Row erupts as Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra curbed in Assam | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Row erupts as Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra curbed in Assam

By, Guwahati
Jan 24, 2024 04:19 AM IST

The Congress claims that the BJP was allowed to conduct road shows in central Guwahati, while they were stopped from entering the city.

Hundreds of Congress workers clashed with the police and broke through barricades after they were stopped outside Guwahati during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, setting off a bitter war of words between chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the 6,600km march.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Guwahati on Tuesday. (ANI)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Guwahati on Tuesday. (ANI)

Later in the day, Sarma said an FIR was filed against Gandhi, Congress leaders KC Venugopal, Kanhaiya Kumar and others.

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Assam police used batons to disperse Congress workers around noon as they tried to break through barricades put up to prevent the yatra from proceeding to a busy area in Guwahati, citing potential traffic disruptions.

Assam Congress chief Bhupen Kumar Borah and the leader of Opposition in the assembly Debabrata Saikia were among the people injured in the police action, a day after Gandhi was stopped from visiting one of the state’s most important shrines in Nagaon, prompting him to stage a sit-in.

Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra: Police use batons to disperse Congress workers in Guwahati

The face-off sparked a political controversy.

“We have broken down the barricades, but Congress workers would not break the law... Congress workers are not afraid of anyone, including the [ruling] BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and [its ideological fount] Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh,” said Rahul Gandhi in an address from atop a bus, minutes after the confrontation.

Sarma hit back, saying he had directed the state police to lodge a case against Rahul Gandhi for provoking the crowd, using the footage shared on social media as evidence. “This is not part of Assamese culture. We are a peaceful state. Such Naxalite tactics are completely alien to our culture,” he posted on X. He added that the “unruly behaviour” and “violation of agreed guidelines” resulted in a traffic jam in Guwahati.

Tensions were already flying high after Gandhi was stopped on Monday morning outside Batadrava Than, the birthplace of 15th-century social reformer-saint Srimanta Sankardeva and a sacred site for the Assamese. Gandhi then sat on protest for over an hour.

Read Here | Assam CM creating difficulties, says Congress on Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra

On Tuesday morning, the Assam government informed the Congress that the yatra, which began in Manipur on January 14, will not be allowed to enter the heart of Guwahati as it could cause traffic jams and advised the party to take the ring road. The Congress, however, insisted on the original route and pointed out that BJP chief JP Nadda and Union home minister Amit Shah were allowed to conduct road shows in central Guwahati earlier.

With Congress workers not stepping back, barricades were put up at Khanapara on the outskirts of Guwahati to prevent the yatra from proceeding to GS Road, the busiest road in Assam’s capital. As the yatra, including the bus carrying Gandhi, neared Khanapara, Borah, Saikia and hundreds of Congress workers tried to forcibly break through the barricades and move forward, before being halted by police personnel.

As the situation escalated, policemen resorted to baton charge and in the ensuing melee Borah, Saikia and a few others fell on the road. Borah sustained a minor injury on his right hand, Saikia was hurt on his legs and a few other workers also sustained bruises and other injuries.

As Congress workers fought against the police, Gandhi vowed to fight for the people’s rights and promised that his party would form the next government in Assam.

Read Here | Disruptions to yatra benefitting us, we are not intimidated: Rahul Gandhi in Assam

Borah hit out at Sarma. “This is how the state government is treating us. We broke down three barricades set up to prevent our yatra from progressing, but we will continue as planned,” he said.

Sarma, who shifted from the Congress to the BJP in 2015 and is credited for the BJP’s rapid expansion across the Northeast, blamed the Congress for the violence.

“They didn’t listen to us and indulged in confrontation with the police while Gandhi was witnessing and instigating them from his vehicle. I have directed the police to lodge a case and take action as per law. Gandhi won’t be arrested now, he will be arrested after Lok Sabha polls,” he said.

Hours later, he confirmed that an FIR had been registered.

“With reference to wanton acts of violence, provocation, damage to public property and assault on police personnel today by Cong members, a FIR has been registered against Rahul Gandhi, KC Venugopal , Kanhaiya Kumar and other individuals under section 120(B)143/147/188/283/353/332/333/427 IPC R/W Sec. 3 of PDPP Act,” Sarma said in post on X.

Read Here: Amid Assam row, Rahul Gandhi's 'babbar sher' dare to Amit Shah, Himanta Biswa Sarma

The Assam chief minister said that despite repeated requests to the Congress for the last six days to not take the yatra through Guwahati, the party insisted on doing so with 300 vehicles and around 3,000 workers, which would have caused huge disruptions to traffic in the city.

“Action is being taken as per law. Unruliness and violation of ASL (advanced security liaison) decision including attempt to change route through force is also being taken up with appropriate agencies,” Assam director general of police GP Singh said in a post on X.

After the minutes-long melee, the Congress relented. The yatra then bypassed the city, and at Hajo, a pilgrimage town 30km away, Gandhi told reporters that the disruptions will benefit the party. “The things that Assam CM has been doing against the yatra is benefitting us... the kind of publicity, which we might not have got, are getting now because of what the Assam CM and maybe Union home minister Amit Shah are doing,” Gandhi said.

“Stopping us from entering a temple, college and the yatra itself (from entering Guwahati) is their style. It’s a way to intimidate us. We are not afraid and will not get intimidated. Frankly, it benefits us as our message of nyay (justice) is reaching all,” he added.

Read Here: Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma directs police to file case against Rahul Gandhi for ‘provoking crowd’

Targeting Sarma, Gandhi reiterated an earlier allegation that the Assam CM was one of the most corrupt chief ministers in India. “The CM is not running the state. It’s being run from Delhi,” Gandhi said.

Gandhi said the Congress had invited the chief ministers of West Bengal and Bihar, Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar respectively, to join the yatra when it enters their states. He also said that the 28-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance’s plans for the other backward castes, Dalits and women will be disclosed at a later stage.

“At present, nearly 60% of India’s voters are with the INDIA alliance... We will take a call on it (on who would be the prime ministerial candidate if the alliance comes to power) after the elections,” he said.

Assam Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Ripun Bora confirmed that several members from their party were also part of the yatra in Guwahati and joined it after it left the city as well.

The yatra will spend another two days in Assam, before moving into West Bengal on January 25.Gandhi’s yatra first entered Assam on January 18 but passed through Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya over two days before re-entering Assam on Tuesday.

The yatra, which comes a year after the Bharat Jodo Yatra, is the last major public outreach programme by the Congress before this year’s general elections and will be primarily undertaken on bus. The route will cover 100 Lok Sabha seats and 337 assembly seats across 15 states, and end on March 20 in Mumbai.

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    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

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