Bharat Jodo Yatra has given an alternative vision of politics to the country: Rahul Gandhi

Rejecting the Centre’s improved security narrative post Article 370, Rahul Gandhi dares Home Minister Amit Shah to undertake a foot march from Jammu to Lal Chowk

January 29, 2023 10:46 pm | Updated January 30, 2023 07:48 am IST - SRINAGAR

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on January 23, 2023.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on January 23, 2023. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

The Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) has given an alternative vision of politics to the country, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Sunday, after unfurling the tricolour at Srinagar’s historic Lal Chowk to mark the end of his 137-day-long foot march across the country, from Kanniyakumari to Kashmir.

Challenging the Narendra Modi-led government’s narrative about an improved security situation after August 5, 2019, when Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special status under Article 370 was diluted, Mr. Gandhi dared Home Minister Amit Shah to do a similar yatra from Jammu to Lal Chowk.

The concluding day of the yatra saw some last minute changes of plans as Mr. Gandhi, accompanied by party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other senior leaders, made an unscheduled march towards the Ghanta Ghar in Lal Chowk from the Pantha Chowk stopover.

Tricolour hoisted at Ghanta Ghar

At the historic clocktower -- which has often been in the news in the past when separatist groups hoisted Pakistani flags there -- Mr. Gandhi unfurled the national flag and sang the national anthem to send a strong message of nationalism.

As per his original plan, Mr. Gandhi was to unfurl the flag at the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) office on Monday, as the J&K administration had denied permission for him to do so at Lal Chowk.

Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said that the party had changed its plans as the administration allowed the flag hoisting on Sunday.

While the administration was said to be guided by considerations of less movement of people and vehicles on a Sunday, the entire area around Lal Chowk was cordoned off, with multi-tier security thrown around the venue. Movement of people and civilian vehicles was stopped until Mr. Gandhi concluded his programme.

‘Looking forward, not at the past’

Calling it a historic moment, Mr. Ramesh remarked that “India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the national flag for the first time at Lal Chowk 75 years ago.”

However, in response to a question posed by The Hindu on the promises made by Pandit Nehru to Kashmirs in 1947 not being honoured, Mr Gandhi told reporters at a press conference that he does not want to go into the past. “I want to look forward, and am full of affection and love for the people of J&K,” the former Congress chief said.

‘Killings and blasts continue’

The Congress leader rejected the Centre’s narrative of improved security and prosperity in J&K. ”All the people I met during my J&K yatra from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh were upset and sad. There are still targeted killings and bomb blasts. Let the BJP organise a similar yatra and [let Union Minister] Amit Shah walk from Jammu to Kashmir,” he said.

Reiterating his position that the Bharat Jodo Yatra had opened “shops of love in a market of hate” (nafrat ke bazaar main mohabbat ki dukaan), he talked about an alternative vision of politics.

“There is the BJP-RSS vision of hate and ego and our vision of brotherhood and showing respect to each other. India now has two paths or ways of living to choose from. One is out to suppress the voices, spread hatred and violence and the other is to join the hearts. I see this yatra as a first step, which will have an impact on the country’s politics,” he said.

‘Statehood must be restored’

Mr. Gandhi walked the tightrope on the question of reading down Article 370 in 2019, and avoided a direct response. However, he underlined the need to restore democratic processes and Statehood to J&K. “People’s land is being taken away from them. All States have an Assembly in place in the country. Let the Assembly make the decisions. Ladakh also needs an appropriate solution,” Mr. Gandhi said.

The Congress leader will address a function at the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar on Monday, where leaders from several Opposition parties are likely to take part, in an apparent bid to set the stage for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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