Samba: The Bharat Jodo Yatra of the Congress reached Samba in Jammu and Kashmir Sunday afternoon, after covering 21 kilometres in more than six hours from adjoining Kathua amid heightened security in the wake of twin blasts in Jammu.
The Congress said the foot march, being led by party leader Rahul Gandhi, will proceed according to its schedule and reach Jammu Monday afternoon.
“This was the 128th day of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. It started from Hiranagar (in Kathua) at 7 am and reached its destination at Chak Nanak (Samba district) at around 1.15 pm,” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh told reporters at the camp site.
He said the tremendous response the yatra has received from people has unnerved the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is allegedly doing everything possible to harm Gandhi’s image and using diversionary tactics to mislead the public from the real issues they are facing today.
“The response of the people to the yatra in the BJP-ruled states was unprecedented and so has been the case since it arrived in Jammu and Kashmir. We saw people being pushed back at several places, but they did not pay any heed and came out in large numbers to join Gandhi,” Ramesh said.
After a day’s break, the march started Sunday from Hiranagar, near the International Border along the Jammu-Pathankot highway, which was virtually sealed by police and other security forces, with all traffic diverted to other routes.
Accompanied by Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Vikar Rasool Wani, working president Raman Bhalla and hundreds of volunteers carrying the tricolour, Gandhi was greeted by people waiting on both sides of the road.
Ramesh said before the yatra started Friday, Congress leaders, including former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, paid tributes to party stalwart Girdhari Lal Dogra, a staunch Nehruvian who was the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir for more than 20 years and a two-term member of Parliament.
Officials said adequate security arrangements have been put in place for Gandhi, with police, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other security agencies keeping a tight vigil to ensure a peaceful march.
Security has been further beefed up across Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the twin bomb blasts at Narwal, on the outskirts of Jammu city, Saturday that left nine people injured.
Police suspect that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were used to carry out the twin explosions in a sports utility vehicle (SUV) parked in front of a repair shop and in another vehicle at a nearby junkyard in Narwal’s Transport Nagar area.
The terror attack comes at a time when the security agencies in the region are on high alert in view of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the upcoming Republic Day celebrations.
“This yatra is apolitical. Gandhi’s message to people is to stand united against divisive politics and maintain love, brotherhood and communal harmony. People understand the seriousness of the message,” Ramesh said.
Referring to a newspaper article written by Union minister Jitendra Singh, who represents the Udhampur parliamentary constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, against the yatra that is about to enter its fag end, the Congress leader said it shows his frustration.
“They (BJP leaders) are trying to defame the yatra and our leader (Gandhi), but the Congress has responded to him through the same newspaper,” Ramesh said, adding that the opposition party will not remain silent against the “one-man rule” in the country.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir Rajani Patil said a 13-member delegation of the High Court Bar Association, led by MK Bhardwaj, had a fruitful interaction with Gandhi for more than 25 minutes during the march.
The delegation members discussed their issues with the former Congress chief, while several other delegations, including those of Kashmiri Pandits, are scheduled to meet him on Monday during the march from Samba to Jammu.
Asked about the non-participation of senior party leader Karan Singh, the son of Jammu and Kashmir’s last Dogra ruler Hari Singh, in the yatra, Patil said she herself talked to him on the phone. Singh conveyed his best wishes to Gandhi but said his health did not allow him to travel from Delhi and join the march.
Wani lashed out at the BJP for downgrading the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories and delaying the Assembly polls.
During the march, Gandhi was seen tying the shoe laces of a girl, aged about 10-11 years, who walked alongside the Congress leader.
Congress workers were seen dancing to the beats of drums at several places where Gandhi was given a warm welcome.
“It looks like the atmosphere is changing and we are with him (Gandhi),” Manish Kumar, a resident of Diyani Morh, said.
He said the problems of the public have increased manifold over the last few years and the land beneath the BJP is fast slipping away.
“The biggest issue being faced by people is their land, which is being taken away by the government on the pretext of an anti-encroachment drive. The land has been lying with these families for more than half a century,” Kumar said.
Another Congress supporter was seen waiting with a portrait of B R Ambedkar. He said he is going to give it to Gandhi as a gift because he is the only one who can safeguard the Constitution, which is under threat.