A meeting of the Congress' top decision-making body to appoint its next chief was briefly halted after reports of "violence and deaths" emerged from Jammu and Kashmir, former party president Rahul Gandhi claimed on Saturday night. He said this to reporters minutes before the party leadership formally announced that his mother, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, has been appointed as the interim Congress chief.
Rahul Gandhi, who emerged from the meeting around 10 pm, said that the meeting to choose his successor was stopped over disturbing reports from the Valley. "Things are going very wrong there. There are reports of violence, of people dying. We stopped deliberation on our meeting to conduct a presentation on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir," he told reporters. "It is imperative that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the central government come clean on the matter."
However, the Jammu and Kashmir police denied reports of any violence in the region. "The people are requested to not believe fabricated and motivated news. No firing incident has taken place in Kashmir over the last six days... The situation is calm, people are cooperative and restrictions are being relaxed to ease the situation. Srinagar and other towns were full of traffic and people busy with Eid shopping today," it said in a tweet.
The BJP-led centre had scrapped the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir through a presidential order earlier this week, and bifurcated it into two union territories. The region has been under a security clampdown ever since, with restrictions showing signs of easing from Friday.
Rahul Gandhi had criticised the centre over its handling of the Kashmir issue on earlier occasions too. "Kashmir's mainstream political leaders have been jailed at secret locations. This is unconstitutional and undemocratic. It's also shortsighted and foolish because it will allow terrorists to fill the leadership vaccuum created by the Government of India. The imprisoned leaders must be released," he tweeted on Tuesday, a day after the centre scrapped Jammu and Kashmir's special status.
He was referring to the detention of National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti and Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference chairman Sajjad Lone by the centre as a "precautionary measure".
After the meeting, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Sonia Gandhi will serve as the party chief only until a new one is chosen by the party leadership. "We asked Rahul Gandhi to reconsider his decision to quit the position, but he respectfully declined our requests. This is why we decided to appoint Sonia Gandhi as the party's interim president," he added.
Rahul Gandhi had announced his decision to quit the party's top post in May after its disastrous performance in the recent Lok Sabha election.