Likening the march towards Jammu and Kashmir as his ‘return to home’, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday exhorted the people of the region to support him in his mission to ‘save India’ from being swindled by the Government, which is using ‘gimmicks to divert the attention of the people from more pressing matters’.
Gandhi, whose Bharat Jodo Yatra entered its final leg on Thursday evening, also said that he is here to share the grief of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who have suffered on many fronts in the past decades.
Gandhi, who reached Lakhanpur at 6:05 pm, was addressing a gathering of around 2000 people, where he shared the stage set up adjacent to the statue of Maharaja Gulab Singh with NC President, Farooq Abdullah, senior Congress leaders, Digvijay Singh and Jairam Ramesh, Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot, Punjab MP, Pratap Singh Bajwa, Shiv Sena MP, Sanjay Raut, and senior leaders from J&K Congress.
The people had started trickling into the venue around 1 pm, however, after 4 pm people in substantial numbers joined the gathering. The numbers rose as dusk fell and temperatures dipped, while hundreds of people walked alongside the former Congress president across the historic bridge, which also happens to be the border between Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
Wearing a white t-shirt, Rahul walked with a torch and paid obeisance at the statue of Maharaja Gulab Singh. In a customary handover function, Punjab’s Congress unit president Raja Warring gave the party flag to Jammu and Kashmir Congress president Vikaar Rasool Wani, while Gandhi was presented with a portrait of Maharaja and a Dogra turban.
Gandhi said the Government is carrying out a mass pickpocketing exercise by diverting the attention of the countrymen.
“Have you been pickpocketed? Yes you have been,” said Gandhi in a spirited speech. “Taxes, unemployment and what happened with you during Covid, is how you all are being robbed off your hard earned money.”
“Modi Ji and the media people rake up Hindi-Muslim issues and spread hatred. They pitch one religion against another, people speaking one language fight those speaking another. They distract you and then rob you,” said Gandhi.
He further said that the BJP and RSS have spread hatred in the country.
“I earlier thought this hatred ran deep in the society, however, it does not and is mainly seen on television,” said Gandhi. “This hatred is only on TV. Their (media) owners have asked them screen such stories. Look!” he said, gesturing towards the media personnel sitting amidst the crowd, “They’re hiding their smiling faces.”
Gandhi listed hatred, violence, unemployment and price rise as the main issues confronting the country and blamed the media for not highlighting them.
Criticising the media for not focusing on the right issues, he said it uses topics such as Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar to divert the attention of people.
“There are two India’s being carved out of Hindustan. One for the common citizens of this country and the other for two or three billionaires. Billionaires are being given all comforts by the Government but small shopkeepers and traders are being burdened with a number of taxes and all that is gained from them is given to these two-three people,” said Gandhi, without naming anyone.
Speaking about the journey of his Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi said he had been walking for six to seven hours a day, covering 25 km each day, but nobody was tired as some people had predicted.
“We started Bharat Jodo Yatra, months ago from Kanyakumari. People initially said that we will walk only for four or five days. However, four months later, here we are! You are here in the cold to see us and hear us. Thank you so much,” said Gandhi, amidst resounding applause from crowd.
“I asked my colleagues also and even they didn’t feel any tiredness. I later realised we are not feeling tired because people are pushing us forward, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
“In the Yatra, if someone falls, he is supported within seconds… nobody is asking anyone what is your religion or what language do you speak or from where do you come. They just help,” he said, adding, “Our workers are not charged by Dhaba walla’s. They say that the Congress is spreading love in the sea of hatred.”
Budget, itinerary, conflicts, concerns: all you need to know about J&K leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra
Giving his spirited speech a personal note, Gandhi said his ancestors belonged to this land and he felt that he was returning home.
“I am going back to my roots, I know the suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and have come to you with a bowed head,” he said.
Earlier, welcoming him into the union territory, National Conference Chief, Farooq Abdullah drew a parallel between the Shankaracharya and Rahul Gandhi.
“Many years ago, Shankaracharya had undertaken a yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. And today you are doing it,” the MP said.
He further said that today’s India is not Ram’s Bharat or Gandhi’s Hindustan because people are divided by religion.
“Today the question is whether India will survive or not. We have to make sure it does. If we are together, we will be able to overcome the hatred of the present day,” he said.
“Bharat Jodo Yatra is trying to unite India. It’s enemies are India’s enemies. I believe that Rahul will unite the India. Before I die, I want to see this India, where there is peace and harmony,” said an emotional Abdullah.
Choudhary Lal Singh, founder of Dogra Swabhimaan Sangathan, had also reached the venue with around 500 supporters, but didn’t join Gandhi and others on the stage.
Bharat Jodo Yatra is the first major political activity and mass mobilisation in a long time in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been without an elected government for almost five years now. Originally conceived as a twelve-day-long march across the union territory, the itinerary for Yatra is finalised for the first seven days only, even as the Jammu and Kashmir unit of Congress is still formulating the plans for the last five days, in coordination with the security agencies and the civil administration.
The march, which started from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7, will conclude in Srinagar and Gandhi has so far covered Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.