"Bit Of Kashmiriyat In Me," Says Rahul Gandhi In J&K, Attacks Centre

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

The Congress and Rahul Gandhi have called for restoration of J&K's statehood and an Assembly election

Srinagar:

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 a "free and fair" 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".

"Ghulam Nabi Azadji asked me to raise the issue of Kashmir in Parliament. But I want to tell you we are not allowed to speak there. There are many issues like Pegasus, corruption and unemployment that I want to raise but we are not given a chance to speak," Mr Gandhi said.

"Today it is not only J&K but every institution, like the judiciary, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, that is being attacked. The media is not reflecting the truth... they are being suppressed, threatened. They are scared. They fear losing jobs if they report facts," he added. 

"Statehood (for J&K) should be restored and the democratic process - that is, election (to the J&K Assembly) should be started," he stressed.

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 kashmiriyat... 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 aoonga (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."

Earlier in the day, veteran Congress leader Mr Azad, who is a J&K former Chief Minister, urged Mr Gandhi to raise these issues in Parliament and ensure that a bill to restore statehood is passed.

"I request Rahulji to raise this issue... bring a bill in Parliament in the ongoing session that will restore statehood and protect land and job rights. It will take just five minutes," Mr Azad said.

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.

With input from ANI, PTI