Called off walk as police arrangements completely collapsed: Rahul in Kashmir
Police says, there was no security lapse at Bharat Jodo Yatra
Khanabal: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday cancelled his walk as part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra for the day after it entered Kashmir Valley, with the party alleging a security lapse and claiming the police arrangements by the Union territory administration “completely collapsed”.
However, refuting the claim, the police said that there was no security lapse.
Gandhi, who began his Yatra from Banihal in Jammu region, crossed the Jawahar Tunnel into the Valley in Qazigund in a bulletproof vehicle. While the Yatra got a rousing reception on this side of the tunnel, the security forces found it difficult to control and manage the crowd of hundreds of party supporters.
The Congress also put out a video purportedly showing police personnel withdrawing from the site.
After crossing the Jawahar Tunnel, Gandhi, along with former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah who joined him at Banihal earlier in the day, began to walk and was given a rousing reception by the locals gathered there. A group of locals also performed ‘Bandpather’, a folk dance, as the yatra began its Kashmir leg.
Braving the winter chill, both leaders sported white T-shirts with Gandhi wearing woolen headgear and Abdullah a skull cap.
Gandhi’s white T-shirt look, even in north India’s severe winter days, has been the subject of much debate and discussion. Gandhi wore a skull cap briefly this morning.
The marchers were scheduled to walk a nine-km distance to Vessu in Anantnag district of south Kashmir, where a halt was scheduled. Then the Yatra was to travel to the Khanabal area here where it would have stayed for the night.
However, Gandhi could walk for barely 500 metres after crossing the tunnel amidst jostling among the huge crowd to get a glimpse of the Gandhi family scion. People had assembled in large numbers despite the area being covered by heavy snow.
Both Gandhi and Abdullah, at one point in time, climbed atop a vehicle, staying there for a few minutes while waving to the excited huge crowd.
However, Gandhi 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.
The Yatra was halted for about 20 minutes and Congress leaders including AICC general secretary organisation K C Venugopal told reporters that it was a “very serious security lapse”.
“Senior security officers have to come here and answer this. Why are they doing this?” Venugopal told reporters.
However, after the brief halt, Gandhi boarded his vehicle and he was driven to Khanabal.
“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 said quite a large crowd had gathered and we were looking forward to walking on the Bharat Jodo Yatra. “But, unfortunately, the police arrangement completely collapsed,” Gandhi said.
The Congress leader said his security team was very uncomfortable with him walking any further. “So, I had to cancel my walk. The other yatris, of course, did the walk,” he said.
The former Congress president said “it is important that the police manage the crowd so that we can continue with the Yatra.
“It is very difficult for me to go against what my security people are recommending,” the Congress leader, who started his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kanyakumari in September, said.
Asserting that it was the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s responsibility to provide security, Gandhi expressed hope that the security will now be ensured for the remaining days of the Yatra.
“I don’t know why it happened, but tomorrow and day after tomorrow, it should not happen,” he said in the unscheduled presser in which he did not take any questions.
Abdullah tweeted, “I’m witness to this. The outer ring of the cordon which was maintained by the Jammu and Kashmir police simply vanished within minutes of Rahul Gandhi 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 said.
Meanwhile, police said that there was no security lapse at the Bharat Jodo Yatra, stressing that the organisers had not informed the police about a large crowd joining the march from Banihal.
“The Jammu and Kashmir police was not consulted before the Bharat Jodo Yatra was discontinued. We will provide foolproof security (to the Yatra),” Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Vijay Kumar, who is in charge of security in Kashmir Valley, said in a statement.
“Only authorised persons as identified by organisers and frisked crowd were allowed inside towards the route of the Yatra. Organisers and managers of the BJY did not intimate about the large gathering from Banihal joining the Yatra,” Kumar said.
Crowds, he said, were thronging Qazigund.
“Full security arrangements were in place… JK Police was not consulted before taking any decision on discontinuation of the Yatra,” he added.
Police said that full security arrangements were in place including 15 Coys of CAPFs and 10 Coys of JKP, consisting of ROPs and QRTs, route domination, lateral deployment and SFs were deployed for high-ridge and other deployments.
“The rest of the Yatra continued peacefully. There was no security lapse at all,” Kumar said in the statement.