Lakhanpur (J&K): Octogenarians Puran Chand and Mohammad Ismail walked several kilometres from their homes to welcome Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra into Jammu and Kashmir for its final phase Thursday.
Otherwise bustling with in and out-bound vehicles round-the-clock, the Lakhanpur entry point bordering Punjab’s Pathankot has been completely sealed by police with Congress workers led by senior leaders making final arrangements for the flag handover ceremony, marking the commencement of the yatra in the Union Territory.
Traffic was diverted through other routes, while the eight-km stretch of Jammu-Pathankot highway from Lakhanpur to Hatli Morh was placed out of bounds as part of the stringent security arrangements in connection with the foot march.
After the flag handover ceremony scheduled to take place at 5.45 pm at the venue which was decorated with hoardings, life-size posters and tricolours, Gandhi will start the yatra from Hatli Morh the next day. After covering Samba, Jammu, Udhampur, Anantnag and Pulwama, the yatra is scheduled to end with Gandhi hoisting the national flag at the party headquarters in Srinagar on January 30.
“I am here to welcome Rahul Gandhi who has started the long march (from Kanyakumari on September 7),” 87-year-old Chand, who was among the first few people to reach the venue near the giant statue of Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of Dogra dynasty and the first king of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Chand said he walked four km from his residence to have a glimpse of the Congress leader, who he thought was doing a “very fantastic job”.
“Ordinary people are fed up with the policies of the BJP government, rising prices and no work,” he said, making it clear that he is not a Congress worker but a supporter of Lal Singh’s Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan party (DSSP) which has extended support to the yatra.
Ismail (85), who claimed to be a die-hard Congress worker, said he had come from Karoda village, 2.5 km from the venue, to be part of the yatra.
“I left early in the morning and will stay back to see my leader (Gandhi) before returning in the evening. He is on the right path and the almighty will help him in his mission,” he said.
The security personnel have taken up positions on the vantage points around the venue, while police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed to ensure safety and success of the event, which would see the presence of several top leaders including National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.
Additional Director General of Police, Jammu Zone, Mukesh Singh had visited the venue on Wednesday and also chaired a high level security meeting to review the final arrangements for the smooth passage of the yatra.
Senior police officers were seen directing the police personnel who have been issued special identity cards to keep a strict vigil.
“We were waiting for the day to receive our leader (Gandhi). All arrangements are in place and not only the Congress workers but people from all sections of the society are enthusiastic about the yatra. People will start pouring in at the venue shortly and you will not find a place to keep your foot down,” Congress district president, Kathua, Pankaj Dogra said.
General Secretary, Pradesh Congress Committee Shahnawaz Choudhary said Rahul Gandhi has created a history by collapsing the walls of hatred and spreading the message of love across the country by his march.
“Jammu and Kashmir is going through the worst phase of its history and the people are distraught due to the misgovernance of the BJP. The people will join the yatra in large numbers and we are sure their wounds will get healed,” he said.
He said National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and Lal Singh are going to receive the foot march here, while senior leaders of other parties including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have also expressed their willingness to join the yatra when it moves into Kashmir valley next week.