The Lead

Bharat Jodo Yatra in J&K: The Complete Story of Day 3

JAMMU: Thousands of people welcomed Rahul Gandhi in Jammu as the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered the winter capital city on Monday amid the chants of ‘Nafrat Chhodo, Bharat Jodo’ and a huge number of policemen joining the security ring around the Gandhi family scion.

Senior Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, K C Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh, Vikar Rasool Wani, G A Mir, Raman Bhalla, Tariq Hamid Karra along with a large number of party workers and supporters walking with the tricolour joined the march from Vijaypur in Samba and was joined by PDP leaders including General Secretary (central) S Amreet Singh Reen and former legislator Firdous Ahmad Tak at Kunjwani.

Speaking for the first time after he started the foot march in Jammu and Kashmir, Gandhi said that congress will do all in its might to reinstate the statehood to the region, even as he demanded an apology from Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha for his remarks on Kashmiri Pandits employees, saying that the community is facing injustice at the hands of the government.

Gandhi also defended the Bharat Jodo Yatra, saying that the opposition party was forced to undertake the 3500-km foot march after it was not allowed to speak on the pressing public issues in Parliament, while slamming the BJP government at the Centre for demonetisation, hasty implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the recently launched Agniveer scheme.

His colleague Digvijaya Singh targeted the BJP, alleging that it gave no proof of surgical strikes while claiming to have killed many terrorists and that the Narendra Modi dispensation was ruling the country through a bundle of lies, while Jairam Ramesh said that Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Democratic Azad Party has now become the “Doda Azad Party” and would soon become “Dead Azad Party.”

Gandhi who met a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits and PRI representatives enroute, paid obeisance at famous Raghunath Temple in old city, before moving to make-shift tent in Sidhra where he would halt for the night before moving forward to Nagrota on Tuesday morning.
The yatra started from Samba’s Vijaypur along the Jammu-Pathankot highway at around 7 am Monday and was received warmly by a massive crowd as it crossed Bari Brahmana in Jammu’s Parmandal.

Gandhi, who walked wearing his trademark white T-shirt braving the early morning chill, was cheered on by the public and party workers waiting in their numbers on either side of the road. He was seen moving close to the roadside to shake hands with the enthusiastic supporters at a few places, much to the concern of the security personnel.

Traffic police have issued a detailed advisory for Monday and Tuesday to ensure smooth movement of traffic on the highway and other link roads in the city, while security was beefed across the Union Territory in the wake of two bomb blasts in Narwal area on the outskirts of Jammu city on Saturday which resulted in injuries to nine people.


Statehood & Unemployment

Addressing a gathering at Satwari, Gandhi said that the demand for statehood is Jammu and Kashmir’s biggest issue and the Congress will use “our full power” to get it reinstated.

“The Congress party will fully support you and your statehood (demand). To reinstate statehood, the Congress will use our full power. Statehood is your biggest issue. There is no big issue as big as statehood. Your right has been snatched,” he said.

In August 2019, the NDA government revoked Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and proposed the state be divided into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Gandhi said he spoke to a cross section of people from J&K during his yatra and they raised their issues. He said they told him that their voices are not being heard by the administration. “The entire trade is being run by outsiders and people of J&K watch them sitting haplessly,” he said.

Gandhi said Jammu and Kashmir has the highest level of unemployment in the country. Youngsters aspire to become engineers, doctors and lawyers but they find they cannot, he said.

“There was another way (to get employment) earlier. It was with the Army. It has also been closed now by a new scheme, called Agniveer, introduced by BJP. That path is also now closed,” he said.


Kashmiri Pandits & LG’s Apology

Alleging that Kashmir Pandits are facing injustice at the hands of the government, Gandhi asked Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to apologise to the community for telling the prime minister’s package employees that they should not seek alms.

Gandhi made the statement shortly after a Kashmiri Pandit delegation called on him during his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Samba district earlier in the day and briefed him about their various issues including “targeted killings” by terrorists and the resultant protest by those employed under the prime minister’s package.

“Injustice is being meted to Kashmir Pandits by this government…this morning, a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits met me and briefed me about their issues. I was surprised to know that their delegation was told by the lieutenant governor that they should not seek alms,” Gandhi told the gathering.

Gandhi said he wants to tell the lieutenant governor that they are not demanding alms but are seeking their rights. “You (LG) should seek forgiveness from them (Pandits),” he said.

Earlier, social activist Amit Koul, who was part of the delegation, said they have invited Gandhi to their Jagti township along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and that he is likely to visit the community on his way to Kashmir.
“We had a very good interaction with Gandhi and we briefed him about the issues of the community, especially the prime minister’s package employees who were provided jobs by the previous UPA government led by Manmohan Singh. They are on protest over the past six months in Jammu and their salaries have been withheld,” Koul told PTI after meeting Gandhi.

Nearly 4,000 Kashmiri Pandits are working in different departments in Kashmir Valley after their selection under the prime minister’s employment package announced in 2008. The package has two major components — 6,000 jobs for the youth from the community and building as many accommodation units for the recruited employees.

However, many of the employees fled to Jammu after one of their colleagues, Rahul Bhat, was shot dead by terrorists inside his office in Budgam district on May 12 last year in what was described as a case of targeted killing. They are on a strike demanding their relocation out of the Valley.

“We also raised other issues of the community including the need for enhancement of relief. We requested him to visit our township Jagti or send a delegation but he assured that he will visit Jagti himself and raise their issues within and outside Parliament,” Koul said.

Another member, Jitendra Kachroo, said he has come all the way from Uttar Pradesh, where he has settled after migrating from Kashmir, to meet Gandhi with other members of the delegation.

He said they were initially supposed to meet him as a 13-member delegation but several more joined them and “we raised issues which the community is facing”.

Charging the BJP with using the community to further its political agenda, Kachroo said, “They do not really mean to solve the problems of the Kashmiri Pandits because for them it is a political agenda to spread hate on the basis of religion.

“We used to live together in Kashmir — both Muslims and Hindus — as we shared culture, dressing, and even surnames. There was never such a type of atmosphere, and we all were living together (before the eruption of militancy and migration of the community),” he said.


Yatra, Demonisation, GST & Agniveer

Defending Congress’ decision to start Bharat Jodo Yatra to “unite” the country, Gandhi said the opposition party was forced to undertake the 3500-km foot march after it was not allowed to speak on the pressing public issues in Parliament.

“The democracy in the country is under attack which is a major challenge for the nation. Before the commencement of the Yatra, we tried to raise the issues like demonetisation, GST, farmers’ bill and China’s aggression in Parliament, both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, but we were not allowed and the mikes were being switched off,” the former Congress president told the gathering.

“We have come to open the shops of love in the markets of hatred. With this Yatra, we could see lakhs and crores of people have opened their shops of love, braving rains, cold and hot weather.”

He said the people from all walks of life including farmers, small traders, women and children shared their pain with him across different states during the Yatra and they all live together with love in this country.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday had accused Gandhi of spreading hatred among people in order to gain power, and alleged that he was tarnishing India’s image on international platforms by conducting the Yatra.

“…These days, Rahul Gandhi is going around saying in his Bharat Jodo Yatra that there is hatred everywhere in India. Rahulji, what has happened to you? You want to gain power by creating hatred. Power cannot be achieved by creating hatred, it can be done only by earning the public’s trust and love,” Singh had told reporters in Bhopal.

Gandhi, while referring to the Agniveer scheme launched by the government for recruitment in the armed forces, alleged that it was meant to weaken the Army as seven to eight years are required to learn any skill.

“Army is like a family where many years are needed to allow a bond to build among the soldiers which later plays a great role in case of a war. It cannot be achieved in one or two years and the BJP thinks that the soldiers are completing their training in six months,” he said, adding Army officers know it very well and they are against this wrong policy.

“By relieving a trained soldier after four years without a pension under Agniveer, they have closed the doors for the youth who otherwise used to look forward for recruitment in the armed forces to serve the country,” Gandhi said.

The country was assuring the soldier that after 15 years of service it would take care of him, he added.

The Congress leader said the unemployment and growing inflation is the result of the wrong policies of the government, which is only working for two to three corporators.

“Demonetisation and GST was a weapon to eliminate small traders and benefit these corporators. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and BJP have broken the backbone of the country by finishing small medium businesses which was the major sector providing employment in the country. This is the main reason for unemployment and price rise in the country as well,” Gandhi said.

He alleged that all the money is going into the pockets of these few corporators, while the rest of the population is suffering from poverty.

The Congress leader also accused the media of not highlighting the real issues of public importance like unemployment, inflation, and taking away land from the poor in J-K.

“For them, Gandhi wearing a T-shirt is an issue…I want to tell them that it is the people who are giving me so much love that I do not feel cold,” he said.

Gandhi said they have changed the timing of the start of the daily foot march from 5 am to 7 am on reaching Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the security guidelines.


Surgical Strikes

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh also targeted the BJP-led central government, alleging that it gave no proof of surgical strikes while claiming to have killed many terrorists.

He alleged that the Narendra Modi dispensation was ruling the country through a “bundle of lies”.

“They (Centre) talk about surgical strikes and that they have killed so many of them (terrorists) but there is no proof,” Singh told a gathering during the Bharat Jodo Yatra here.

“Pulwama attack took place. Forty of our CRPF jawans were martyred. Why were they killed? The CRPF director requested that it (Pulwama) is a sensitive zone that CRPF jawans should be sent to Delhi from Srinagar through plane, but Modi ji refused it. Why did he refuse,” he asked.

The government has not placed before Parliament or people the details of the incident until now, he said.
He claimed Pulwama is a hotbed of terrorism where all vehicles are checked and asked “why a Scorpio vehicle, which came from the opposite direction, was not checked” when the attack took place on a CRPF convoy.
The BJP launched a sharp attack on the Congress, saying that such comments show that the Rahul Gandhi-led foot march across the country is Bharat Jodo Yatra only in name while he and his party colleagues are working to “break” the country. It is essentially “Bharat todo yatra”, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said.

He said, “India will not tolerate if they speak against armed forces. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress hate PM Modi but it seems they have been blinded by the hate to an extent that their dedication to the country has withered away.”

He said Congress leaders had raised questions about the surgical strikes soon after the Indian Air Force said it hit terror camps in Balakot in Pakistan in retaliation to the Pulwama terror attack.

“Gandhi and the Congress do not have trust in our brave armed forces. They repeatedly raise questions and insult the citizens of India and our armed forces,” Bhatia claimed.

He added that Congress leaders had tried to deflect attention from Pakistan after the terror attack as well. Randeep Singh Surjewala had then blamed “home-grown terrorism”, he claimed, alleging that the opposition party tried to give a clean chit to Pakistan.

Pakistan is in a lot of pain when our armed forces strike terrorists, while in India it is the Congress which is in anguish, he said.

With the Pulwama terror attack and surgical strikes taking place in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the issues had captured popular imagination as the BJP retained power at the Centre with a bigger mandate than 2014 by winning over 300 seats out of 543.

“Nothing is bigger than people’s blessings in democracy. In the 2019 polls, it became clear that people stand with the BJP and the armed forces. While those who raised questions are facing existential crisis,” Bhatia said.


Dead Azad Party

Taking a jibe on J&K’s former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad-led political party, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh called his party as the “Doda Azad Party” and added that it would soon become “Dead Azad Party.”

Talking to reporters, Ramesh said that Azad-led political party Democratic Azad Party (DAP) has now reduced to “Doda Azad Party”.

“It has now become Disappearing Azad Party. It is not only Disappearing Azad Party, but has now become “Doda Azad Party” as its influence is limited to Doda. It would soon become “Dead Azad Party”,” Ramesh told reporters.

Ramesh, who has become vocal critic of Azad-led party, said that every Congress leader who had joined Azad-led party has now returned to the party. “They have returned to the party after holiday of two months,” he said.


Raghunath temple visit & Tuesday Press Conference

Soon after his Bharat Jodo Yatra entered the city, Gandhi on Monday afternoon paid obeisance at famous Shri Raghunathji Temple in the old city.

Gandhi, who was accompanied by senior party leaders, was garlanded by the priests at the temple. Gandhi will stay the night in Sidhra area, where a mini camp has been set up.

Gandhi will address a press conference on Tuesday noon at Jhajjar Kotli.

Faisal Chaudhary- Rahul Gandhi’s look-alike
Donning a white T-shirt, Rahul Gandhi’s look-alike Faisal Chaudhary has become an attraction of the Bharat Jodo Yatra with people eager to get themselves clicked with him.

Faisal, who is a hit on social media, said people who are unable to meet Rahul Gandhi take pictures with him instead. Faisal is the most ‘clicked’ man after Gandhi in Bharat Jodo Yatra which is in its last leg.

His video clips and pictures have gone viral on social media where he can be seen marching along with other yatris.

“People come to me and take pictures and videos with me. I love it,” said Faisal.

He said that it is people’s love for Rahul Gandhi that they take pictures with him.

“People love Rahul Ji. That is why they take pictures and videos with me, when they are unable to meet Rahul Ji. “I feel lucky to be Rahul ji’s look-alike. As a party activist, my face resembles my top party leader’s. But I will always be his activist,” he added.

Faisal, who has a brown beard like Rahul Gandhi, is a resident of Sangat village of Meerat district and is a worker of the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh.

Unlike hundreds of yatris wearing jackets and sweaters, Faisal wore a white half-sleeved T-shirt like Gandhi.

“If Rahul ji can wear a T-shirt, why can’t anyone else. I am wearing it. I have no problem”, he said.

Tearing into the remarks of the BJP that the yatra will not get support from people of Jammu and Kashmir, Faisal said, “People of J&K have wholeheartedly given love to Rahul Ji and support to this yatra. Thousands of people are out and throng the venues. We thank them”.

Faisal opined that Rahul Gandhi will dismantle the walls of hatred and bring in a new atmosphere of love and harmony. “This yatra will be hundred percent successful. There will be a new dawn.”

Another prominent supporter of the yatra, 88-year old Karuna Prasad Mishra, who joined it in October last year in Madhya Pradesh is an old warhorse of the Congress party and will continue to be part of the yatra.

Earlier, Rahul Gandhi had acknowledged Mishra’s appeal by solicitously putting a shawl around him during a concert in Jaipur to mark 100 days of the yatra on December 16.

The party has also put out several Twitter posts centred around Mishra.

“There is a need to bring back an atmosphere of harmony and brotherhood in the country. we pray for Rahul ji successful mission”, Mishra said.



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