JAMMU: After covering the entire country on foot, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is all set to arrive in Jammu and Kashmir with his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ entering the gateway of union territory on Thursday evening.
There is a sense of excitement from Lakhanpur to Srinagar, as Jammu and Kashmir which has been without an elected government for almost five years now, gears up to witness first major political activity and mass mobilisation in a long-long time, particularly after the abrogation of Article 370. And this excitement is not confined to Congress only.
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 ‘Incomplete’ Itinerary
Rahul Gandhi is slated to arrive at Lakhanpur, after completing the Punjab leg of the Yatra, on January 19, 4PM. Ghulam Ahmad Mir, former JKPCC president and coordinator for Yatra in J&K told The Dispatch.
The entire state unit of Congress, along with senior leaders including National General Secretary K C Venugopal, Digvijay Singh, Jairam Ramesh, AICC in-charge for Jammu and Kashmir affairs Rajni Patil, Bharatsinh Madhavsinh Solanki, and observers Jeetu Patwari, Kamleshwar Patel and Chetan Chauhan will welcome Gandhi at the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir, Mir said.
Gandhi is expected to pay his tributes to the grand statue of Maharaja Gulab Singh at Lakhanpur, which is also where the flag handover ceremony will take place between 5.45 pm and 6.15 pm. The yatra will halt for the night at Congress’ make-shift tent being put up near the RTO office in Lakhanpur.
Gandhi will start his march from Hatli Morh on January 20 at 7 in the morning and will walk till Chadwal, covering 23 kilometers on foot, before retiring for the night near Chadwal police station. The next day will be a rest day and on January 22, the Yatra will commence from Hiranagar in Kathua and will culminate near Duggar Haveli in Nandini, Samba after covering 21 kilometers. The location for night halt will be Nanakchack Baderi.
On January 23, the foot march will start from Vijaypur and will cover 22 kilometers before halting at Satwari Chowk in Jammu district. Gandhi is scheduled to address a Jan Sabha at Satwari Chowk before proceeding to Sidhra for the night halt.
Mir did not deny the possibility of Gandhi visiting a temple in Jammu to pay his obeisance ‘either in early morning or in the evening ‘.
The next day, he will start the march from Sitlee to Old Nagrota in the morning leg, before moving in a vehicle to Army Gate Udhampur from where he will walk till Domel Chowk before calling it a night at Kouwbagh Ground in Ramban.
On January 25, the Yatra would resume from Chanderkot via Karol Maitra for a 5 Kilometers stretch in the first half of the day, while the afternoon leg would see the march passing through Banihal, followed by a public rally at Truck yard and a night halt at Banihal-Amarnath shrine ground.
On Republic Day, Rahul Gandhi will hoist the tricolor at Banihal, as per the schedule prepared by the Congress; however, the Kashmir leg of the Yatra is still not finalised, mainly due to the security concerns.
The Security Concerns
The Dispatch has learnt that the security agencies have advised Gandhi to avoid the foot march from Banihal onwards.
“A comprehensive security review is still going on over Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kashmir. While there is no stopping Gandhi from visiting Kashmir and hoisting the tricolor on January 30, it has been advised that he travels to and within the Valley in his vehicle with proper security arrangements,” a senior official told The Dispatch.
These inputs have come after a meeting was held by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has also advised Gandhi to include ‘only known people in his inner circle’.
Jammu and Kashmir Police and CRPF will provide security for the Congress MP during the Yatra. Gandhi has been given Z Plus security with Advance Security Liaison (ASL) and is guarded by as many as 58 commandos.
Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbag Singh said that all possible security arrangements will be made for the Yatra. “Guidelines for the yatra will depend upon the type of road they will be travelling and the traffic,” said the DGP.
The Congress, however, says that it has been granted the permission for a mega rally to mark the culmination of the Yatra at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium on January 30.
“We have received permission from the Jammu and Kashmir administration for the January 30 rally at Sher-e-Kashmir in Srinagar. The yatra’s Jammu and Kashmir leg will be the most successful with massive participation of people,” Rajni Patil told reporters here Tuesday afternoon. She added that leaders of 23 political parties from across the country and people from abroad were expected to take part in the rally.
Patil said that the Congress was also planning a mega rally in Jammu on January 23.
“We are planning a rally in the city and have applied for permission from the administration. We are hopeful of getting it as well,” the Congress leader said, adding that a delegation met the Additional Director-General of Police on Tuesday and discussed in detail the yatra’s security aspects.
The grand-old party is really upbeat about the Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir, with the top leadership expected to remain present during this stretch, including Congress Working Committee (CWC) members, MPs, MLAs and chief ministers.
The Dispatch has learnt that almost 200 rooms have been booked by the Congress in Srinagar.
“The yatra had generated tremendous response from the first day. But I am sure that the Jammu and Kashmir leg will be the best part of the five-month-long march,” Patil said.
Will Farooq Walk The Talk?
There is a round of speculation on the participation of National Conference President Farooq Abdullah in the Yatra. The former chief minister had joined the Yatra on January 3, strangely in Lucknow of Uttar Pradesh, even as he announced on more than one occasion that he will join Gandhi in his foot march in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, the sources tell The Dispatch that the senior Abdullah might not join the Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir.
“One needs to understand why Farooq walked with Gandhi in Lucknow, when walking in Jammu and Kashmir would have mattered the most. The symbolic extension of support to the Yatra has already been made with his January 3 attendance. It is unlikely that Farooq will join Rahul in Jammu and Kashmir,” they said.
The Jammu and Kashmir congress, however, disagrees.
“Farooq Saheb will join the Yatra on day 1 itself. He, along with other leaders, will be present at Lakhanpur on January 19,” Ravinder Sharma, spokesperson, Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee told The Dispatch.
Omar, Mehbooba, Raut & Lal
Sharma said that not only Farooq, but many other leaders from different parties will participate in the Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Mehbooba Mufti, her mother and her daughter will join the Yatra and so will Omar Abdullah. However, where they will join the march is still to be decided,” said Sharma.
Patil in her Tuesday presser also said that Farooq will be present at Lakhanpur along with Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, adding that Dogra Swabhiman Sangthan chief Lal Singh has also expressed his desire to welcome the yatra.
“National Conference Vice-President Omar Abdullah will join the yatra after it crosses the Banihal tunnel into Kashmir, while People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti has informed that she and her mother and daughter would also join, besides M Y Tarigami,” she said, and added that anyone who believed in Gandhi’s ideology of uniting the country and the philosophy of the Congress were welcome to be part of the yatra.
Shiv Sena’s J&K president Manish Sahni told The Dispatch that the UT unit of the party will accompany Raut to Lakhanpur.
“More than 100 leaders and workers of J&K Shiv Sena will be welcoming Rahul Gandhi at Lakhanpur on January 19 and upon his arrival in Jammu, we will again participate in the Yatra,” Sahni informed.
While all seems good so far, there is an internal conflict brewing within Congress on Lal Singh joining the Yatra.
Singh earlier this week said that he, along with his party workers, will join the Bharat Jodo Yatra Lakhanpur. “If someone is uniting the Bharat, then there is no harm in supporting him. We need to unite anyway for our rights. We have got invitation to join yatra and also our conscience forces us to join the yatra to fight against the Government to get justice for common man,” said Lal, who along with his colleague Chander Prakash Ganga were forced to resigned from their respective cabinet ministries after their controversial remarks in Kathua minor rape-and-murder case, days before BJP pulled out of the coalition government with PDP in June 2018.
This, however, has not gone very well within the Congress party.
“There is no need for support from a person who has the background of creating division, polarising the state in 2018,” Deepika Rajawat, Congress spokesperson told The Dispatch.
Deepika, a lawyer by profession, had represented the victim’s family during the trial of the case.
Deepika Rajawat resigns from Congress against Lal’s participation in Bharat Jodo Yatra
Ghulam Ahmad Mir said that Singh joining the Yatra shouldn’t be seen from an individual perspective.
“As of now there has been no official invitation sent to any political party or leaders. Singh has several good friends in the Congress and it might be possible that someone might have invited him unofficially to the Yatra,” he said,
The Dispatch tried to reach out telephonically to Singh for his comments, but the former minister was not available.
Lal, however, has put a number of hoardings along the national highway, almost as tall as Congress’, welcoming Rahul Gandhi.
Interestingly, Jammu and Kashmir will be the first state to be covered in the Yatra where the expenses of the entire exercise are being largely borne by the All India Congress Committee, as the state unit expressed its inability to fund the 12-day-long march.
The Dispatch has learnt that Rs 15 Crore has been provisioned for the Jammu and Kashmir leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra and almost 97% of the cost will be borne by the AICC.
“The Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee is facing a crunch of funds and the same was expressed to the party high command. The AICC is bearing the cost of the Yatra including media publicity, logistics, food, and transport, among other things which has been pegged at around Rs 15 Crore,” sources informed The Dispatch.
The Dispatch learnt that a meeting held earlier this week discussed the contribution from the Jammu and Kashmir unit, and it was decided that the local leaders would contribute Rs 50 Lakhs.
“There was silence for 5 seconds when the leaders were asked how much would they want to contribute, before a female office-bearer stood up and said that she would contribute Rs 1 lakh,” said a source privy to the development.
Ideas & Interactions
The Yatra aims to collect on-ground feedback from different sections of the society and the Congress has put up a dedicated ‘interactions with intellectuals’ cell for the purpose.
“During the Yatra, Gandhi is slated to meet at least 25 delegations which will include NGOs, youth aspirants, scholars, lawyers, SC-ST-OBC representatives, transport representatives among others,” said Vikas Badhoria, NSUI, Vice-President and member of this cell.
“A 40-member delegation from Ladakh will also brief Gandhi about their problems,” he added.
Rajni Patil said that Gandhi is likely to address people at three locations—in Lakhanpur, Jammu and Srinagar, on January 19, 23 and 30, respectively.
“Gandhi is also likely to address two press conferences — one each in Jammu and Srinagar,.” She added.
More Leaders Joining Congress
In the run-up to the Yatra entering Jammu and Kashmir, a number of politicians have joined Congress and it is expected that many more leaders would join the grand old party over the next two weeks.
On December 22, Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party (DAP) expelled three of its senior members including Tara Chand, Dr Manohar Lal and Balwan Singh. Tara, Balwan and 15 others rejoined the Congress party in New Delhi on January 6. On Tuesday, around 60 members of DAP, many of them its founding members, returned to the Congress fold including two-time former MLC Nizam-ud-Din Khatana and Gulzar Khatana, former vice-chairman of the Gujjar and Bakerwal Advisory Board.
Ravinder Sharma tells The Dispatch that there is every possibility that more leaders would join the party during the Yatra. His colleagues at the national level are far more confident.
Rajni Patil said that more people from the DAP will join the Congress in Srinagar ‘very soon’ while Jairam Ramesh has told the media to expect more such news from Jammu and Kashmir in the coming days.
The march, which started from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7, will conclude with Gandhi has so far covered Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.