Just days ahead of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra touching Jammu & Kashmir, a political drama unfolded here on Tuesday as former BJP leader Chowdhary Lal Singh’s decision to join Mr. Gandhi’s yatra saw another party leader, Deepika Pushkar Nath, leaving it.
Mr. Singh, a former Congress Member of Parliament who joined the BJP in 2014 and served as a State Minister before quitting it in 2019, recently threw in his backing for Mr. Gandhi’s yatra and directed his followers to galvanise support for the yatra. Since then, Mr. Singh’s supporters, and corporators of the Kathua Municipal Council, where Mr. Singh holds sway, have been seen campaigning for the yatra.
Congress sources said Mr. Singh, who has launched the Dogra Swabhimaan Sangathan (DSS) party, is likely to join the yatra when Mr. Gandhi enters J&K on January 19. The former Congress president is addressing a public rally in Jammu on January 23, and will hold a final rally of the yatra at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium on January 30.
Speaking in Jammu, senior Congress leader Rajni Patil, also the party’s J&K in-charge, said several former Congress leaders who had left were returning to the party.
The Congress is expecting leaders of 23 political parties from across the country to take part in the rally in Kashmir, after the J&K administration formally granted permission to the party on Tuesday. “The yatra’s J&K leg will be the most successful with massive participation of people,” Ms. Patil said.
Those who are likely to join the yatra included National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah, and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti. “Anyone who believed in [Mahatma] Gandhi’s ideology of uniting the country and the philosophy of the Congress are welcome to be part of the yatra,” Ms. Patil said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Singh’s likely entry into the Congress saw Ms. Nath, another party leader and also the lawyer who fought the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old Kathua girl in 2018, announcing her resignation from the party.
In a series of tweets, Ms. Nath said, “In view of Choudhary Lal Singh’s proposal of joining Bharat Jodo and Congress allowing the same, I am left with no other option but to resign from Congress. Lal Singh was responsible in sabotaging the Kathua rape case in 2018 by brazenly defending rapists.”
“Lal Singh divided the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir to protect the rapists and Bharat Jodo Yatra is ideologically opposite. On ideological grounds, I cannot share the party platform with such a person,” she added.
Mr. Singh exited from the Mehbooba Mufti-led Cabinet on April 13, 2018 after his participation in a rally in support of Kathua rape accused evoked sharp criticism from the PDP, a ruling alliance partner of the BJP at the time.
The Congress remained silent on speculation over Mr. Singh’s plans to join the party.