance’ may go Gupkar’s Alliance way sooner than later. Tenth October lack lustre protest at Hari Singh Park is one such indicator.

(The writer is the former IAS [email protected])

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