Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], Jan 30 (ANI): Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday said that he did not undertake Bharat Jodo Yatra for himself or Congress but for the country and accused the BJP and RSS of attacking the "liberal and secular ethos" of the country.
The participation by opposition leaders in the closing ceremony of Bharat Jodo Yatra appeared less than what Congress leaders expected. The party had invited 23 "like-minded" opposition parties for closing ceremony at Sher-I-Kashmir Cricket Stadium.
Though the Congress has stated that the yatra does not have political objectives, the invitation to several political parties was seen to be a message that the party is the fulcrum of opposition unity against the BJP govenrment.
BJP leader and Union Minister Anurag Thakur took a jibe at Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi's picture of playing with snowballs in Srinagar and said the Congress leader should remember the time when the Bharatiya Janata Party hoisted the flag at the Lal Chowk amid fear of bombs and guns.
Addressing the closing ceremony of Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar amid snowfall, Rahul Gandhi said that he was advised against walking the Jammu and Kashmir lap on the grounds that he could face a grenade attack.
He said he thought of giving a chance to those who hate him to change the colour of his T-shirt from "white to red but, as expected, the people of Kashmir did not give him hand grenade but hearts full of love".
"When I was walking, the security people told me I can walk anywhere in India, even in Jammu, but the last four days in Kashmir, 'you should drive in a car'. A few days before I reached Kashmir, the administration told me, perhaps to scare me, that if I walk, then a grenade can be lobbed upon me. I thought over it and then decided that I will walk in my home and with my people (in Jammu and Kashmir). Why not give haters a chance to change the colour of my shirt, let them make it red," he said.
Rahul Gandhi said he was not afraid and has learnt from his family and Mahatma Gandhi to live life sans fear.
"The people of Kashmir did not give me hand grenades, only their hearts full of love. What happened was what I had thought about. The people of Jammu and Kashmir did not give me hand grenades, they opened their hearts and gave me love, embraced me. I felt immense happiness that they all owned me up. Children and elderly welcomed alike me with their love and tears."
He recalled his family's connections with Jammu and Kashmir and expressed happiness that people of Kashmir considered him to be their own and had greeted him with love and tears.
Gandhi, who wore a 'pheran', said that the aim of Bharat Jodo Yatra was to save the liberal and secular ethos of the country "which was facing an assault from the BJP and the RSS".
"I have not done this (Yatra) for myself or for the Congress but for the people of the country. Our aim is to stand against the ideology that wants to destroy the foundation of this country," he said.
The rally marked the culmination of the 136-day yatra.
Rahul Gandhi said the people of the country needed to be reminded that India is a country of love, respect, brotherhood, and Bharat Jodo Yatra was a small step in that direction.
Recalling the moments when he was informed about the assassination of his grandmother and father -- former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi -- over phone calls, the former Congress president said that he has suffered violence, just like the families of Army, CRPF, BSF personnel and the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
"The family of an Army man will understand, the family of the CRPF personnel who were killed in Pulwama will understand, Kashmiris will understand that pain when one gets that call. The aim of the yatra is to end the phone calls announcing the deaths of loved ones -- be it a soldier, a CRPF jawan or any Kashmiri," he said.
Rahul Gandhi alleged that BJP leaders will not undertake such a yatra in Jammu and Kashmir and claimed that they are "scared".
He emphasised Kashmiriyat. He referred to Lord Shiva and 'shoonyata' (nothingness) stating that it was "an attack on one's arrogance".
Noting that there was similar concept in Islam 'fanaa', he said 'shoonyata' and 'fanaa' are deeply connected and is linked to Kashmiriyat.
He said that the same thought exists in other states as well and gave the examples of Gandhi ji's favourite bhajan 'Vaishnav jan to' in Gujarat, philosophies of Basavanna in Karnataka, Thiruvalluvar in Tamil Nadu, Mahatma Phule in Maharashtra and described them as foundation of this country.
Rahul Gandhi said that his ancestors migrated from Kashmir to Allahabad, towards Ganga and they spread the thought of Kashmiriyat in Uttar Pradesh, which is referred as 'Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb'.
Reaching out to people, he said what people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh taught his ancestors, they brought that ideology, including Buddhism, to Uttar Pradesh.
Rahul Gandhi also referred to pain from an old knee injury, which he had got while playing football in college and said it re-emerged while walking during Bharat Jodo Yatra.
He added that he started finding the Yatra difficult as the pain increased, but everything changed and the pain vanished when he got a letter from a little girl, who said that she knew that he was walking for her future.
Gandhi said 'Kashmiriyat' was his home. "When I was walking to Kashmir, I thought this is the same route through which, years ago, my relatives came from Kashmir to Allahabad. I felt that I was returning to my home. Since I was a child, I have lived in government accommodations, I do not have a house. I have never accepted these structures as my home. Wherever I live, it is a building, not a home. For me, a home is a thinking, it is a way of life."
Addressing the rally, Congress president Shri Mallikarjun Kharge said the yatra was not for winning elections "but against hate".
"Rahul Gandhi has proven that he can unite the country from Kanyakumari to Kashmir on issues like unemployment and inflation. The BJP wants to keep poor people poor and to make rich, richer. Ten per cent people are looting 72 per cent wealth of the country while 50 per cent own just three per cent," Kharge said.
In her remarks, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the people of Jammu and Kashmir had welcomed the yatra "with open hearts".
"When my brother was about to reach Jammu and Kashmir, he sent a message to me and my mother saying that he was getting a feeling that he was going to his home," she said.
"He (Rahul) had said that 'my family members (people of Jammu and Kashmir) , when they meet me and hug me, they have tears in their eyes, their pain and sentiments touch my heart'," she said.
The yatra traversed 12 states and two Union territories in 145 days after its launch on September 7 last year and covered 4,080 km.
Rahul Gandhi unfurled the tricolour at the yatra campsite and then went to the Pradesh Congress Committee office where party chief Mallikarjun Kharge hoisted the national flag.
Anurag Thakur slammed Congress for the probelems in Jammu and Kashmir.
"We saw Rahul and Priyanka playing with snowballs, saw them enjoying a picnic, but maybe they forgot to thank PM Modi, who after coming to power abrogated Article 370 and 35-A," he said.
"And who was it who sowed this seed (Article 370), it was Congress," he added.
He further said that Jammu Kashmir was given special status after Independence and more than 45,000 people have been killed in violene. He asked Rahul Gandhi who is responsible for it.
"In 2011, as the Yuva Morcha Chief, I started tiranga yatra from Kolkata to Kashmir. The whole of Jammu was surrounded by police, we were arrested and put in jail. Our workers were beaten when the tricolour was hoisted and they were jailed," he recalled.
"The then Prime minister Manmohan Singh said that Anurag Thakur should refrain from hoisting the Tricolour, it deteriorates the situation," he said while recalling the former PM's statement.
"Peace and tourism have increased in Kashmir. More than two crore tourists visited after the abrogation of 370 and 35-A. This happened after the Modi government took the steps that were necessary," the minister added. (ANI)