Bad weather and landslides on Wednesday led to the cancellation of the second leg of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra that was scheduled to start this afternoon in the nearby highway town of Banihal.
Amid incessant rains, Gandhi resumed the march from Ramban Wednesday morning but inclement weather forced its suspension. The march will now resume on Friday as tomorrow is a rest day.
The journey from Ramban to Banihal along the 270-km Jammu-Srinagar national highway –- the only all-weather road linking Kashmir with the rest of the country -- is the most challenging due to several problematic stretches, including Panthiyal, Mehar and Magerkote which are prone to shooting of stones from the hillocks overlooking the arterial road.
Traffic on the highway was suspended Wednesday morning after heavy rains triggered shooting of stones at a few places in Ramban district that left a truck driver dead and two others injured.
"Due to poor weather conditions and landslides in the area, the afternoon leg of#Bharat Jodo Yatra in Ramban & Banihal has been cancelled. Tomorrow is a rest day and the Yatra will resume day after, January 27th at 8 am,” Congress General Secretary and in-charge communication Jairam Ramesh tweeted.
Earlier in the day, J-K Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Jahanzaib Sirwal said the yatra resumed around 9 am from Bathi after an hour-long delay due to heavy rains and completed the first leg on day 131, covering the old alignment road via Maitra in Ramban town.
Gandhi, who started the march wearing his trademark white T-shirt, later donned a black raincoat. Enthusiastic Congress workers and supporters carrying the tricolour turned up in large numbers despite the rains to receive the Gandhi family scion.
Jammu and Kashmir Congress Chief Vikar Rasool Wani, who hails from Banihal and represented the assembly constituency twice in the past two elections, was seen moving alongside Gandhi and introducing him to various delegations as they cover the five-km stretch.
“We covered about six km in Ramban and were scheduled to restart the Yatra two km ahead of Banihal town after crossing the landslide prone area in vehicles this afternoon. The district administration, both civil and police officers, advised against moving ahead due to the high risk of rolling stones and therefore, the yatra was suspended for the day,” Wani said.
He said Gandhi waited for three hours for the weather to improve and get clearance from authorities but since the road was closed, the yatris were asked to stay back for the second night halt at Ramban.
“The Yatra is having a break day on Thursday and it will resume from Banihal on Friday and will enter Kashmir,” the Congress leader said.
According to officials, a few inches of snow had accumulated in Lamber, where Yatra was scheduled to spend the night camping in Banihal. The weather office has forecast heavy snowfall over middle and higher reaches and rains in plains during the day.
The march started from Kanyakumari on September 7 and entered Jammu and Kashmir via Punjab on Thursday.
The marathon march will culminate with Gandhi unfurling the national flag at the party headquarters in Srinagar and addressing a grand rally at the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on January 30.