Bharat Jodo Yatra: Rahul Gandhi pays tribute to Pulwama martyrs
The Bharat Jodo Yatra, accompanied by thousands of Kashmiris, on Saturday halted to pay homage at the site of the February 2019 Pulwama massacre that had overshadowed the last general election.
Rahul Gandhi’s tribute to the 40 martyred CRPF men comes days after party veteran Digvijaya Singh accused the Narendra Modi government of failing to explain the suicide attack or provide proof of its “surgical strikes” against Pakistan. Rahul had described Singh’s comments, which had given the BJP an opportunity to question the Congress’s patriotism, as “ridiculous”.
Rahul arrived at the spot amid heavy security cover, after the police’s disappearing act and a surge of people near him had forced him to cut short his walk on Friday. On Saturday, too, a large crowd jostled to get close to him through the day’s Yatra from Awantipora to the doorstep of Srinagar.
The presence of a large Kashmiri crowd when Rahul paid his respects to the slain jawans in Lethpora was not a statement on militancy and separatism, support for which remains deeply entrenched. What it appeared to reflect was the eagerness among local people to rally behind Rahul for the larger goal of ridding the country of hate.
Priyanka, who had arrived in Srinagar from Delhi to join the Yatra, drove to Lethpora and joined her brother.
The Congress tweeted photos of Rahul and said: “Our tribute to the soil which has in it the blood of the brave martyrs of Pulwama attack. Today during #BharatJodoYatra, @RahulGandhi ji paid homage to the brave soldiers who were martyred in Pulwama attack.”
The massive enthusiasm for the rally seen in the Valley during the last two days has prompted many here to hit out at those elsewhere in the country who habitually demonise the Kashmiri people.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah said the “talking heads are largely silent & the channels don’t really want to talk about it but you don’t have to be visually challenged to see the #BharatJodaYatra has got a very good response from Kashmiris”.
“The most glaring silence has been from those ‘Kashmir experts’ who waste no opportunity to paint Kashmiris as anti-national, communal, intolerant. The public participation flies in the face of this propaganda & that explains the total radio silence,” he tweeted.
A Kashmiri doctor, Tariq Tramboo, posted a picture of Rahul surrounded by cheering Kashmiris on Friday and said it was a “live example for people from rest of India, who have been fed that Kashmir’s are dangerous or terrorists”.
He tweeted: “Imagine this kind of situation in any other state of India where the head of the opposition moves with almost zero security #Kashmir -:).”
Three generations of the Muftis — Mehbooba Mufti, her mother Gulshan and her daughter Iltija Mufti — joined the Yatra on Saturday from Awantipora.
“Rahul Gandhi’s yatra comes like a breath of fresh air in Kashmir. It is the first time since 2019 that Kashmiris have come out of their homes in such massive numbers. Was a great experience to walk with him,” Mehbooba tweeted.
Her party tweeted a quote from 12th-century historian Kalhana, the author of Rajatarangini, that went: “The inhabitants of this land can be conquered only by spiritual force and never by the brute force of arms, hence they have the fear of the other world only.”
The Yatra, which started in Kanyakumari on September 7, will enter Srinagar city on Sunday and conclude on January 30 with a rally. Several senior Opposition leaders are expected at the event.
Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said the Yatra was not a coalition-building exercise. He added that the process of political discussions and negotiations would begin soon after the Yatra ended.
He said the Congress would be the pivot of any Opposition alliance for elections.
Forty CRPF men had been killed and 8 injured in the suicide attack in Pulwama on February 14, 2019. It led to titfor-tat aerial strikes by India and Pakistan on each other’s territories, bringing them to the brink of war.
The Modi government’s hard line is believed to have benefited the BJP in the AprilMay parliamentary elections that year.
The site of the attack has become a temple of sorts for the “nationalists” but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not visited it so far. In 2021, Union home minister Amit Shah visited Lethpora and spent a night at a nearby CRPF camp.