Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, making his first visit to Srinagar since the government scrapped special status for Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, and split it into two union territories, has demanded restoration of J&K’s statehood and the conduct of Assembly election.
He also slammed the government for shutting down the opposition, saying that they were “shouted down whenever we want to raise the issue of J&K or Pegasus”, and warned people of a “direct assault on Jammu and Kashmir, and an indirect assault on the rest of the country”.
Mr Gandhi said his visit – today is the second and final day – was a homecoming of sorts.
“I want a relationship of dignity and love with people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have faced pain and suffering… before Delhi, my family was living in Allahabad. Before that they were living in Kashmir…”
“I understand you. My family has taken the water of Jhelum. Your customs and your thinking… which we call kashmiryat… is also in me,” the Congress leader, said, vowing to fight and defeat “the ideology of fear and hatred (spread) by the BJP and RSS”.
Addressing J&K party workers in Srinagar – where he opened a new office for the party – Mr Gandhi said: “My message to you (Congress workers and the people of J&K) is that I have brought respect and love for you… this new office is a new beginning. I tried coming earlier but was stopped at the airport itself. Aaj aaya hoon, jald waapis bhi aaunga (Today I have come, and will return soon)”.
Mr Gandhi also visited the famous Hazratbal Dargah in Srinagar.
He posted images on Instagram and said: “Prayed for peace and brotherhood at Hazratbal Dargah. The biggest strength of our country is our unity – there is no place for hate and fear here.”
Two years ago Rahul Gandhi was stopped from visiting J&K – a delegation of Congress leaders that included him were turned back from Srinagar airport.
This was days after Article 370 was scrapped amid furious protests and chaos in Parliament, and the government imposed tough restrictions to deal with the fallout of the controversial move.
His visit this week coincides with the two-year anniversary of that move and comes after a recent all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Modi, at which the Congress called for J&K’s statehood.
The meeting was attended by 14 leaders from eight mainstream J&K political parties, including four Chief Ministers, and the PM said statehood would be restored “at an appropriate time”. He urged all parties to get on board with delimitation, or redrawing of constituencies, to enable elections.
The delimitation process began last month, but it faces questions after the Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP) decided against meeting the Delimitation Commission.
In a strongly worded letter, the party questioned the commission’s constitution and intent. Parties that met the Commission, including the National Conference, raised similar apprehensions.
The Congress has also questioned the need for this exercise in J&K when delimitation has been stalled across the country till 2026. The Congress and other opposition parties have been demanding that statehood be restored before elections are held.