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Bharat Jodo Yatra enters J&K, NC leadership, others join

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Govt diverting attention of people and then looting them: Rahul Gandhi

Lakhanpur, Jan 19 (PTI) Entering Jammu and Kashmir on the last leg of his Bharat Jodo Yatra, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the Centre of indulging in “mass pickpocketing” by diverting the attention of people and then looting them.

Addressing a rally here, the former Congress president said he had walked from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and talked to thousands of people.

As dusk fell and temperatures dipped, hundreds of people walked alongside Gandhi. In a customary handover function, Punjab’s Congress unit gave the party flag to a leader from the Jammu and Kashmir wing.

“The BJP and RSS have spread hatred. I earlier thought it ran deep but it does not and is mainly seen on television,” Gandhi said in his first stop in Jammu and Kashmir, about 90 km from Jammu.

He listed hatred, violence, unemployment and price rise as the main issues confronting the country and blamed the media for not highlighting them.

Criticising the media for not focusing on the right issues, he said it uses topics such as Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai and Akshay Kumar to divert the attention of people.

There was one more point about two India’s in making – one for the poor and one for the corporate world, he said.

Injecting a personal note, Gandhi said his ancestors belonged to this land and he felt he was returning home. “I am going back to my roots, I know the suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and come to you with a bowed head,” he said.

Gandhi said he had been walking about seven hours a day, covering 25 km each day, but nobody was tired as some people had predicted. “I later felt we are not feeling tired because people are pushing us forward.”

“If someone falls, he is supported within seconds… nobody is asking anyone what is your religion,” he said.

Gandhi started walking from Kanyakumari in September. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is scheduled to conclude in Srinagar on January 30. The distance yet to be covered is over 360 km.

Earlier welcoming him, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah drew a parallel between the Shankaracharya and Rahul Gandhi. “Many years ago, Shankaracharya had undertaken a Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. And today you are doing it,” the MP said here.

He said that today’s India is not that of Ram’s Bharat or Gandhi’s Hindustan because people are divided on religion. “If we are together, we will be able to overcome the hatred of the present day,” he said.

Abdullah, who made his second appearance in the Yatra, made a passionate wish saying “before I close my eyes, I want to see my secular Hindustan again where everyone is respected.”

Amid chants of “Nafrat Chodo Bharat Jodo” (Leave hatred and unite India), Gandhi led Bharat Jodo Yatra Yatra entered this Jammu and Kashmir via Pathankot-Punjab, marking the final phase of the 3500-km foot March by the Congress leader started from Kanyakumari in September.

Gandhi was welcomed into union territory by senior party leaders including Jairam Ramesh, Ashok Gehlot, Digvijay Singh, Abdullah, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party and former minister Lal Singh, Awami National Conference leader Muzaffar Shah.

Lal Singh was not present at the podium as he came late and was seen standing in the crowd throughout the function. While thanking the leaders who turned up, the Congress did not mention the name of Lal Singh.

Fire crackers were burst as Gandhi accompanied by party workers and supporters crossed the Madhopur bridge into Jammu and Kashmir amid tight security cover.

The venue near the statue of Maharaja Gulab Singh was jam-packed with thousands of people turning up to witness the event.

“After covering 3200 km from Kanyakumari, it is a happy moment for us that the Yatra has reached Jammu and Kashmir,” Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress committee president Vikar Rasool Wani said.

Meanwhile, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and senior party leaders travelled in a bus from his Jammu residence to Kathua to welcome the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra at this entry point of Jammu and Kashmir.

The march entered Lakhanpur via Pathankot – Punjab on Thursday evening, marking the final phase of the Yatra which started from Kanyakumari on September 07.

The Yatra is scheduled to culminate at Srinagar with Gandhi hoisting the national flag at the party headquarters on January 30.

A National Conference leader said party leaders and workers left in several vehicles to join the Yatra.

The 85-year-old Abdullah, a former chief minister, accompanied by senior leaders including several former ministers and legislators, left in a bus from his Bhatindi residence in Jammu for Kathua around 1.30 pm, he said.

The bus reached Kathua, about 90 kms from Jammu, around 4 pm and Abdullah straight away visited the residence of former minister Lal Singh.

“I am happy about his (Lal Singh’s) decision to join the Yatra as unity in diversity is our power… We have to leave hatred behind and take the country forward together,” Abdullah told reporters, downplaying the statement of his son and former chief minister Omar Abdullah.

He said the Yatra is for the benefit of the country and “had I been young, I would have walked along with Rahul Gandhi from the start of the Yatra. I am old and cannot walk nonstop”

He said he believes that the ray of hope seen by Mahatma Gandhi is still alive in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I have joined the Yatra in Delhi, joining it here (Lakhanpur) and will be joining it again and again when it reaches Jammu and in the valley,” he said, adding the people of Jammu and Kashmir are distraught due to the misgovernance of the BJP.

“They (BJP) are saying the situation has become normal but the reality is that terror incidents have gone up. The Home Ministry is responsible for the security situation,” he said.

Asked about the Election Commission not announcing the Assembly polls in J&K, he said the delay in elections tentamounts to an attack on democracy which they want to finish.

“It is unfortunate. The Election Commission should have been an independent body but they are under government pressure. They are also trying to suppress the Supreme Court,” he said, without naming the BJP-led central government.

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