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Bharat Jodo Yatra Suspended for a Day for Security Concerns in Kashmir Valley

Bharat Jodo Yatra Suspended for a Day for Security Concerns in Kashmir Valley

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 27: The former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was suspended for the day on Friday for security concerns with the grand old party alleging a serious breach of security and mismanagement of the crowd by the Jammu and Kashmir administration.

After the Yatra, which reached the Kashmir valley on Friday morning, Rahul Gandhi was forced to opt for travelling by car to the next scheduled stop rather than on foot because of security concerns. He was joined by former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as he set out on Friday morning.

In a brief statement to the press, Rahul Gandhi, who began his Yatra from Banihal in Jammu region, said he had to cancel his walk for the day because police arrangements by the J&K administration “unfortunately collapsed completely”. He said police personnel who were supposed to manage the crowd were nowhere to be seen.

The J&K Police, however, said there was no security lapse while pointing out that the organisers had not informed them about a large crowd joining the march from Banihal. Rahul Gandhi was to walk 20 km in Kashmir on Friday but after walking for close to three kilometres in the morning, Gandhi drove through the 2.85 km Jawahar tunnel. After crossing the tunnel, his security team found there was no policeman to provide security at the scheduled halt, after which they did not allow him to step out of the car.

The Congress, in a tweet, said the J&K UT administration failed to provide security to Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi. “Security lapses indicate unfair and unprepared attitude of UT administration,” Rajani Patil, Congress in charge J&K and Ladakh, said.

Earlier in the day, the Gandhi scion, wearing his yatra’s signature white T-shirt, resumed his walk in sub-zero temperatures in Banihal, where hundreds of Congress supporters and locals were seen dancing and beating drums.

Later, Mr. Gandhi arrived at Qazigund, the gateway of the Kashmir valley, from the Navyug Tunnel where Mr. Abdullah, also seen sporting a white T-shirt, joined him for a walk. M.K. Raina, a well-known actor and theatre director, also joined Mr. Gandhi in Qazigund.

Mr. Gandhi was scheduled to move ahead on foot on the highway in south Kashmir, which has been a hub of militants for many years now. However, after senior police officials briefed him, the Congress leader decided to drive in a car towards Khanabal, the next stop where he is staying for the night before heading for Srinagar on Saturday.

As Rahul Gandhi crossed the Banihal Tunnel on his way to Srinagar, a large, unexpected crowd was waiting for him, said Congress leaders. “Police personnel supposed to manage the crowd were nowhere to be seen. The police arrangement collapsed after we exited the tunnel. My security got uncomfortable, so we had to cancel. I had to call off my walk because I can’t go against my security people,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters later.

“It is the administration’s responsibility to guarantee crowd control,” the Congress MP added. Omar Abdullah, who joined the yatra in a white T-shirt like Rahul Gandhi, said a layer of security “simply vanished”.

“I’m witness to this. The outer ring of the cordon which was maintained by J&K police simply vanished within minutes of @RahulGandhi starting to walk. We had just crossed into Kashmir from Jammu and were looking forward to the 11 KM walk but unfortunately it had to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

The Congress blamed a “sudden withdrawal of security personnel” and mismanagement of crowds by the Jammu and Kashmir administration mismanaged the crowds. Rahul Gandhi was stuck in the middle of a crowd and couldn’t move for about 30 minutes, Congress leaders said. Eventually, he was driven away in a bulletproof vehicle and the party called off the yatra for the day.

“The police drove off after we crossed Banihal Tunnel. Who ordered this? The authorities responsible must answer for this lapse and take steps to prevent such incidents in future,” said Congress leader KC Venugopal. There were no security officers for 15 minutes, he claimed.

“For 15 minutes, there were no security officers with the Bharat Jodo Yatra. This is a very serious lapse. Rahul Gandhi and other yatris cannot walk without security,” Mr Venugopal told reporters. Rajni Patil tweeted that the administration “failed to provide security to the Bharat Jodo Yatra” and that the security lapses indicated “unfair and unprepared attitude of the UT administration.”

Calling the incident a “big security lapse”, Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said Gandhi’s security team was holding discussions with the J&K administration to ensure that everything goes off smoothly for the next few days.

In a tweet in Hindi, Ramesh said, “Politics has its place but by playing with Gandhi’s security in Jammu and Kashmir, the government has stooped to its lowest level. India has already lost Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, any government or administration should desist from doing politics on such matters.”

Senior police officer Vijay Kumar denied any security lapse. “The organisers did not inform us about a large crowd joining the march from Banihal. The police were not consulted before the Bharat Jodo Yatra was discontinued. We will provide foolproof security,” Mr Kumar said.

The police said as part of security measures for the yatra, they had shut down the Srinagar-Jammu national highway to traffic and the morning train service between Baramulla and Banihal was cancelled. The Yatra was called off earlier on Wednesday due to poor weather and landslides. J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and top security officials, including J&K DGP Dilbag Singh, had assured full security to the Yatra.

Meanwhile, Mr. Abdullah, also vice president of the National Conference, said the Bharat Jodo Yatra was not aimed at improving the image of Mr. Gandhi but for improving the situation in the country. “We have not joined this for the image of an individual but for the image of the county,” he said. Targeting the BJP, Mr. Abdullah said this government might be making friends with Arab countries but the fact remains that there is no representative in this government from the largest minority of the country. “For the first time since Independence, the ruling party does not have a single member of Parliament from the Muslim community,” he added.

He also highlighted that J&K has not seen assembly elections for the past eight years now. “This has been the longest period between the two elections in J&K. It was not the case even at the peak of militancy,” he said.

The Congress leader will resume his journey on Saturday from Awantipora, 33 km from Srinagar. The Yatra, which started in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari on September 7, will end on January 30 in Srinagar after covering 3,970 km, 12 states and two Union territories.



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