The Congress on Saturday said that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is not about building a coalition or fighting elections, though any opposition unity against the BJP should pivot around the Congress and must be based on a positive agenda.
At a press conference in Srinagar after the Yatra reached Panthachow in Srinagar where it halted for the night, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the talks and negotiation about coalition will begin once the Yatra concludes.
Flanked by JKPCC chief Vikar Rasoo, Congress’ J&K in-charge Rajni Patil, former JKPCC chief G.A. Mir and others, Ramesh said the purpose of the Yatra should not be anti-BJP, but must be based on a constructive agenda.
Asked about the decisions of some parties like the SP and the BSP to stay away from the Yatra, the Congress leader said it is not a setback to the party. “I don't see the absence of anybody as a setback,’’ he said. “They may have had other preoccupations.”
He said the JD(U) is busy in Nagaland and JD(S) supremo Deve Gowda has written a letter expressing his support to Yatra, but also conveying his inability to participate.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra will culminate with a flag hoisting ceremony in Srinagar on January 30 and the Congress claims at least 23 opposition parties will attend the event.
Ramesh, however, said the function is not a coalition building exercise. Invitation was sent in good faith to like-minded parties who we believe oppose the policies of the BJP, he said.
Asked about whether the Congress was planning a coalition with the National Conference or the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, Ramesh said the Yatra is not about building coalition.
“The PDP, the CPM and the NC have welcomed the Yatra. Other parties also have welcomed us,’’ he said. “The coalition politics is separate. The Yatra is about vichardhara ( ideology).”
Asked how many of the 23 parties invited will be attending the concluding ceremony in Srinagar, the Congress leader said he will answer the question tomorrow. He said the Yatra has completed 4,080 km since the start and passed through 75 districts including five each in Jammu and Kashmir regions. He said after Friday’s ‘security lapse’ at Jawahar Tunnel which led to the cancellation of the Yatra by Rahul Gandhi, arrangements were very strong on Saturday.
About the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the senior Congress leader said they demand for the restoration of democracy and statehood.
Ramesh said there are issues of land and jobs and that needs to be addressed after democracy is restored and when J&K is a full -fledged state and when Ladakh gets the status of Sixth Schedule.
“In a Union Territory, a joint secretary takes decisions but under Sixth Schedule it is the elected representatives who take decisions,’’ he said.
JKPCC chief Vikar Rasool thanked people for participating in the Yatra in huge numbers. Asked about some J&K based parties staying away from the Yatra, Rasool said their strings are pulled by someone else.
In the morning, the Yatra resumed from Chersoo at Awantipora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district amid tight security arrangements. Mehbooba Mufti, her mother, Gulshan Mufti, and daughter, Iltija Mufti joined the Yatra. The mother and the daughter walked with Gandhi in step. Gandhi’s sister and Congress general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi, along with other Congress leaders also joined the Yatra near Lethpora. The Yatra will end at Pantha Chowk Truck Yard.
Priyanka is likely to visit Kheer Bhawani temple in Ganderbal and Nishat Ashram in Srinagar. Security was beefed up after the Friday’s security lapse at Jawahar Tunnel which forced Gandhi to suspend the Yatra.
Former JKPCC chief G.A. Mir called the incident a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Yatra.
The police, however, denied there was a security lapse and said adequate security was provided for the smooth conduct of the Yatra.
“We're giving 3-tier protection; all security arrangements have been made. Bharat Jodo Yatra is going on smoothly. Traffic has also been diverted, there won't be any problem. No security lapses happened yesterday, so many people did the foot march,’’ said J&K ADGP Vijay Kumar. The J&K administration also issued a statement refuting charges by the Congress about the breach of security for Bharat Jodo Yatra.
“Contrary to the arrangements worked out between the Bharat Jodo Yatra organisers and the security establishment, a large portion of the crowd from Banihal side who were supposed to have returned to Banihal rushed to Kashmir side. The size of the crowd was larger than planned which led to the pressure on the available security resources and created an impression that security arrangements were not in place. However, 15 companies of paramilitary forces and 10 companies of J&K police were deployed. The government is acutely mindful of the security concerns and all arrangements have been made to ensure the best possible security for the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra,’’ said RK Goyal, Additional Chief Secy (FC), Home Department, J&K in a statement.