Rahul yatra’s Assam hurdles: Saffron protests, route nod denial, and a welfare scheme

The Congress is set to protest in many states today over ‘planned’ disruptions by ‘the BJP’.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
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The controversy around Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra is refusing to die down. A day after Congress workers tried to gherao the BJP’s headquarters, the party is set to protest in many states on Tuesday over “planned” disruptions by the “BJP” to Gandhi’s yatra in Assam. 

The yatra, which has already travelled five of the seven northeastern states, is scheduled to visit parts of Guwahati and Kamrup today, with a night halt at Bishnupur. But while it managed to pass off peacefully in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland, there was high drama as it traversed North Lakhimpur and Sonitpur in BJP-governed Assam on January 20 and 21, respectively. 

In North Lakhimpur, the Congress claimed its vehicles and banners were targeted by BJP goons, who “assaulted” the party’s workers on Saturday.

The next day, Assam Congress chief Bhupen Kumar Borah was left with a nosebleed while senior leader Jairam Ramesh’s car was “attacked”. And the party again blamed BJP goons, alleging that it was “Sarma’s doing”. CM Sarma, who also holds the home portfolio, asked the police to probe.

Even on Monday, as the yatra entered Jagiroad in Assam’s Morigaon district, right-wing “protesters” chanted “Modi, Modi” and “Jai Shri Ram,” blocking a flyover along the route. The cavalcade manoeuvred through a crowd chanting “Jai Shri Ram” even though Gandhi smiled and waved to them.

“The entire road was clogged by them…They were shouting prominently provocative slogans as police stood as mute spectators,” claimed Congress’s Nagaon MP Pradyut Bordoloi.

But days before these incidents, there had been a build-up of sorts – a war of words between CM Sarma and Congress leaders. 

On Friday last week, Sarma had threatened to arrest two “bad elements” who were part of the yatra, and the Jorhat police had booked Congress workers for allegedly deviating from the yatra’s route. And before Sarma’s remarks, there had been sharp digs at him from the Congress quarters.

War of words

“Himanta Biswa Sarma is the most corrupt CM in the country,” declared Gandhi on January 18 as his cavalcade arrived in Assam’s Jorhat, with his attack on Sarma and his alleged corruption sharpening at each subsequent public address.   

The party also published a video on YouTube, with Gandhi and other Congress leaders discussing the “corruption” allegations against CM Sarma. The state Congress unit subsequently wrote a letter to the CBI director asking to probe seven corruption allegations against Sarma and his family.  

Sarma  had on Sunday termed these allegations as “madness” and said it was his “victory” that Rahul Gandhi even named him. “There was a time in my life when we used to camp for seven eight days to get an appointment with them (Nehru-Gandhi family),” he said, referring to the time when he was a Congress leader.  

The same day, violence hit the yatra as the cavalcade moved from Jamugurihat to its next destination in Kaliabor after right-wing “protesters” holding saffron flags blocked the road. 

Apart from attacking Congress leaders, the mob had also manhandled media professionals covering the event and snatched the camera of an independent journalist.

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The FIR filed by district Congress president Dadul Barkakati named at least seven youths, including four Muslims, accusing them of leading the mob attack on the yatra. It claimed that at least 50 youths attacked the bus in which Rahul Gandhi was travelling and targeted Congress state chief Bhupen Bora as he stepped out. It said another Congress worker Hriday Das was also attacked as he tried to save Bora from the mob – Das was reportedly hospitalised later.  

A few hours later, there was more ruckus as some youths raised slogans  and showed playcards against the yatra  after Gandhi stopped in Nagaon district’s Ambagan area for tea.

Following the incidents, CM Sarma ordered an investigation into protesters blocking  Jairam Ramesh’s car in Sonitpur. However, on a video showing Rahul Gandhi getting off the bus to meet protesters, Sarma said he should not “lose his cool and be allergic to the chanting of Jai Shri Ram.” “On the eve of Shri Ram Lalla’s Pran Pratishtha, Ram Bhakts have every right to chant Jai Shri Ram.”   

Meanwhile, Assam DGP GP Singh tweeted advising the organisers to stick to the security protocol and to avoid unscheduled stops. He also said Gandhi must not leave his vehicle without informing the authorities.

“One IGP of @assampolice is supervising the arrangements 6. SP Rank officer along with sufficient force is travelling with the convoy in addition to route deployment 7. The participants of road event are advised not to physically counter localised political protests to the event and leave the same to the deployed and/or accompanying police contingent,” he said.

The incident came a day after Congress workers accused BJP workers of tearing down posters and banners, and vandalising party workers’ vehicles in Lakhimpur. The party also released a 54-second video purportedly showing a street where a crowd chanted “Jai Shri Ram”, one of them wielding a stick, and tore Congress posters. The clip showed another man pulling down a hoarding bearing the photograph of Rahul Gandhi and two other Congress leaders.

Several Congress leaders have accused the police of inaction.

But on Monday, as protesters holding saffron flags featuring lord Hanuman blocked the yatra’s route, police and paramilitary forces tried to restrain them with ropes, in vain. As the situation worsened, the police barricaded the road around 400 metres ahead of the protesters positioned at the end of a flyover on the yatra’s route. As the yatra finally managed to pass, the protesters dispersed for “snacks” at Nijarapara.  

This protest at Jagiroad, the constituency of Assam cabinet minister and CM Sarma’s close aide Pijush Hazarika, was the third major disruption faced by the  yatra in Assam.

The 12-km stretch between Marigaon’s Baghara and Jagiroad was decked up with 51 big and small hoardings of CM Sarma and Hazarika against only 15 posters of Gandhi and the Congress leadership. 

Several other routes of the yatra were lined with saffron flags. 

Ram Mandir vs Assam’s Batadrava Than 

On the day of the Ram Temple’s inauguration in Ayodhya, Gandhi had planned to visit Batadrava Than in Nagaon’s Borduwa.  It is the shrine of Assam’s Vaishnava dharma founder Srimanta Sankadev and is widely regarded in the state. The 15th century Assamese polymath saint-scholar holds a significant place in the state’s cultural and religious history.

But after the announcement of Gandhi’s visit to Borduwa, CM Sarma urged him to avoid it on the day of pran pratishtha, stating that there was “no competition between lord Ram and the medieval age Vaishnav saint”.

Hours later, the shrine’s management issued a press note saying that Gandhi could only visit the monastery  after 3 pm as “thousands of devotees” were expected to be at the site to watch the live telecast of the Ram Temple inauguration.

Gandhi left with his cavalcade for the shrine at around 8.25 am but was soon stopped at Nagaon’s Haiborgaon as the administration cited law and order. Prevented from moving ahead, Gandhi along with Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Jitendra Singh, Kanhaiya Kumar and Supriya Srinate, staged a sit-in near the police barricade with chants of “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram”.

The police later allowed local MP Gaurav Gogoi to visit Sankardev’s birthplace.

As questions were raised on the denial of permission to Gandhi, Sarma termed it “Ram Rajya”.

Sarma had hinted at his government’s reluctance to allow the yatra on that route a day before. “I am very very perturbed why you have chosen January 22 Morigaon and Jagiroad. Because you know the Nellie Massacre. You know all the conflicting situations. You know it is a district with a 60 percent Muslim and 40 percent Hindu population with a very very difficult background. Why have you chosen that particular district on January 22? Do you want to put Assam in a bad light if something happens that day,” Sarma had said.

Welfare schemes behind lull?

While there was a lull in Borduwa over the yatra, the shrine and locals in the vicinity seemed excited for the live telecast of the Ram Temple inauguration, with saffron flags hung outside the shrine’s premises. 

Devajani Mahanta Goswami, a local resident, told Newslaundry that there was no enthusiasm over Gandhi’s visit as the locality is dominated by BJP supporters. “There are two or three families who are Congress supporters but they too have joined BJP recently,” she claimed.

However, Ashyut Kalita, an e-rickshaw driver in the area, said the Sarma government’s decision to distribute forms for a newly announced scheme for rural women entrepreneurs has impacted the public mood. Congress’s Jairam Ramesh had also pointed to the scheme known as Mukhyamantri Mahila Udyamita Abhiyan on Friday. 

On Thursday last week, as Gandhi’s yatra entered Assam through Jorhat, these forms were distributed in the districts of Jorhat, Sivasagar, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh,  and Saraideu. The next day, with the Congress leader at Majuli, they were distributed in Majuli, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji and Golaghat. Similarly, forms were distributed in Sonitpur, Nagaon and Morigaon as the yatra reached there. 

Forms for the welfare scheme being distributed in Nagaon district, about 2 km away from Rahul Gandhi's stop on Sunday.

State ministers, MLAs and MPs were also stationed at panchayat offices to distribute these forms. 

State health minister Keshav Mahanta, who was at a  panchayat office in Nagaon’s Fuluguri, denied that the drive for the scheme was started to counter Gandhi’s yatra. The scheme was “already announced” and “has nothing to do with” Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, he told Newslaundry.

Amid the Congress’s allegations that the BJP government was putting hurdles to the yatra, CM Sarma had last week denied all such claims. 

Sarma said he had even cancelled his “pre-planned” events in the state’s upper districts to avoid a clash with the yatra and that the dates for the distribution of the welfare scheme forms were announced much before he was even aware of the Congress’s plan.

Yatra plan ‘foiled’

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the tenth day of the yatra, Gandhi is set to interact with students and members of Guwahati’s civil society after the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra resumes from the Queens Hotel.

The Guwahati Press Club’s president had extended an invite to Rahul Gandhi, but it did not materialise as the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra was not allowed to enter the heart of Guwahati and was confined to areas on its periphery. State Congress president Bora had announced the press club meeting when the yatra was in Majuli.

Earlier on Sunday, Sarma had said the yatra was not granted permission to pass through Guwahati’s prominent roads, such as the Guwahati-Shillong route, as it would clash with “office and school timings”. 

“Is the national highway not in Guwahati? What is this allegation that we denied them permission to enter Guwahati? We have just asked them not to use GS road and the road that passes through Chandmari. If they come through these roads forcefully…I will register a case against the two organisers of the yatra,” Sarma had said.

This report was published with AI assistance.

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