Jammu and Kashmir: Security tight, Bharat Jodo Yatra marches on
More than half the crowd around Rahul Gandhi at his Bharat Jodo Yatra turned out to be security personnel. Hundreds of them were holding a long rope, cordoning the Congress leader off from fellow Yatra participants. Very few people, mostly known faces, were being allowed to get close to him.
The heavy security reflected the perils of holding a 10- day walkathon in Jammu and Kashmir, more so after Saturday’s twin blasts in Jammu city that left nine people injured.
The blasts, however, failed to dampen the spirits of Rahul’s party or followers, who expressed concern about his security but marched on undeterred to camp close to Jammu city on Sunday evening.
The Yatra had resumed after a day’s break, setting off from Hiranagar Morh in Kathua district around 8am. By noon, it had covered 21km to reach Vijaypur in Samba, 27km from the Jammu city centre. The walkathon will enter the city on Monday.
The security personnel’s nervousness showed on their faces when the marchers broke past the rope cordon at one place. It took the forces no less than 30 minutes to restore the cordon.
A large crowd that included women and children awaited the marchers in a bustling Samba town. Among them were dozens of Gujjars in white turbans who greeted the Yatris with open arms. Both Kathua and Samba are BJP bastions, where the party won the last few elections.
The marchers said the blasts were a worry but they were not scared.
“We began the Yatra early in the morning, with Rahulji leading from the front. We shall keep marching until we reach Srinagar,” lawyer Bikram Pratab Singh, who seemed about 30 and had walked barefoot for 1,500km, told this newspaper.
He said he had decided to walk without shoes given the noble purpose of the Yatra --- “to restore the soul of the country”.
“Not once have I been able to meet Rahulji face to face all these weeks, but that is hardly a concern. My concern is to ensure the message of this Yatra reaches the people,” he said.
Rahul lookalike Faisal Choudhary, a graduate from Uttar Pradesh who joined the march in Delhi, said the Yatris were determined to continue despite the blasts.
“We suspected there was some politics involved. Whatever the case, we decided not to stop,” he said.
Many onlookers hugged or shook hands with Choudhary, mistaking him for Rahul, owing to his stark resemblance to the Congress leader.
Babu Ram, a resident of Kot Kaswa village in Kathua, said people were increasingly wary of the government’s policies. “We fear losing our land and jobs to outsiders and are praying for a change (of government),” he said.
Congress leader Ravinder Sharma said the party was deeply worried about the security of “our leader” following Saturday’s blasts.
“We are following the guidelines of the administration and security agencies fully. The blasts have taken place while the Yatra is in the region. It’s worrying,” he said.
“But such incidents cannot deter us. The programme will continue as scheduled and we hope the participation will keep growing.”
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said there would be no compromises on Rahul’s security, which remains the supreme concern. “Whatever their (security establishment’s) advice is, we will follow it,” he said.
Ramesh said the party had tweaked the timings of the Yatra, but not curtailed its length, for the Jammu and Kashmir leg.
“Earlier, too, we used to cover 21 or 22 kilometres a day, but in two phases. Now we do it at a stretch,” he said.
BJP chief Ravinder Raina, who has been closely monitoring the Yatra, raked up the purported banishment of the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, to Maharashtra after the signing of the Instrument of Accession in 1947.
“The Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s family banished him. He should apologise to the Dogras of Jammu,” Raina said.