The newly inaugurated Atal Rohtang Tunnel, the world's longest tunnel at an altitude above 10,000 feet, has now taken a peculiar political twist.
Two Congress leaders -- Gialchhen Thakur, president District Congress Committee, Lahaul-Spiti, and Hari Chand Sharma President, Block Congress Committee, Manali -- have filed FIRs with the police at Keylong and Manali respectively seeking investigations as to how the foundation stone laid by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the Rohtang Tunnel project on June 28, 2010 at Dhoondi (Manali)--the South Portal, has suddenly gone missing .
The two leaders informed the police that after inauguration of the Atal Rohtang Tunnel by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 3, 2020, they had tried to locate the foundation stone but did not find any trace of it at the south portal or elsewhere at the site. This, they alleged, was a deliberate and planned attempt to erase the evidence about Sonia Gandhi having performed the ceremony of the Tunnel to start work on this strategically important project, which has now been named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee .
Within hours after the lodging of two FIRs with the police, State Congress president Kuldeep Rathore also shot of a letter to Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, threatening a massive agitation against the government and district authorities at Kullu for the illegal act of removing the foundation stone laid by Sonia Gandhi in presence of then Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Union minister for steel Virbhadra Singh.
"This is an undemocratic, unconventional and illegal step ever noticed in the history of the Indian democracy that legally laid the foundation stone of any project approved by the then government is removed after its completion to fulfil the political goals of a particular ideology," he wrote in a two-page letter on October 12,2020. He warned that the party would launch a massive agitation if the stone is not reinstalled in its place within 15 days.
The Rs 3200 Cr Atal Rohtang Tunnel project was approved by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who also laid the foundation for an approach road in 2002 --showing intentions to build the tunnel for providing all weather connectivity to people of Lahaul-Spiti and shortening the distance between Manali and Keylong by 46 kms. The tunnel has assumed strategic importance in view of the recent standoff between the Indian army and the Chinese PLA in the Galwan valley of Ladakh.
Sonia Gandhi (then the National Advisory Council chief), had laid the foundation stone of the project on June 28, 2010. In her brief speech, she did recall Vajpayee, saying: "Atal Bihari Vajpayee had seen this dream of the tunnel getting constructed in 2002. It's a very tedious project but we hope the deadlines will be met and the goal achieved on time."
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has advised the opposition Congress not to create an unnecessary controversy over the Project of "a high national importance" for sheer political gains.