The sun was warm on the last day of Chillai-Kalan when the Nehru-Gandhi-Congress scion Rahul Gandhi reached Srinagar outskirts at Pantha Chowk to conclude unite India march (Bharat Jodo Yatra) which started from South India’s Kanyakumari on 7 September last year.
Amid huge security, he walked from Pantha-chowk to the Sonwar area; most of the locals who live in this belt were out of their houses or either on their windows to see glimpses of Gandhi.
Four employees of a petrol pump and an ATM guard were seen atop the slab of a small ATM structure and seven boys were chanting (Nafrat Chodo. Bharat Jodo) ‘forget hatred, unite India’ while standing on the balcony of the Mausoleum of Kashmir’s famed poet Mehjoor, located along the banks of Jhelum.
From Sonwar, Mr. Rahul used his vehicle to reach Lal chowk, where he hoisted the Tricolor (Indian Flag), the presence of south Indian residents including journalists was more.
During the flag hoisting ceremony, I met an editor of a local newspaper based in Kerala who told me that today’s India has denounced the first Prime Minister (Jawahar Lal Nehru) who laid the foundation of this country and directed a secular vision.
"Indians suffered during Modi’s rule, we are witnessing extremism on higher levels, take for example the row of Hijab- who had thought a headscarf would be banned in schools, a religious right guaranteed under the Indian constitution," he said.
Immediately after hoisting the flag, Mr. Rahul left Lal chowk and held a press conference later in the evening.
"It (Bharat Jodo Yatra) began against the hatred that has engulfed our country for many years now, and I marched across to offer a light where India is tolerant and secular," he told reporters at the start of the Press conference.
Responding to a question on how he looked at the promises made by Jawaharlal Nehru, his great-grandfather, to the people of Kashmir while hoisting the same flag 75 years ago, he said "I don’t want to go into commenting on the historical aspect of it…I want to look forward and I come with an open mind and come here with affection."
Although he dodged all the questions related to the abrogation of article 370, he looked noncommittal on the restoration of the autonomous status of J&K and inclined towards the restoration of democratic rights.
"All other states in India have an Assembly, have a functioning democratic process…I think it should be restored in J&K as well and also an appropriate solution should be found in Ladakh. Even the Ladakhi people are not happy with what happened," he said.
Next day, it was snowing heavily in Srinagar; Rahul Gandhi’s signature white T-shirt was replaced with a grey Pheran (traditional Kashmiri cloak) as he was addressing a ‘public meeting’ at the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium.
"Yesterday, a reporter asked me what is the goal behind this march, the goal is to end the loss of a loved one."
"I did not undergo this yatra for myself or the Congress but for the people of our country. We aim to stand against the ideology that wants to destroy the foundation of this country because I have myself been a victim of violence and have lost loved ones," he said.
"I was a teenager when I heard someone killed my father Rajiv Gandhi and grandmother Indira Gandhi through phone calls, I don’t want Kashmiri families and Army families to hear the same calls. I want those calls to end," he said.
"Those who incite violence, like Modi ji, Amit Shah ji, the BJP, and the RSS will never understand this pain, it was families of soldiers and Kashmiris who understood it," he added.
Joined by NC’s Omar Abdullah in Banihal
, the march entered the valley through the Jawahar tunnel on Friday as he crossed a few miles, Mr. Gandhi stopped walking after being 'directed by his security guards'.
Later, Congress accused the LG administration of security lapse which was denied by the police.
Also, the erstwhile state’s last CM Mehbooba mufti
joined him along with her mother and daughter on Saturday in Awantipora.