Srinagar: For months now Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been getting a positive response to his Bharat Jodo Yatra. From common men to retired soldiers, college students, farmers, and even rappers singing praises.
Turn to today, in the run-up to the most interesting phase as the yatra enters Jammu and Kashmir, the news is for all wrong reasons.
The young Jammu and Kashmir Congress spokesperson Deepika Pushkar Nath, previously known as Deepika Singh Rajawat, who was one of the first to join Rahul Gandhi in the earlier days of the yatra in Kerala, resigned from her post.
Not just this, Congress's 'ally' NC whose president Farooq Abdullah also walked along the Gandhi siblings last month, has also raised questions.
Speaking to reporters, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed his hope that the Congress doesn't allow yatra to wash over the sins of questionable people. All of this was in reference to 'one man' who is supposed to Join the yatra.
The controversy started when Chaudhary Lal Singh, a former BJP minister in the BJP-PDP government, extended support to Rahul Gandhi and is scheduled to walk with Gandhi, as the yatra enters Jammu. Posters by Singh welcoming the Yatra came all over.
His supporters raised slogans in his favour during the flag takeover ceremony of the Congress to welcome Gandhi at the entry point of Jammu and Kashmir here, drawing angry reactions from the stage and even interrupted the speech of Gandhi.
"People raised slogans out of love (in my support) as I was there in front of them. What is my fault if they did not raise the slogans of any other leader," Singh asked.
The former minister was infamous for coming in support of the rapists of an eight-year-old girl, raped and murdered in a temple complex by four people including a minor in 2018.
Deepika, the spokesperson who resigned, was the girl's lawyer and fought against fierce opposition led by a group allegedly working at Singh’s behest, to bring the culprits to justice.
Deepika was the first one to take the controversial case which almost created a wedge and sharpened the divide between Muslim-dominated Kashmir, and Hindu dominant Jammu.
Despite threats and boycott calls, she stood her ground. Deepika is a Kashmiri Pandit whose family migrated to Jammu from their ancestral village Karihama in North Kashmir in 1986, four years before thousands of Hindus left the Valley over fears of attacks by militants.
It was only after Deepika filed a writ petition that the Jammu and Kashmir high court started monitoring the case and the Crime Branch took over the investigation.
Singh had taken the case despite staunch opposition by some groups when most Jammu lawyers organisations had refused to do so. The lawyers' groups had defended the accused and demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Certain sections had taken out rallies in support of the accused and Lal Singh was allegedly leading these groups calling it a plot to defame Hindus. Singh tried to label the Muslim Gujjar community which has managed to stay away from militancy as communal.
Singh was later forced to resign when harrowing details of the murder and rape became public.
The family however later dropped Deepika as their lawyer, when the case was moved out of the state. The family claimed this was done to relieve Deepika who could not travel out of Jammu frequently.
Deepika however had pledged she will always support the girl's family.
Commenting on the controversy said she had spoken to the Congress leadership and made her 'displeasure' about Singh's inclusion. Whether Singh will be allowed to join after the controversy is not yet clear.
Party sources confirmed that Singh has been in conversation with Congress and wants to join the party.
Rahul Gandhi's upcoming Jammu and Kashmir yatra was much anticipated owing to the political sensitivity of the region. Many experts were of the opinion that the yatra might not be allowed to proceed once it tries to enter the valley.
On the other hand, allowing the same would have also generated interest as people, in general, have not shown interest in any political activities in the valley-the UT is under the central rule after article 370 guaranteeing special status to Jammu and Kashmir was removed by a constitutional amendment.
Except for some rallies by the mainstream parties, mostly attended by their cadre, the UT has seen no political activity for more than three years now.
However, no one had foreseen a controversy of this nature in the run-up.
Lal Singh was blamed for fueling a communal divide and was accused of raising anti-muslim slogans and evoking Hindu sentiments while supporting the alleged 'rapists'.
“It was heart-wrenching rape of a minor girl and we should all remember (that) crimes like this have no religion and colour,” Deepika had told me then.
Speaking again today, the activist lawyer said she took the matter up with Congress leaders before taking the decision.
"I don't snap ties generally, I cherish relationships, however when it is against your basic ideology and ethics, I can't go along. I spoke to Venugopal ji on January 11 but no one was listening," she said.
"It could have been averted by taking measures," she added.
The minor victim of Kathua belonged to the Muslim Bakarwal community. Police said the accused had planned the crime to terrorise the community into leaving their homes in Kathua.
A human rights lawyer, Deepika was been given security cover after she wrote to the chief justice of the high court about the alleged threats.