Gandhi said the police arrangement completely collapsed and the personnel supposed to manage the crowd were nowhere to be seen. However, the J&K Police said it had not been informed about the large gathering in advance.
“This morning we had quite a large crowd that had gathered… but unfortunately the police arrangement completely collapsed and the police people who were supposed to… hold the rope were nowhere to be seen,” Gandhi told media persons in Anantnag district of southern Kashmir.
The newly appointed J&K Congress chief Viqar Rasool had managed an impressive gathering in his bastion of Banihal of Jammu division, from where Gandhi started his yatra. Ghulam Ahmad Mir had also gathered a huge number of people in Qazigund area of Jammu, where Congress supporters were seen singing and dancing in the backdrop of snow-clad Pir Panjal mountains while welcoming Gandhi and those accompanying him.
Gandhi’s personal security staff advised him against continuing the yatra on foot as a large number of people were jostling around him, exposing him to a potential security threat.
“My security people were very uncomfortable with me walking further in the yatra so I had to cancel my walk while other yatris did manage to walk,” said Gandhi. “It is important that the police manage the crowd so that we can do the yatra. It’s very difficult for me to go against what my security people are recommending. Local administration has to play its role.”
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, a former J&K chief minister who had joined Gandhi at Banihal, said in a post on Twitter, “I’m witness to this. The outer ring of the cordon which was maintained by J&K Police simply vanished within minutes of Rahul Gandhi starting to walk. We had just crossed into Kashmir from Jammu and were looking forward to the 11 km walk but unfortunately it had to be cancelled.” Gandhi urged the administration to provide proper security for the yatra for the coming days. The yatra will continue on Saturday from Awantipora of southern Kashmir to the outskirts of Srinagar, where Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and former CM Mehbooba Mufti of PDP are likely to participate along with hundreds of women.The J&K Police, however, denied any security lapse and said full security arrangements were in place, including 15 companies of central armed police forces, and 10 companies of J&K Police were deployed for high-ridge and other deployments.
“Only authorised persons as identified by organisers and frisked crowd were allowed inside towards the route of the yatra. Organisers and managers of BJY did not intimate about the large gathering from Banihal joining the yatra, which thronged near the starting point,” said a J&K Police statement.
The police also claimed that it was not consulted before the decision on discontinuation of the yatra was taken by the organisers. “Rest of the yatra continued peacefully. There was no security lapse at all. We will provide foolproof security,” said the police. The yatra, started by Gandhi in Kanyakumari in September last year, is scheduled to end in Srinagar on January 30.
Union government officials said they were in touch with Jammu and Kashmir administration and that adequate security was being provided. Gandhi enjoys Z+ security cover by the Central Reserve Police Force and the central force will conduct an inquiry into the lapses, if any, they said. “We had to walk around 16 km today from Banihal to Anantnag, but he hardly walked 4 km… what happened today was unfortunate… we are in touch with the administration so that this won’t happen again,” said Jairam Ramesh, senior Congress leader.