More eyes were trained on lal Chowk than on Rajpath on Republic Day, 1992. On Independence Day, more people heard and watched Narendra Modi than who sat through Manmohan Singh’s whine from Red Fort
When Murli Manohar Joshi, then president of Bharatiya Janata Party, launched his Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari on December 11, 1991, there was natural curiosity in the event. That curiosity metamorphosed into rousing passion as the yatra wound its way through the heartland and headed towards its final destination, Srinagar, where it was to conclude with the national Tricolour being unfurled at lal Chowk on Republic Day. By mid-January, it had become a caravan of cars, jeeps and buses, with people spontaneously joining the yatra. The mood was festive and laced with eager anticipation: Hoisting the Tricolour at lal Chowk had come to symbolise both national pride and sovereignty. Yet, there were questions and imponderables. Would the administration allow Joshi to proceed to lal ChowkIJ Or would he be detained in JammuIJ If he was indeed allowed to go up to lal Chowk, would the jihadis and their separatist patrons, retaliateIJ
For those who came of age in this century and those who may have forgotten those terrible dark days, it would be in order to recall the anarchy that prevailed in the Kashmir Valley through the early-1990s. The Kashmiri Pandits, to the last man, woman and child, had been driven out of their homes in the land of their forefathers by Kalashnikov-toting jihadis who gave them two options: leave or die. Overnight an entire community of Hindus had become refugees in their own country — and still remain so, their return made impossible by belligerent Muslims. That ethnic cleansing was, and remains, a blot on the collective conscience of the nation. Congress MP and UPA Minister Shashi Tharoor’s sly attempt to rewrite the history of that exodus may serve him well with his political bosses and the Muslim voters of Kerala, but it will not change facts as they then existed and still remain incontrovertible.
The jihadis had a free run of Kashmir valley and each day fetched increasingly depressing news of the State’s failure to halt their atrocities. Kashmir, it seemed, had been irrevocably lost, thanks to the machinations of the National Conference in Srinagar and an effete National Front Government headed by VP Singh in New Delhi. PV Narasimha Rao’s regime, which came to power in 1991, appeared to be more eager to appease the US (President Bill Clinton during his first term was aggressively pushing Pakistan’s case) and its special envoy Robin Raphel, who was a junior functionary in the State Department but wielded tremendous clout, than taking on the separatists. The future looked bleak.
It was against this backdrop that the idea of hoisting the Tricolour at lal Chowk, a regular practice that had been discarded after separatists began hoisting Pakistan’s flag on the Clock Tower, caught the popular imagination of Indians across the country. By the time the yatra reached Jammu, it had gathered in its wake more than 50,000 people. Unfortunately, heavy snowfall and landslides prevented their onward march with the Jammu-Srinagar highway blocked. That did not deter Joshi. He was taken in a helicopter to Srinagar and on January 26, the Tricolour was hoisted at lal Chowk. On that Republic Day, I had written in this newspaper, more eyes were on lal Chowk in Srinagar than on Rajpath in Delhi: India wanted to see the Tricolour flutter tall and proud in the heart of jihad-infested Kashmir. There were few or no tools to test that assertion. Fortunately, there are tools available now, but we shall come to that later.
In its own way, Joshi raising the Tricolour at lal Chowk was an audacious act, unprecedented and unexpected — among Delhi’s chattering classes and the political elite whose members, to borrow Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid’s expression, were and continue to remain proverbial frogs in the well. On that occasion too we had heard scathing criticism of Joshi for trying to snatch attention away from the main Republic Day event on Rajpath, as we now hear of Narendra Modi, the BJP’s putative Prime Ministerial candidate, for daring to deliver an Independence Day speech contesting the bunkum heard from the ramparts of Red Fort where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had, in his whining voice, read out a dhobi list of bogus achievements and promises earlier that morning. The other reason I have mentioned the Ekta Yatra in some detail is because it was conceived, planned and organised by Narendra Modi, then a mere party functionary. Being audacious and challenging convention, it can be said with some certitude, is not something new for him; he has done it more than once and with great style.
As on January 26, 1992, I would argue that on August 15, 2013, all eyes — and ears — were trained on lalan College in Bhuj and not lal Qila in Old Delhi. In other words, more people watched and heard Narendra Modi than they did Manmohan Singh. If the Prime Minister had whined, his challenger had roared in response; as a contest, it was a non-starter. But what it served to achieve was to shake up the Delhi establishment and send tremors through Delhi’s entrenched fraudulent left-liberal elite. The epicentre of those tremors was Bhuj. Never before had an outsider smashed through the make-believe barrier, the imaginary Delhi Gate that protects the Establishment and its hold over power, in so rude a manner. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad calling Narendra Modi “Gangu Teli” is more than a deplorable casteist slur; it’s a reflection of the fear that now grips the establishment and the elite. On the other hand, the huge unwashed masses are elated — delighted that Modi has hit Congress and its stooges where it hurts the most.
Fortunately, there now exist tools, as I mentioned earlier, to gauge popular opinion. The Internet is a great leveller and facilitator for this purpose. India Today ran a poll:
‘Independence Day speech: Manmohan vs Modi — Who do you think gave a better speechIJ’
In all fairness, India Today listed the points made by each of them, and in some detail too. It then asked readers to vote for either Manmohan Singh or Narendra Modi. On Saturday evening, the results were: Narendra Modi 92 per cent; Manmohan Singh eight per cent. Well, I did say, as a contest, it was a non-starter. Yet the significance of these numbers can be minimised by the Congress and its apologists only at their own expense.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi)