Bharat Jodo Yatra ends in J&K with unity pitch
But the final event was marred by a low turnout from the Opposition, with only nine of the 23 “like-minded” parties invited by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge participating in the rally
Srinagar One hundred and thirty-five days, 14 states and over 3,800km after it began on a sweltering day at India’s southern tip of Kanyakumari, the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra culminated on a snowy afternoon at the Sher-E-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar on Monday, with Rahul Gandhi lashing out at the BJP and RSS one more time for allegedly spreading hatred in India and pitching his message as one of national unity.
Dressed in a Kashmiri pheran over the white t-shirt he has donned for most of the yatra, Gandhi pointed to the sacrifices his family has made — the assassinations of his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi — and blamed the top BJP leaders for not understanding the suffering of people.
But the final event was marred by a low turnout from the Opposition, with only nine of the 23 “like-minded” parties invited by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge participating in the rally — a fact that the BJP was quick to point out as it called the event a “damp squib”.
When Rahul Gandhi spoke at the Sher-E-Kashmir stadium, amid cheers from his supporters and party colleagues — many of whom walked the entire distance with him — he used the word “hatred” repeatedly, emphasising a theme that has been a constant through the course of the yatra by preaching togetherness and compassion as an antidote to BJP’s allegedly divisive narrative.
“I know what hatred is. I have seen it. Those who haven’t seen or faced hatred, they get scared,” Gandhi said, adding that no leader from the BJP would have attempted a march such as this because they are “afraid”.
“Security officials told me that you can walk freely in entire India including Jammu but in Kashmir, you must take a car. Venugopal (Congress general secretary KC Venugopal) told me the same thing. Few days ago, the local administration said ‘if you walk a grenade will be hurled at you’,” the Congress leader said, adding that the people of J&K instead “opened their hearts” for him.
“I decided I will walk amid the people. I thought I should give my haters an opportunity to change the colour of my shirt to red. [Mahatma] Gandhi taught me that if you have to live, live without fear. People of J&K didn’t throw grenade. They treated me as their own,” he said amid applause.
Over close to five months, according to the Bharat Jodo Yatra website, the march led by Gandhi has crossed 75 districts and 14 states, beginning from Tamil Nadu on September 7 and ending on Monday in Srinagar.
Rejecting an umbrella offered to him for protection from the snowfall, Gandhi said he remembered the time he received phone calls that informed him of the deaths of former PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. “Those who spread hatred like Modi, Amit Shah, Ajit Doval or the RSS cannot understand pain. But the CRPF, the army and the people of Jammu & Kashmir will understand. I can understand what happens to the children of army jawans and the families of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Gandhi said that the aim of the yatra was that phone calls, like the ones he received in the wake of these deaths, must end. “That no children, no mother should get such phone calls,” he added. “I did not do this for the Congress party. I did it for the people of India. Our aim is to stand united against the ideology that is trying to break India.”
However, even as the Congress had hoped that the final day of the yatra in Srinagar would be an opportunity for a united Opposition to display its strength ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the list of absentees included some of the most trusted Congress allies — the Rashtriya Janata Dal(RJD) and the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP).
Also conspicuous by their absence were the Trinamool Congress, the Shiv Sena, the Samajwadi Party, and the Janata Dal (United), among others.
Top NCP leaders, including the party’s Baramati MP Supriya Sule, said they were unaware of why the party was not represented at the event in Srinagar.
RJD’s Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson Manoj Jha said that party leader Tejashwi Prasad had written to leader Rahul Gandhi expressing his inability to attend the concluding event in Srinagar, while expressing his commitment to the spirit of the foot march.
“Tejashwi has conveyed to Rahul Gandhi that the RJD is with him,” Jha said.
The parties that attended were the DMK, the CPI, and the RSP. Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, both former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir, representing the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party respectively, were also part of the rally.
Mufti said that Rahul Gandhi had come home, referring to his Kashmiri Pandit roots, and that the country now sees in him a “ray of hope”.
“I hope what the ideology of Godse snatched from Jammu & Kashmir, and from this nation, you will restore. Gandhiji had said he can see a ray of hope in Jammu & Kashmir. Today, the nation can see a ray of hope in Rahul Gandhi,” she said.
Abdullah said that the yatra was able to highlight that there are Indians who continue to believe in brotherhood, and urged Gandhi to undertake a similar march from the east to the west of India. “It is my request that after this, embark on a Bharat Jodo Yatra from the east to the west. I have had some time to walk on this yatra with you, and if you do an east to west yatra, it will be my attempt to walk some of that distance with you too,” Abdullah, who walked with Gandhi when the yatra entered the Kashmir valley, said.
Congress president Kharge, who hoisted the national flag at the Congress office at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk with Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra by his side on Monday morning, said that the party would work to restore statehood to Jammu & Kashmir, revoked after the nullification of article 370 in August 2019.
“The RSS-BJP wants to keep the poor as poor, and rich richer. 10 percent of people have looted 72 percent of the assets of this country. We must fight against this. We call Kashmir jannat, but we promise to return the assembly and statehood to Jammu & Kashmir,” Kharge said.
Hitting back, the BJP said that the yatra was politically motivated, and comprising of “hatemongers”. It took a swipe at the Congress by saying that the party which “divided” the nation and society is now talking of unifying them.
“It was a politically motivated Yatra, during the Yatra, Congress leaders did beef party on roads of Kerala, Pastor George Ponniah termed land of India as impure. With these hatemongers what campaign of love of Rahul Gandhi is running,” BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said at a press conference following the culmination of the foot march in Srinagar.
On several opposition parties skipping the mega event, Trivedi said, “They (Congress) tried but all big opposition leaders ditched the yatra.”
Experts said the yatra has ushered in a new dimension to politics, but stressed that more needs to be done by the Opposition to take on the BJP.
“Our political parties have stopped listening to the people. The Congress has been able to start a new kind of politics through Bharat Jodo. The Congress has to innovate as it can’t follow BJP or the Left. But Rahul Gandhi can’t do it alone. As far as 2024 is concerned, the Congress has to come up with new ideas, new plans, to counter the BJP, and the Yatra alone will not be enough to help the Congress electorally,” said political analyst Shiv Vishwanathan.