Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with Rahul Gandhi at the end of Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar | Photo: PTI
Srinagar: The Bharat Jodo Yatra ended on Monday in an opposition show of strength with leaders of several parties joining Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as he capped his ambitious 145-day journey that covered some 4,000 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
The skies over Kashmir opened up and the snow fell steadily through the morning, blanketing much of the Valley in white, as the former Congress president 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. From there they went to the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium at the foothills of the Shankaracharya Hills for a rally marking the grand finale of the cross-country yatra.
"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," Gandhi said.
Those on stage in a show of solidarity included leaders from the DMK, National Conference, People's Democratic Party, Communist Party of India, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Indian Union Muslim League, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party.
Among the notable absentees of the 22 parties invited were the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and JD(U).
Sources said some opposition party leaders could not make it on account of the weather. However, some leaders had also expressed their inability to be part of the rally on account of previous commitments.
In a speech that was in turn political and personal, Gandhi challenged the BJP top brass to undertake a yatra such as his in Jammu and Kashmir and said they would never do it as they were scared.
The Congress leader, who started walking on September 7 last year and crossed a dozen states and two Union Territories, said he was advised against walking the Jammu and Kashmir lap on the grounds that he might be attacked.
"I thought over it and then decided that I will walk in my home and with my people (in J&K).... The people of Kashmir did not give me hand grenades, only their hearts full of love," he said.
Undeterred by the heavy snow and cold, hundreds of people gathered at the stadium for the rally that some viewed as a turning point for the former Congress president who has long fought the “Pappu” image and may have finally come into his own, and possibly for the electorally battered Congress.
"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 my home. Since I was a child, I have lived in government accommodations, I do not have a house," Gandhi said.
He also recalled the moments when he was informed about the assassination of his grandmother and father, former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
"Those who incite violence – like Modiji, Amit Shahji, the BJP and the RSS - will never understand this pain. 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.”
Congress president Kharge and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also spoke.
"The yatra was not for winning elections but against hate. BJP people are spreading hate in the country. Rahul Gandhi has proven that he can unite the country from Kanyakumari to Kashmir on issues like unemployment and inflation," Kharge said.
"My brother has been walking for the last five months from Kanyakumari.... (people) came out everywhere. They came out because people of the country have spirit for unity," added Priyanka Gandhi.
Many opposition leaders endorsed Gandhi's leadership and had words of fulsome praise.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers, PDP's Mehbooba Mufti and NC's Omar Abdullah, said they see a ray of hope in him.
"I request Rahul Gandhi to undertake a yatra from west to east. I would like to walk with him," Abdullah added.
DMK MP Tiruchi Siva told the gathering that party chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin was there when the yatra started and has sent him on his behalf now.
“Rahul Gandhi has successfully completed the yatra and reached out to every common citizen, conveying a message that a leader has emerged to save this country.”
Addressing the rally, CPI leader D Raja urged all secular parties of the country to unite.
"We all fought together for the independence of the country and liberated the country from British Raj. All secular parties must come together to liberate the country from BJP Raj," he said.
RSP leader N K Premchandran described the yatra as a historic movement.
“With this yatra, Rahul Gandhi has proved that he is the right leader in this country to fight all these communal and divisive forces."
During the course of the yatra, Gandhi addressed 12 public meetings, over 100 corner meetings and 13 press conferences. He had over 275 planned walking interactions and more than 100 sitting interactions.
As the marathon ended, it was not just about hardcore politics. There were several fun moments too.
Videos of the two Gandhi siblings in a snow fight at Pantha Chowk were circulated widely. With them was close aide K C Venugopal.
That it was the first big snowfall in the city this season was not lost on people, with some saying it not just made for great optics but was also a good omen.
And as always, Gandhi's clothes were noticed too.
At the campsite in Pantha Chowk, he was in his trademark white T-shirt with a sleeveless jacket in deference to the cold.
A little later in the morning, the Congress leader, who set off a national debate when he walked the Bharat Jodo Yatra in a T-shirt in north India's cold winter, donned a 'pheran', the traditional long cloak worn by Kashmiris.
Gandhi's white T-shirt hit the limelight when the yatra entered Delhi, his supporters praising his resilience while his opponents criticised him. Gandhi, on his part, said he decided to wear only T-shirts during the march after meeting three poor girls "shivering in torn clothes" in Madhya Pradesh.
That's when he decided that he won't wear a sweater until he shivers, the Congress leader said.