Srinagar: Rahul Gandhi on Friday, January 27, said that a “major security scare” forced him to stop participating in the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, minutes after the last leg of the national roadshow started in Kashmir. Gandhi alleged that there was a “complete collapse” of the security arrangement made by the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration.
The J&K police, however, denied the allegation, saying that “full security arrangements” were put in place.
Speaking with reporters in Anantnag, where he was driven in a car after the alleged security failure, Gandhi said that the security arrangement collapsed when the roadshow started in Kashmir from Qazigund on Friday morning. “The police personnel who control the crowd and manage the (barricading) ropes either abandoned the rally or were nowhere to be seen. My security detail asked me not to proceed ahead.”
The Congress leader said that it was the responsibility of the J&K administration to “guarantee the role of police and crowd control”. He said, “I don’t know why it happened! But it should not happen tomorrow and the day after.”
While Gandhi was driven away in a car, the rest of the yatris continued along the planned route.
Rejecting allegations of security failure, the additional director general of police Vijay Kumar said that “proper security arrangements” were in place with 15 companies of central paramilitary forces and 10 companies of J&K Police deployed along the route of the roadshow.
“Police was not consulted before taking any decision on the discontinuation of the yatra. There was no security lapse at all. We will provide foolproof security,” Kumar told The Wire.
Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal alleged that the security forces were withdrawn from the yatra when it entered Qazigund. “This is a sensitive place. They are playing with the life of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress workers. We are very much concerned about why they are doing this,” he said in Anantnag, visibly agitated.
The roadshow resumed from Banihal town in Jammu’s Ramban district on Friday morning after a day’s halt due to bad weather. Rahul was joined at Banihal by former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, who had also worn a white T-shirt in solidarity with the Congress leader despite the freezing cold.
The yatra crossed the Navayuga tunnel through the heart of Pir Panjal mountains and emerged in south Kashmir’s Qazigund at around 11 am, marking the beginning of the final leg of the roadshow which is being organised by the Congress party a year ahead of the national election on the plank of “uniting the country” against the “politics of hatred”.
Hundreds of leaders, activists and workers from the Congress and National Conference joined the rally at Qazigund, where a mega reception was organised by the Congress’s Kashmir unit. The rally was received amid pro-Rahul Gandhi, pro-Sonia Gandhi and pro-unity slogans like ‘Jodo, Jodo, Bharat Jodo’.
“We had barely walked one kilometre from Qazigund when the local police personnel disappeared from the scene,” a Congress leader said, wishing anonymity.
The alleged absence of local police personnel prompted a security scare and Rahul Gandhi was advised by his security guards to get back inside his vehicle, which triggered angry protests by the party workers and leaders.
The Congress leader quoted above said that since the start of the roadshow last year, local police personnel in every state have been providing an extra ring of security around Rahul Gandhi, who enjoys Z+ security cover, as a crowd control mechanism to prevent strangers from getting close to him.
“Even when the yatra crossed into Jammu at Lakhanpur and moved towards Banihal, J&K police personnel would form a perimeter around Rahulji with a rope to prevent any security breach. Even senior party leaders were allowed beyond the rope only when their identity was verified. But when the yatra started in Kashmir, the police personnel just disappeared,” the Congress leader alleged.
However, ADGP Kumar said that the organisers did not intimate the police about the large gathering joining in Banihal which thronged the starting point of the yatra in Qazigund. “Only authorised persons, as identified by organisers, and frisked crowd was allowed inside towards the route of the yatra. There was no security breach,” Kumar said.
Following security concerns, Rahul was driven to Anantnag by his security guards and the roadshow had to skip many strategic locations in south Kashmir, including Vessu village, where Kashmiri Pandit employees, who have been rehabilitated under the PM package, live in a government housing colony.
For the past couple of years, the minority community has been living under a climate of fear and anger after a spate of targeted killings and the refusal of the administration to shift them to Jammu. It was not clear if a meeting with Kashmiri Pandits at Vessu was on the cards for Gandhi.
The yatra is scheduled to resume on Saturday, January 28, from Bijbehara along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. Peoples Democratic Party (PD) chief and former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is also expected to join the yatra at Sangam town of south Kashmir on Saturday.
“The yatra will move towards Bijbehara and then Awantipora in south Kashmir before halting at Lethpora. It will reach Pantha Chowk and culminate in Srinagar Sunday. On January 30, a mega rally is being planned in Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium,” Umer Jan, a J&K district president of the Congress party, said.
Besides Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, around 200 leaders of Congress, National Conference and PDP are expected to attend the rally in Srinagar, where Rahul Gandhi will unfurl the tricolour. The Congress party has invited 21 “like-minded parties” to join the yatra.