Srinagar: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday unfurled the tricolour amid tight security at Srinagar’s historic Lal Chowk to mark the end of his Bharat Jodo Yatra. The party is, however, holding a "mega rally" in the city’s Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on Monday to celebrate the "successful and happy ending" of the unity march.
Mr Gandhi who was accompanied by his sister and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Varda, along with a host of other party leaders and activists, including JKPCC chief Vikar Rasool Wani, drove from Srinagar’s Sonawar area in a bullet-proof SUV to the City Centre, where he spent some time at the JKPCC office. He then headed to Lal Chowk to hoist the national flag beside the clock tower, known as "Ghanta Ghar" locally, amid the singing of the patriotic song Jhanda Uncha Rahe Hamara by dozens of Congress workers. All sang the national anthem aloud as well.
After the 10-minute event was over, Mr Gandhi said that a "promise" made to the nation has been fulfilled. He tweeted: "By hoisting the tricolour at Lal Chowk, the promise made to India was fulfilled today. Hate will lose, love will always win. There will be a new dawn of hopes in India."
The Congress had earlier announced that the flag hoisting ceremony will be held at the JKPCC headquarters along Srinagar’s Moulana Azad Road, about 300 yards from Lal Chowk but, as was claimed by a senior party leader, the venue and date for the event were changed on the suggestion of the J&K authorities.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that the JKPCC office was chosen as the venue for the flag hoisting after the J&K administration refused to give permission to do it elsewhere but on Saturday evening it informed the party that it can be done at Lal Chowk. He tweeted: "@RahulGandhi was supposed to unfurl the national flag on Jan 30th in the PCC office, since permission to do so elsewhere wasn’t given. Last evening, the state administration allowed him to do so in Lal Chowk, but under the condition that it should be done today on 29th at the end of #BharatJodoYatra."
Hundreds of security personnel sealed off Srinagar's commercial hub the night before the yatra arrived in Sonawar, a high-security area about 3 km down Lal Chowk. Concertina barbed wire was laid and police bunker vehicles were placed crisscrossing the road to block all entry and exit points.
The yatra resumed its final lap in J&K from Srinagar’s Pantha Chowk area around 10:45 am on Sunday. Hundreds of men and women who were part of about 8 km walk from Pantha Chowk to Sonawar were chanting "Jodo Jodo, Bharat Jodo". The majority of them carried the tricolor and the Congress flag, with a few carrying the flag of the J&K People's Democratic Party (PDP), which had earlier invited its workers to join the march. The participants were cheered and greeted by locals who had lined up on both sides of the road.
The yatris will halt for the night along Srinagar’s Boulevard near Nehru Park, an island in the Dale Lake area, before walking to Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on Monday morning for the rally. The Congress has invited 23 Opposition political parties to the rally.
According to Mr Ramesh, the yatra passed through 75 districts in 14 states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and J&K, covering a distance of 4,080 km in 136 days, including a 9-day break in Delhi. "We walked for 116 days and covered 23-24 kilometres each day," he said.
Another Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala alleged that the Modi government "clamped down" to stop people from participating in the yatra. He tweeted on Sunday morning: "As #BharatJodoYatra enters Srinagar, Modi govt has clamped down to stop people from participating. Entire Srinagar has a virtual curfew. No movement of people or vehicles allowed 1st, the security lapse, and now a clampdown." He, however, also said that the party’s resolve is undeterred and that "love and compassion shall win."
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said Mr Gandhi unfurled the national flag at Lal Chowk under "different circumstances" when J&K "has been turned into a military garrison and assurances given by the Constitution demolished by the BJP".
She said that when former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru first unfurled the tricolour in Kashmir in 1948 among a sea of people, it was a momentous occasion marked by celebrations. "Today history stands witness as RG (Rahul Gandhi) unfurled the same flag, albeit under completely different circumstances, at a time when J and K has been turned into a military garrison. Assurances given by the Indian Constitution have been demolished by the BJP and is a complete betrayal," she said in a series of tweets....