Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra had to be scrapped in Jammu and Kashmir with the Congress alleging "very serious security lapses" as the march entered the Kashmir Valley.
Rahul Gandhi was to walk 20 km in Kashmir today but had to stop after about a km. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the leader of the National Conference, was with him.
As Rahul Gandhi crossed the Banihal Tunnel on his way to Srinagar, a large, unexpected crowd was waiting for him, said Congress leaders.
“Police personnel supposed to manage the crowd were nowhere to be seen. The police arrangement collapsed after we exited the tunnel. My security got uncomfortable, so we had to cancel. I had to call off my walk because I can’t go against my security people,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters later.
“It is the administration’s responsibility to guarantee crowd control,” the Congress MP added.
Omar Abdullah, who joined the yatra in a white T-shirt like Rahul Gandhi, said a layer of security “simply vanished”.
“I’m witness to this. The outer ring of the cordon which was maintained by J&K police simply vanished within minutes of @RahulGandhi 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,” he tweeted.
I’m witness to this. The outer ring of the cordon which was maintained by J&K police simply vanished within minutes of @RahulGandhi starting to walk. We had just crossed in to Kashmir from Jammu & were looking forward to the 11 km walk but unfortunately it had to be cancelled. https://t.co/H2DByCRYCi
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) January 27, 2023
The Congress blamed a “sudden withdrawal of security personnel” and mismanagement of crowds by the Jammu and Kashmir administration.
Rahul Gandhi was stuck in the middle of a crowd and couldn’t move for about 30 minutes, Congress leaders said. Eventually, he was driven away in a bulletproof vehicle and the party called off the yatra for the day.
“The police drove off after we crossed Banihal Tunnel. Who ordered this? The authorities responsible must answer for this lapse and take steps to prevent such incidents in future,” said Congress leader KC Venugopal. There were no security officers for 15 minutes, he claimed.
“For 15 minutes, there were no security officers with the Bharat Jodo Yatra. This is a very serious lapse. Rahul Gandhi and other yatris cannot walk without security,” Venugopal told reporters.
Congress leader Rajni Patil tweeted that the administration “failed to provide security to the Bharat Jodo Yatra” and that the security lapses indicated “unfair and unprepared attitude of the UT administration”.
Senior police officer Vijay Kumar denied any security lapse. “The organisers did not inform us about a large crowd joining the march from Banihal. The police were not consulted before the Bharat Jodo Yatra was discontinued. We will provide foolproof security,” Kumar said.
The police said as part of security measures for the yatra, they had shut down the Srinagar-Jammu national highway to traffic and the morning train service between Baramulla and Banihal was cancelled.
The Yatra was called off earlier on Wednesday due to poor weather and landslides.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra, which started in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari on September 7, will end on January 30 in Srinagar after covering 3,970 km, 12 states and two Union territories.
Omar Abdullah said he joined the Yatra as he was concerned about the image of the country.
“The Bharat Jodo Yatra is not aimed at improving the image of Rahul Gandhi but for improving the situation in the country,” the National Conference said when he arrived at Banihal, 120 km from Srinagar, to join the march.
“We have not joined this for the image of an individual but for the image of the county,” he said.