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Bharat Jodo Yatra: Why Lal Singh's Entry Made Deepika Pushkar Nath Quit Congress

Congress' Jammu and Kashmir spokesperson and lawyer Deepika Pushkar Nath quit the party over the issue.

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Chaudhary Lal Singh's potential entry in the Bharat Jodo Yatra's Jammu and Kashmir leg has caused a stir even before the procession has entered the union territory. The Congress is set to enter JnK on Thursday evening, and this will mark the beginning of the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s last leg, ending on 30 January in Srinagar. Deepika Pushkar Nath, the Congress’ JnK spokesperson had hit out at the Congress by announcing her resignation on Twitter on Wednesday. 

“Lal Singh was responsible in sabotaging the Kathua rape case in 2018 by brazenly defending rapists,” Nath had tweeted. “On ideological grounds, I cannot share the party platform with such a person.” 

Nath was the lawyer of the family of the rape victim during the initial period of the case.

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Speaking to The Quint, the lawyer said that she “did not take this big step impulsively.” 
 
“Last Thursday (12 January), I had written to the entire top brass of the Congress party requesting them to take off Lal Singh’s name from the BJY. I knew his entry would hurt the party because of his history of communal divisiveness. I wrote to K.C Venugopal (General Secretary-Organisation), and forwarded that letter to a number of leaders, but no one responded to me, so I was forced to take this step,” Nath told The Quint. "I am not the enemy of the Congress party, it's those people who are hurting the party by allowing such a man to join the yatra."
 
She further said that Jairam Ramesh, Congress General Secretary incharge of Communications told her that Lal Singh “is not joining Congress but may walk”.  
 
Ramesh did not respond to The Quint’s messages inquiring about Lal Singh’s involvement. 

Earlier, on Tuesday, AICC in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir Rajni Patil had told media that  the BJY is not a political yatra, but a social yatra. Responding to questions about the potential negative impact of Singh’s presence on how the yatra is perceived, she had said, "We are only focused on our leader's march. If he believes that Gandhi is bridging the gap between different religions and castes, he is welcome.”

Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, responding an ANI question during Wednesday’s yatra, said he “doesn’t even know who Deepika Pushkar Nath is.”  

“Such people make such statements only to run their shop,” he said. 

Controversies Galore

Singh’s political career has been laced with a series of controversies. After spending over two decades with the Congress party, Singh jumped ship and joined the BJP in 2014 and was subsequently inducted in the state cabinet of the then BJP-PDP government. In 2015, a woman doctor at the state-run Hospital for Psychiatry Diseases in JnK had accused Singh of publicly shouting at her and leaving her “mentally harassed and wrecked”. Singh was the minister of health and minister of education at the time. 
 
In 2016, he had reportedly threatened Gujjar Muslim farmers by reminding them of the 1947 massacre of the community.  

In 2018, he was forced to resign as minister when he participated in a rally organised by a group called ‘Hindu Ekta Manch’, in support of the accused in the Kathua rape and murder case of 8-year-old girl Asifa Bano who hailed from the Bakarwal community.  
 
The 2-time MP and 3-time MLA subsequently floated his own party called the ‘Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party’.  
 
Singh was also criticised widely for asking journalists to “draw a line” in their work, or end up like Shujaat Bukhari. Bukhari was a senior journalist and editor of ‘Rising Kashmir’, who was shot dead in 2018.  

In 2020, the CBI launched a probe into the allegations of land grabbing and corruption by an education trust run by Singh.

‘Whitewashing his past’: Political Reactions From JnK Leaders

As pictures of banners with Lal Singh’s face plastered next to Rahul Gandhi, welcoming the latter into JnK began doing the rounds on social media, leaders of other political parties reacted sharply.  

Omar Abdullah, vice-president of the National Conference said that Lal Singh might try to use the yatra to “whitewash his communal record”. Speaking to reporters, Abdullah added that “Congress leaders should see who all are joining the yatra and check their recent track record.”  

Interestingly, just months ago in September 2022, NC leader and former CM Farooq Abdullah had organised an all-party meet, where Lal Singh was present and sat alongside all the top leaders.   

In response to Deepika Pushkar Nath’s resignation, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti defended the move of allowing Lal Singh to join, saying that it doesn’t matter who joins the BJY, what matters is the “motive.” “Rahul Gandhi is out on the streets, thousands of people are joining him and trying to stitch back the fabric of the country. It doesn’t matter to me who is joining him, what matters is the motive,” Mufti told ANI.  

Earlier this week, Rahul Gandhi, in a press conference had rejected the thought of BJP leader Varun Gandhi joining the BJY, for ideological reasons. Many users on social media pointed out that the same yardstick should be applied to Lal Singh.  

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