Srinagar: Continuing to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and others, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said “perpetrators of violence” won’t understand the pain of the Pulwama martyrs’ families, as his party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra ended Monday in Srinagar.
Speaking at a rally amid heavy snowfall at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium, an emotional Gandhi recounted the day of his father and former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s death, and said he understood the pain of the families of Pulwama martyrs. Dressed in a Kashmiri pheran to mark the occasion, the former Congress chief refused an umbrella as he took to the podium.
“On 21 May, when I was in the US, I got a phone call like may be the family of the Pulwama martyrs or the families of those in the armed forces would have received. My father’s friend had called and said that there was bad news. I said I know. Dad is dead,” Gandhi said.
“People like Modi, Amit Shah, [National Security Adviser] Ajit Doval and the people of RSS who perpetrate violence won’t understand the pain. But I understand it,” he said, adding that he knows “what the children of the Pulwama martyrs went through” as he went through the same.
“The aim of the yatra is that these phone calls should stop,” he further said.
Considered one of the deadliest terror attacks on Indian security forces, the Pulwama attack that took place in February 2019 resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel.
The 136 days-long Bharat Jodo Yatra started on 7 September from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and covered a distance of nearly 4,000 km, passing through 12 states and two union territories.
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‘J&K administration tried to scare me off’
On Monday, Rahul also said that when the yatra was entering Kashmir, he was advised against walking and told to take a car.
“I was told by the administration, a few days ago, maybe to scare me off, that if I walk, then I will be attacked with grenades. But I said that since I was going home, I’d walk amidst my family. I thought maybe I would give those who hate me the opportunity to turn the colour of my white shirt to red. Because my family and [Mahatma] Gandhiji have taught me that if you live, you need to live without fear,” he said.
“But the people of Kashmir didn’t give me hand grenades but gave me love from the bottom of their heart,” he added.
As the yatris and senior Congress leaders got drenched in the melting snow, Rahul confessed that the scene made him “uncharacteristically” emotional: “You’re standing in snowfall but you’re not feeling cold… You stood in the rain but didn’t get wet, in the summers you didn’t feel the heat, because the force of the country is with you.”
“For many years, I had the habit of running 8-10 km every day. So, I thought that walking from Kanyakumari to Kashmir would not be difficult for me. I thought it wouldn’t be a difficult task for me. An arrogance had seeped into me. But soon, things changed,” he said.
The Congress leader recounted how he had hurt his knees while playing football in college. It was an injury he’d forgotten, he said. But four-five days into the yatra, the injury resurfaced, he added. “That’s when my arrogance disappeared and I began to wonder if I’d be able to complete the entire 3,500 kms. But I somehow finished it. I learnt a lot and suffered the pain.”
Throughout the speech, he narrated several incidents from the yatra like how a little girl gave him a letter saying that while her parents did not give her permission to walk with him, in her heart, she was walking with him. Another time, he met four children who begged for a living, and they weren’t wearing clothes. It was getting cold at the time, Rahul said, and when he hugged them, he realised that they were shivering.
“I thought if they aren’t wearing a sweater or a jacket, then I shouldn’t either…,” he added.
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The Congress also paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary.
The event was attended by members of opposition parties like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (Marxist) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).
The National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and Mehboob Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party also spoke at the event.
The Congress had invited heads of 23 parties for the event but most including the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Janata Dal (United) stayed away.
Party sources said that representatives of parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were scheduled to attend but couldn’t because of the weather.
Apart from Rahul, Mehbooba and Omar, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Priyanka Gandhi and representatives from the various parties addressed the crowd.
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)
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