The borders between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh were in for a mega political showdown on Thursday. The Congress has decided to raise the issue of failing law and order, Dalit oppression and women’s issues in Uttar Pradesh through the Hathras gangrape incident. In a bid not to allow the Opposition the leeway to gain brownie points, the state police decided to block the DND.
The day began with sources in the Congress revealing that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were going to visit the Hathras victim’s family. Immediately, the UP police shut off all except one lane of the DND flyway toll booth. The deployment of police personnel in riot gear was increased. When reports of the same started flashing on news channels, rumours soon spread that the UP Police wouldn’t allow the Congress leaders to enter the state. Party workers soon came in droves and camped at the toll booths, chanting slogans. “If they don’t allow Priyankaji or Rahulji to enter UP, we will block all roads. No one will enter UP then. There is absolutely no way they can stop someone from entering a state,” said a charged-up party worker.
The police soon issued a clarification that they were only readying for contingencies and didn’t have any orders to stop anyone from entering. All vehicles, though, were being peeped into to see all of its occupants.
Around 11:45 am, the cavalcade of the Gandhis rolled into view and the tension in the air was palatable. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, along with Ajay Kumar Lallu , were travelling in the same vehicle. If the police were to stop them, the supporters were getting ready to pounce. In a moment of anti-climax, the vehicles were allowed to pass.
A few kilometres away, the cavalcade was stopped to allow the cars of the supporters to catch up. Once the journey began, the shortest route to take towards Hathras was the Yamuna Expressway. Just as the scores of supporters, as well as the Gandhis, reached the entry point, their route was blocked. “We cannot allow so many vehicles to go to Hathras; Section-144 has been imposed in the area due to the Covid-19 crisis,” said the local SHO.
The Opposition leaders, though, were in fact waiting for this opportunity and promptly got down from their vehicles and began to walk. The Daily Guardian managed to get an exclusive opportunity to talk to Rahul Gandhi. When asked what his plans were, now that his entire group wasn’t being allowed to go, Rahul Gandhi said, “I’m going to walk the entire way to Hathras; I will meet the family today. It’s probably 150 km from here and the estimated time to reach by walking is 1-2 days? I’ll endure this if it means justice for our nation’s daughters.”
His sister, who was walking a few steps behind him, was also ready to endure the journey. “They are stopping us from meeting someone. How long will they hide these stories? Even yesterday a 14-year-old child was gang-raped, what is even the law and order situation in the state?” Priyanka told The Daily Guardian exclusively.
When asked about the Section 144 imposed in the area, she smiled and said, “In UP, Section 144 is a political tool used to curb the Opposition and dissent. It’s for nothing else in this state.”
After about 10-12 km of walking in the scorching heat, the UP Police stopped the group and told them they couldn’t go any further. “All of you will break the Section 144 rule and lead to a crisis there. We can’t allow you to move any further,” said DCP Vrinda Shukla.
As Rahul Gandhi pushed forward by not listening to the officer, a scuffle ensued and Rahul Gandhi was pushed to the ground by a UP Police constable. This was when the Congress leaders and supporters immediately decided to protest and sat down covering the entire road. An entire side of the freeway was blocked for a good one-and-a-half hours and the police first went to arrest Rahul Gandhi and then backtracked. “Either they arrest us or they kill us. Whatever gets our daughter justice. If this is how they’re treating an elected representative by pushing him to the ground, imagine what they’re doing to the common man,” said Congress leader Randeep Surjewala, who had joined in the protest.
UP Police’s Vrinda Shukla told The Daily Guardian, “We are not arresting anyone, but they need to understand we can’t let them go on. There is a crisis and this will create a law and order issue.”
When quizzed about Rahul Gandhi’s offer to go alone and not break any rules, she said, “He is a VVIP and a very popular figure. If he decides to go anywhere, hundreds would follow. There will never be an option of him going anywhere alone. It will always end in issues.”
The stalemate finally came to an end around 4:30, when the UP Police detained Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other senior Congress leaders, took them to a housing centre near Delhi and then escorted the Gandhis till they crossed back into the national capital. Then promptly orders were passed where groups were barred from travelling to Hathras from Delhi.
An FIR has also been lodged against 203 Congress leaders including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and current general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The Congress, though, has vowed not to give up on the issue and has said that they’ll fight the matter. Protests have been planned in various parts of the country, including the national capital over the next few days.