Bharat Jodo Yatra | Rahul Gandhi cites security breach in Kashmir, takes bullet-proof car

Mr. Gandhi alleges that police arrangements to manage the crowd “collapsed completely”, but J&K police say yatra organisers failed to inform them about the large crowd joining in from Banihal

January 27, 2023 03:02 pm | Updated January 28, 2023 02:13 am IST - SRINAGAR

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah during the Bharat Jodo Yatry at Banihal in Jammu and Kashmir on January 27, 2023

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah during the Bharat Jodo Yatry at Banihal in Jammu and Kashmir on January 27, 2023 | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

As the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered the Kashmir Valley on Friday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that his security had been compromised, forcing him to travel by bullet-proof car to the next scheduled stop instead of walking 16 km along the highway in south Kashmir’s Qazigund, as originally planned. The J&K police, however, refuted his allegations of failed security.

“Police arrangements completely collapsed and policemen who were supposed to manage the crowd and hold the rope were nowhere to be seen. My security people were very uncomfortable with me walking further on the yatra so I had to cancel my yatra [for the day]. I think it’s important that the police manage the crowd so that we can do the yatra,” Mr. Gandhi told journalists.

The MP and former Congress president was scheduled to walk at least 16 km on the highway in south Kashmir before reaching the next stop at Khanabal in Anantnag. After the Congress decided to call off Mr. Gandhi’s on-foot yatra for the day, a senior police officer met him. Later, he and Omar Abdullah, the former J&K chief minister who joined the yatra at Qazigund, were shifted to a bullet-proof car.

‘Outer cordon vanished’

“I’m witness to this. The outer ring of the cordon which was maintained by J&K police simply vanished within minutes of Rahul Gandhi starting to walk. We had just crossed into Kashmir from Jammu and were looking forward to the 11 km walk, but unfortunately it had to be cancelled,” said Mr. Abdullah, vice president of the National Conference.

Earlier in the day, the Gandhi scion, wearing his yatra’s signature white T-shirt, had resumed the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) in sub-zero temperatures at Banihal, where hundreds of Congress supporters and locals were seen dancing and playing drums. He then crossed the Navyug Tunnel to reach the first town of the Kashmir valley, Qazigund in Anantnag, which has seen heightened militancy for many years now.

Mr. Gandhi’s allegations regarding the security arrangements came in the backdrop of the statements made by J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and Director General of Police Dilbag Singh that all security arrangements were in place for the yatra in the Union Territory.

“Security has been mishandled by concerned agencies. For the last 15 minutes, there have been no security officers here. This is a serious lapse. They [police] have to give an explanation for this,” Congress leader K.C. Venugopal said.

No security lapse: police

The J&K police refuted the allegations of a security breach. ““Only authorised persons as identified by organisers and frisked crowd were allowed inside towards the route of the yatra. Organisers and managers of BJY did not intimate about the large gathering from Banihal joining the yatra, which thronged near the starting point,” the J&K police said.

The police said that full security arrangements were in place, including 15 companies of Central Armed Police Forces and 10 companies of J&K police, comprising road opening parties and quick response teams, route domination, and lateral deployment. Security forces were deployed for high-ridge and other deployments.

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“The police were not consulted before taking any decision on discontinuation of the [on-foot] yatra after conducting a 1-km yatra by organizers. Rest of the yatra continued peacefully. There was no security lapse at all. We will provide foolproof security,” the police spokesman said.

Mr. Gandhi is scheduled to walk from the Sangam area of south Kashmir towards Srinagar on January 28. He is likely to be joined by former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday. The Bharat Jodo Yatra’s final function will be held on January 30 at the Sher-i-Kashmir park in Srinagar where leaders from around 17 opposition parties are set to join Mr. Gandhi.

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