New Delhi: Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi concluded his five-month-long nationwide Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on Sunday. At the end of the yatra, he addressed a press conference in Srinagar where he spoke on a range of issues - from the restoration of statehood, Article 370, assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir to Chinese aggression on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the opposition unity.
Apart from repeating his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s feat of unfurling the national flag at the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar, Rahul Gandhi also reiterated his family links with Kashmir.
In 1992, the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Murli Manohar Joshi, accompanied by many of his party colleagues, including now Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had unfurled the tricolour at Lal Chowk on the Republic Day, amid a curfew and security clampdown. The militants had targeted the flag hoisting ceremony by firing rockets at Lal Chowk, the business centre of Srinagar.
Rahul Gandhi carefully avoided a question on Nehru’s promise to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the Congress party’s position on Article 370 when it comes to power at the Centre.
To a question on the certain promises made by Nehru to the people of Kashmir and if he is pained to see most of those promises having been broken, he said: “I am not happy with what I see in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, I am saddened. I have sadness when I walk through Jammu and Kashmir. When I first entered Jammu, a strange idea came into my mind, which was that in some ways my family descended from Jammu and Kashmir and went to Allahabad. And in some strange way, I was making the reverse journey that my ancestors made. So, I felt in a way that I was going home, and that was a very powerful feeling I had. I think I have affection towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and I come here with an open heart, with open arms to help in whatever way I can. I was humbled by the reception that we got in Jammu, and in Kashmir. I think love and affection and this, I have realised in my life that love and affection and listening is a very-very powerful force and I intend to do as much of that as I possibly can. I don’t want to go into any sort of commenting on the historical aspect of it. I want to look forward and I come here with an open mind and I come here with affection.”
It was 75 years after Nehru unfurled the Indian flag at Lal Chowk in 1948 that Rahul Gandhi hoisted the tricolour at the same place 75 years later in 2023. This was also the place where Nehru gave a historic speech on November 20, 1947.
To another question on Article 370, Rahul Gandhi reiterated that the resolution of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) was very clear. At its meeting on August 6, 2019, the CWC attacked the government on the way Article 370 was abrogated, Jammu and Kashmir was divided and downgraded from a state to two union territories.
"Article 370 was conceived and crafted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, assisted by N. Gopalaswamy Iyengar and V.P. Menon and is the Constitutional recognition of the terms of the Instrument of Accession between the State of Jammu & Kashmir and India, the Congress said. It deserved to be honoured until it was amended, after consultation with all sections of the people, and strictly in accordance with the Constitution of India,” CWC resolution had said.
When pointed out that the CWC resolution was not clear on whether the Congress would restore Article 370 if voted to power, Rahul Gandhi said: "My position on Article 370 and that’s the position that the Congress Working Committee has taken, and it is very clear. We will hand over to you the document; you can read it, that’s what our position is.”
To another question on the restoration of land rights, he said: “One of the main issues that has been coming up here is the fact that people’s land is being taken away from them. We have been very clear on that issue. As far as the restoration of the democratic structure here, we are very clear and once the assembly is in place, the assembly will take those decisions.”
On January 29, Rahul Gandhi concluded his yatra – that started on September 7 last year -- after walking for 137 days across the country, covering 4,080 kilometres in around 47 districts of the 12 states and two union territories.