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Rahul treks to Kedarnath, declares shrine safe for pilgrims

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi with a group of jawans in Kedarnath on Friday.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi with a group of jawans in Kedarnath on Friday.  

In a major shift from his earlier political portrayal, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in his visit to Kedarnath, on Friday, projected an amalgamation of personal faith and the politics of symbolism.

An altitude of 3,969 metres, amidst 4 feet of snow and thousands of pilgrims who were present in Kedarnath with renewed zeal to witness the newly built Kedarnath premises, the portals of the Kedarnath shrine, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, opened for pilgrims on Friday morning at 8:50 am after almost six months of closure.

Mr Gandhi trekked almost 16 kilometres to Kedarnath to “pay respect to the people who died in the 2013 disaster” and to send out the message that Kedarnath was now safe for pilgrims.

“I wanted to pay my respects to the people who died [at Kedarnath] in the 2013 disaster,” Mr. Gandhi said.

“I chose to walk to the Kedarnath because many people lost their lives in the [June 2013] tragedy that struck Kedarnath. I felt that flying by helicopter to the shrine would be an insult to them. They walked to the shrine and so I chose to do the same,” he said.

Mr. Gandhi walked for 12 kilometres from Gaurikund to Linchouli on Thursday and halted there for the night.

While at Linchouli he ate with the locals and pilgrims. He stood in the queue for meals, drank tea while talking to the locals and porters analysing their current sources of earning money. He also asked the Nepali porters about the political situation in Nepal.

On Friday, the day of opening of portals of the Kedarnath shrine, he trekked another 4 kilometres from Linchouli to Kedarnath.

“Many porters work in the Kedar Valley and they are faced with a challenge of earning their livelihood since people think Kedarnath is unsafe and they don’t want to visit the shrine. The earnings of the porters are dependent on earnings from religious tourism. I wanted to trek to Kedarnath for the benefit of the porters and to send out the message that Kedarnath is safe for visit,” he said.

The shrine, which was visited by over four lakh pilgrims prior to the disaster, witnessed a footfall of only 0.43 lakh pilgrims last year.

In Kedarnath too he spoke to the State administration and people of the Uttarakashi-based Nehru Institute of Mountaineering to gather information on the restoration and reconstruction works — already completed and underway — in Kedarnath.

In a major shift from the past portrayal Mr Gandhi spoke about his personal religious practices. “I never ask anything from God while I offer my prayers… However, I felt a strength within me when I offered my prayers in Kedarnath,” he said.

President Pranab Mukherjee was invited to attend the ceremony of opening of the portals of Kedarnath. However, he was unable to attend it and later, on Uttarakhand Chief Minster Harish Rawat’s request, Mr. Gandhi agreed to attend the ceremony.

Answering a question on the possible political mileage gained by Mr..Gandhi’s visit, Mr. Rawat said, “Though many political messages can be drawn from the visit, but it was faith that brought Mr. Gandhi to Kedarnath.”

“Had I spent crores of money even then I would fail to publicise this yatra to the extent that Mr. Gandhi has by trekking to Kedarnath,” Mr. Rawat said.

On Friday, Mr. Gandhi was accompanied by Mr Rawat, Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee president Kishore Upadhyaya and AICC general secretary Ambika Soni who is the party in-charge for Uttarakhand.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 4:15:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rahul-treks-to-kedarnath-declares-shrine-safe-for-pilgrims/article7137542.ece

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