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Bharat Jodo Yatra enters last lap in Kashmir, Priyanka, Mehbooba join march a day after security fiasco

Bharat Jodo Yatra enters last lap in Kashmir, Priyanka, Mehbooba join march a day after security fiasco

Pulwama (J-K): The Congress' Bharat Jodo Yatra Saturday entered its last lap as the Rahul Gandhi-led march was joined by his sister Priyanaka Gandhi Vadra and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, who termed the initiative "a breath of fresh air".

Rahul Gandhi resumed his walk from Chursoo in south Kashmir's Awantipora at 9.20 am, a day after cancelling the march in Anantnag after his party alleged that police arrangements by the J-K administration "completely collapsed" during the yatra.

Reacting to the allegation, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had said pressure on security resources due to the size of the crowd, larger than planned, may have created an impression of lack of security arrangements during the march.

However, on Saturday, the party said the security arrangements were stricter as security forces sealed off all roads leading to the yatra's starting point and allowed only authorised vehicles to reach the venue.

There was also a three-layered security ring around Gandhi as part of the heightened security measures.

As Gandhi started walking, he was joined by PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, her daughter Iltija Mufti and her mother Gulshan Nazir, as well as a large number of Congress and PDP workers as the march traversed through Awantipora.

A large number of women supporters also joined the yatra on Saturday.

While Nazir walked only for about 10 minutes, Mehbooba and her daughter walked with the Gandhi family scion till Lethpora where the yatra took a tea break.

The PDP president said the yatra was like a breath of fresh air in Kashmir as it allowed people to come out of their homes in numbers for the first time since 2019.

The Centre, on August 5, 2019, revoked Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

"Rahul Gandhi's yatra comes like a breath of fresh air in Kashmir. It is the first time since 2019 that Kashmiris have come out of their homes in such massive numbers. It was a great experience to walk with him," the Peoples Democratic Party leader tweeted.

A civil society contingent led by Yogendra Yadav also joined the yatra in the morning.

Later, Gandhi was joined by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who walked with him till the Galandar area of Pampore, from where both of them drove to the night halt destination at Pantha Chowk on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Despite stringent security measures, hundreds of enthusiastic locals lined up along the Srinagar-Jammu national highway from Awantipora to Pampore to catch a glimpse of the former Congress president.

Gandhi was in his now-trademark white T-shirt, but wore a sleeveless jacket over it for some time before taking it off again. He, however, sported a headgear as the temperatures hovered around four degrees.

On the way, Gandhi waved at the crowd, shook hands with many, and hugged some kids, even as at one place, candies were showered on the yatra.

Security forces had a tough time in dealing with the crowds, but the day was managed without any inconvenience to the yatra.

Gandhi had to cancel his walk on Friday from the Qazigund area as security forces failed to manage the large crowd that had gathered on this side of the Banihal tunnel through which the leader entered the Kashmir Valley.

Barely able to walk about 500 metres amid jostling by the huge crowd, the yatra had to halt and Gandhi's security team advised him not to go ahead.

Gandhi then drove to the Khanabal area of Anantnag district where he stayed for the night.

On Saturday, Gandhi also stopped the yatra for a few minutes to pay floral tributes to the 40 CRPF personnel killed in a car bomb blast in Lethpora area of Pulwama district in 2019.

Gandhi laid a flower bouquet at the spot where the CRPF bus was blown up by a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway four years ago.

"Today, paid my humble tributes to the 40 brave martyrs of Pulwama at their martyrdom site. The life of every soldier of the country is priceless. India will never forget their sacrifice," he said in a tweet in Hindi later.

The yatra which started from Kanyakumari on September 7 reached Pantha Chowk on the outskirts of Srinagar on Saturday.

After a night's halt there, the yatra would resume on Sunday morning from Pantha Chowk and will culminate near Nehru Park on Boulevard Road in the city. Sunday will mark the last walking day of the yatra.

On Monday, Gandhi will unfurl the tricolour at the party headquarters at M A Road here, following which a public rally at SK Stadium here for which 23 opposition political parties have been invited.

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