Row Breaks Out As Rahul Gandhi Makes Entry Into Kashmir

KO Photo Abid Bhat

Congress Calls Off Walk Alleging Security Lapse, Police Says Full Security Arrangements Were In Place

Khanabal- A major controversy erupted on Friday after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged security lapse and mismanagement of crowds while he was leading Bharat Jodo Yatra into Kashmir Valley, a charge strongly contested by the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

Gandhi said he had to cancel his walk for the day because police arrangements by the Jammu and Kashmir administration “unfortunately completely collapsed”.

Gandhi, who began his yatra from Banihal in Jammu region, crossed the Jawahar tunnel into the Valley in Qazigund in a bulletproof vehicle but could walk for barely 500 metres after that. He was asked by his security team to stop given the absence of police personnel to manage the large crowd that had gathered to receive him.

“Police personnel who were supposed to manage the crowd were nowhere to be seen,” the former Congress president told reporters here in a brief statement.

He was supposed to walk 11 km to Vessu before halting for the night at the Khanabal dak bungalow in Anantnag district.
“It’s the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s responsibility to provide security… I hope security will now be ensured for remaining days of the yatra. I don’t know why it happened but tomorrow and day after tomorrow it should not happen,” Gandhi said in the unscheduled meeting with reporters.

However, he did not take any questions, saying that interaction would be reserved for Sunday.

“I had to call off my walk because I can’t go against my security people,” the Congress leader, who started his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kanyakumari in September and ends it in Srinagar on January 30, said.

Gandhi, after reaching Qazigund, started to walk towards Vessu in South Kashmir as per the plan but the Congress workers suddenly found that the outer cordon, which was to be managed by Jammu and Kashmir police, had disappeared, Congress leaders alleged.

Terming the incident a “big security lapse”, his party colleague Jairam Ramesh said Gandhi’s security team is holding discussions with the Jammu and Kashmir administration to ensure that everything goes off smoothly for the next few days.

“Politics has its place but by playing with Rahul Gandhi’s security in Jammu and Kashmir, the government has stooped to its lowest level,” the Congress general secretary added in a tweet in Hindi.

India, he said, has already lost Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and any government or administration should desist from playing politics on such issues.

Several party leaders echoed his concern, accusing the government of withdrawing security personnel around Gandhi and demanding action against those responsible for the alleged breach.

“The sudden withdrawal of security personnel from the D-area has caused a serious security breach at the Bharat Jodo Yatra at Banihal, Kashmir. Who ordered this?,” Asked AICC general secretary KC Venugopal. “The authorities responsible must answer for this lapse and take appropriate steps to prevent such incidents in future,” he said on Twitter.
Jammu and Kashmir’s AICC in-charge Rajni Patil said “the security lapses indicate unfair and unprepared attitude of the UT administration”.

“Due to security reasons, we had to stop the yatra temporarily as there was crowd mismanagement along the yatra route approved by the security apparatus,” a senior Congress leader said.

Gandhi’s security insisted that he stop the walk immediately and he drove instead to the guesthouse in Khanabal.
The morning started early with National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah joining Gandhi for the walk. Both leaders were dressed in similar white T-shirts in the 7 degrees Celsius chill.

Gandhi’s white T-shirt look, even in north India’s severe winter days, has been the subject of much debate and discussion.

They had walked for about three kilometres in the morning and drove through the 2.85 km Jawahar tunnel. After crossing the tunnel, party leaders accompanying Gandhi found there were no policeman to provide security at the scheduled halt.

Gandhi’s security team did not allow him to step out of the car.
The Congress leader will resume his journey on Saturday from Awantipora, 33 km from Srinagar. (with PTI inputs)

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