Much ado about Manifesto: ‘Best ever’ or the same old rephrased notes?

Political row over Congress’ 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto is building up, with Indian premier calling it a ‘dhakosla-patra’ (hypocritical document) rather than a ‘ghoshnapatra’ (manifesto). But while taking a leaf from Vajpayee’s dusted book, the manifesto promising review on AFSPA, demilitarisation and dialogue has brought home the same old message: Yet another poll-time polemic.

When BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee first coined ‘Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat’, it was sold as a ‘healing touch’ for Kashmiri people, then grappling with decade-long raging military offensive. Years later, in the tumultuous 2019, the rephrased narrative put forward by Congress party raises a familiar question: is it the same old wine in a new bottle?

The 55-page manifesto drafted for the big elections is being hailed as “best-ever” for Kashmir, in fact, more significant than that of Vajpayee’s by the ex R&AW chief, AS Dulat, who has himself worked up-and-close with the former prime minister during his tenure.

“The Congress is offering more than what the BJP had,” Dulat told Free Press Kashmir over phone. “For instance, reviewing AFSPA is something Atalji never mentioned during his times. I’m happy with Congress’s approach. It’s a positive sign.”

AS Dulat.

But back in the valley, not many gave two hoots to the manifesto that promises J&K its constitutional rights, reduction in presence of armed forces, reviewing of the draconian AFSPA, and also, non-conditional talks.

For instance, a political science expert, Professor Noor Ahmad Baba from Srinagar, left for work in the morning without even having gone through the manifesto – rare of an analyst to do so.

“I later happened to discuss it with my fellow mates,” he said. “And I do believe it is at least better than what we’re being presently fed by Narendra Modi’s BJP.”

Since the time saffron party came to power, the violence has surged significantly in the valley, and now, the Congress’ soft approach is only being seen by some Kashmiris as a ‘less-brutal’ option.  “Amidst a muscular stance,” Prof. Baba said, “I wouldn’t mind hooting for a softer approach.”

Asked if he doesn’t see this as another political tactic, the professor replied: “I don’t think so. In the times when the right-wing party is banking high on anti-Pak and pro-Army narratives while going to the 2019 elections, a pro-Kashmir approach is something that will not help Congress fetch many votes.”

However, Prof Baba believes this factor underlines the party’s “seriousness” towards the K-issue. “No doubt Congress had two reigns to meet our problems, but I don’t mind giving them another chance compared to the present discourse,” he said.

True to Professor, when the Vajpayee government was derailed and in-came the Manmohan Singh-led UPA, it had its chances to address the Kashmir conflict. The party failed to deliver on it, despite facing two massive uprisings in 2008 and 2010.

The highly ambitious interlocution exercise that Congress-led UPA ordered in Kashmir never saw the light of the day. Out of power, however, former home minister P Chidambaram threw his weight behind Kashmir’s protracted political problem.

In the backdrop of Tuesday’s 55-page manifesto announcement, it’s pertinent to recall Dr Singh’s special envoy, Satinder Lamba’s speech at Kashmir University back in 2013, which noted similar promises to the people going into the 2014 elections – “It is important that military forces on both sides of LoC are kept at minimum; it is imperative that the people of J&K on either side of borders should be able to move freely from one end to the other; it is important to ensure self-governance for internal management in all areas on both sides of LoC…”

And now six years down the line – acknowledging J&K’s ‘unique’ history and the ‘unique’ circumstances under which it acceded to India – it seems like the Congress party has only ordinarily rephrased the same old notes.


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