Bareilly (UP): A stampede-like situation occurred during a marathon organised by the Congress as part of its election campaign here, leaving three girls injured on Tuesday, with officials saying the turnout for the event was much higher than permitted.

While the Congress alleged that the incident was a fallout of laxity on part of the district administration and a conspiracy, the BJP said the opposition party was making girls “pawns” for its “petty politics”.

“Permission was given for 200 children. However, the number of those who actually turned up for the event was much higher,” City Magistrate Rajiv Pandey said, adding that the incident will be thoroughly probed and action will be initiated against the guilty.

Three girls, who participated in the marathon, were injured and they have been sent to the district hospital, he said.

“What led to the near stampede-like situation? What was the laxity? How a large number of children gathered there, and the permission given by the higher education department are some of the aspects that will be probed,” Pandey said.

The Congress has been organising marathons in different parts of Uttar Pradesh under its ‘Ladhki Hoon, Ladh Sakti Hoon’ (I am a girl, and can fight) campaign that furthers party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s women-centric agenda for the upcoming assembly polls.

A large number of participants of the long-distance run had gathered around 9 am at a school ground and video clips showed that in a rush to race ahead, participants stumbled and fell on each other.

Pandey claimed that the organisers had announced a scooty as first prize for the marathon’s winner. Participants were overexcited to get the scooty, leading to pushing and shoving, and creating a stampede-like situation, he said.

Videos showed there was no social distancing and many were not wearing masks, violating Covid protocols.

Local Congress leader and former Bareilly mayor Supriya Aron said, “People had gone to Vaishno Devi on a pilgrimage (on New Year day), what happened there? What will you call it? It is human tendency to race ahead (of others).”

“Here it is girls, who are studying in schools, and a little bit of ‘bhaag daurh’ took place,” she said.

Twelve people died in a stampede at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu, with its board saying it happened due to a scuffle between two groups.

State Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh alleged that the incident was the result of a “conspiracy” hatched by the BJP government in the state.

“Some girls were injured, and we are waiting for further details,” he told PTI.

“The district administration knew that the run was being held and did not cooperate,” Singh said, adding that the incident was a “fallout of laxity on the part of the local administration”.

The administration “did not cooperate” as far as the issue of security was concerned and the entire incident “smells of a conspiracy hatched by the BJP”, he said.

In Lucknow, Congress national spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told reporters: “Events like these are organised, some incidents like this do happen. But they (the incidents) should not have happened. Such incidents will not recur.”

To a question from reporters here about some from the Congress heckling at journalists covering the event, Aron said, “My request to the media is if somebody has felt bad (over something), I on the party’s behalf apologise. Nothing as such happened. I know that from within you all are ‘Congressi’ (Congress supporters).”

“Because, when I speak, the entire media in Delhi wants that Congress to return (to power),” Aron, who contested the last polls from Bareilly Cantt, told reporters.

Not ruling out the conspiracy angle, she said, “See, all types of people manage to sneak into such events. I will also say there could be a possible conspiracy.”

“Who was there? What was there? Did you see any faces? None amongst us were there. They are planted people. Don’t know who actually sneaked (in) after seeing increasing support for the Congress,” Aron said.

The state BJP unit in a tweet in Hindi said, “Making innocent girls pawns for your petty politics, is the height of shamelessness. The girls were beaten up in Jhansi (marathon), while the participants were kept hungry in Lucknow (marathon), and girls have been injured in Bareilly. Have some shame, Priyanka Vadra.”

Seeking to regain its lost ground in the politically crucial state, Congress has chosen to go into the polls with the gender equality agenda, and prominent is Priyanka Gandhi‘s announcement of alloting 40 per cent of poll tickets to women candidates. ‘Ladki Hoon Lad, Sakti Hoon is one of the slogans it has given to underscore women power. PTI NAV/CORR

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