Members of various opposition parties, including a regional group from Kashmir, which opposes Modi’s policies but is pro-India, attended Gandhi’s rally in Srinagar in snow and bitter cold.
Hundreds of police and militia covered the Lalchok area of Srinagar, restricting the movement of civilians and ensuring that only those with parliamentary party-issued passes could enter the venue.
Gandhi, 52, and other leaders in traditional Kashmiri tunics worn in winter stood on an open podium inside a cricket stadium.
The march was to “raise your voice against hate” and “open a shop of love in the bazaar of hate”.
Gandhi said he wanted to show India to be a “land of love”.
Gandhi launched the “Bharat Jod Yatra” or “March to Unite India” on September 7 in Kanyakumari, India’s southernmost coastal town. ), traversing 12 states before ending in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The march through hundreds of villages and towns has attracted farmers worried about rising debt, students complaining about rising unemployment and activists who say the health of India’s democracy is waning. Along the way, Gandhi ditched his former clean-shaven look, grew a thick beard, and slept in a hut made out of shipping containers for the night.
Hindu nationalism surged under Modi and his party, which has been criticized for increasing hate speech and violence against Muslims. He claims it threatens unity, but his party denies this.
Modi’s party dismissed Gandhi’s march and speech as a political ploy to regain his “lost credibility”.
In a fiery speech during the march, Gandhi accused Modi and his government of doing little to address growing economic inequality, rising religious polarization and the threat posed by China.
Since 2020, Indian and Chinese forces have been in a bitter confrontation in the mountainous Ladakh region. Opposition parties and some experts say Chinese forces have occupied Indian positions in the cold desert of Ladakh.
In Srinagar, Gandhi told reporters that Modi was “frankly the only person in India who has the impression that the Chinese have not taken land from India.”
Gandhi also accused Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party of “attacking the country’s institutional framework”.
“Whether it is parliament, parliament, judiciary, media, all institutions are being attacked and captured by the BJP,” he said.
He set a conciliatory tone in Kashmir, where New Delhi ended the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019 and directly managed it amid widespread crackdowns and communication cutoffs.
“Restoration of the state status and democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir is fundamental and very important and I think it will be the first step,” Gandhi said on Sunday. I am not satisfied with what I do, in fact I am sad.”
Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan, each controlling parts of the region.
Gandhi called the march a “vision” and said it was “not just a walk” but “an idea of how India should move forward”.
With national elections about 15 months away, it will determine whether the beleaguered opposition can challenge the powerful electoral college of Modi’s party, which won majorities in 2014 and 2019. but marching can help.