Hundreds of buses massed by the Congress on the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh for migrant workers turned back on Wednesday evening, signalling an end to the party's standoff with the UP government that also led to the arrest of its state unit president.
In a video message, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the party is taking back the 1,000 buses it had arranged if the Uttar Pradesh government didn't want to use them to help stranded migrant workers return home.
Vadra said the buses will remain at the UP border till 4 pm, when it would be 24 hours since they were brought there.
"If you don't want to use them, it doesn't matter. We shall send them back," she said, adding that the party had turned back some buses a few days earlier as well.
Her message was put out minutes before the 4 pm deadline given Tuesday night.
An hour and a half later, a police official in Rajasthan's Bharatpur district said the buses had started returning from the border.
In Lucknow, UP Congress spokesperson Lallan Kumar confirmed this later.
Congress workers held a dharna at the party's Uttar Pradesh headquarters, displaying banners and placards, over the denial of permission for the buses by the state's Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Lallan Kumar said similar dharnas were held at party offices in other districts.
They were also protesting over the arrest, initially on Tuesday evening, of UP Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu.
Lallu was arrested in Agra for violating lockdown rules when he led a protest over the buses being stopped at the Rajasthan-UP border.
An Agra court granted him bail on Wednesday. But the party said he was later rearrested in connection with another FIR registered at a Lucknow police station.
Lallu and Priyanka Gandhi's personal secretary Sandeep Singh are charged with cheating and forging documents in the Lucknow FIR registered on Tuesday.
The UP government claimed the list submitted by the Congress contained unsafe buses and registration numbers of vehicles like autorickshaws, cars and trucks.
Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma repeated the allegations on Wednesday, while calling the Congress offer to send buses a 'political stunt'.
He said about 460 buses mentioned in the Congress list of 1049 buses were “fake”, implying that the state government could not make use of them.
He said 297 of the buses were 'junk', an apparent reference to the government claim that they lacked either insurance papers or fitness certificates.
98 vehicles in the list submitted to the state government by the Congress are cars, ambulances and three-wheelers, he said.
"Should we run the unfit buses and put the lives of the migrant labourers at risk?" he said.
Sharma claimed that the buses belonged to roadways corporation of Rajasthan, where the Congress is in power.
"How can the resources of a state government be utilised by a political party?" he said.
Before appearing to call off the standoff, Priyanka Gandhi urged the Yogi Adityanath government to make use of the buses, saying it could put BJP banners on them if it wanted.
Addressing migrant workers, she said the party will stand by them. "We will help you to the best of our ability."
Apart from the buses at the UP-Rajasthan border, the Congress also brought 200 buses to Noida, another gateway to the state.
Police said they were turned away as they did not carry permits to enter Uttar Pradesh.
Congress leader Rajiv Shukla, present there, was also asked to go back to Delhi, Gautam Buddh Nagar police said.