Gandhi ends 135-day march to revive India’s Congress party in snowy Kashmir

Mr Rahul Gandhi (left) at the end of his 135-day march to rekindle support for India's once-dominant Congress party. PHOTO: AFP

SRINAGAR, India - Several hundred people gathered as snow fell in Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Monday to mark the end of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi’s foot march that began at the southern tip of the country 135 days ago.

The “Bharat Jodo Yatra”, or Unite India March, was aimed at boosting the 52-year-old’s popularity, but Congress still faces an uphill battle against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which appears poised to sweep the general election due in 2024.

“I didn’t do the Yatra for myself or Congress,” said Mr Gandhi, who swopped the T-shirt that he had worn for the majority of the march for a woollen Kashmiri gown to ward off the cold.

“The aim is to stand against an ideology that wants to destroy the foundation of the country,” he said, referring to the BJP.

Leaders from half a dozen opposition parties attended the rally, the largest opposition gathering in India’s erstwhile Muslim-majority state that Mr Modi’s government reorganised into two federally administered territories in August 2019.

“All secular parties must come together to liberate the country from BJP,” said Mr D. Raja, general-secretary of the Communist Party of India, at the rally.

Several other opposition leaders failed to make it to the rally because flights into Srinagar’s airport were cancelled due to heavy snow.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has controlled the Congress party for decades but has also overseen its recent decline. Mr Gandhi resigned as Congress president after the last election.

Security arrangements had been reinforced in Kashmir ahead of the rally, with armed police sealing off all roads leading to the cricket stadium where the rally was held.

Mr Sameer Ahmad, 26, who is jobless, said he travelled from Pulwama, around 30km away, to attend the rally, at times trudging through snow.

“I am not from the Congress party but want to support the cause Gandhi stands for,” he said. REUTERS

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