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Rahul-led Oppn leaders sent back from Srinagar

A delegation of opposition leaders, including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, were detained on arrival at the Srinagar airport on Saturday and sent back to Delhi by the Jammu and Kashmir administration.

The administration said the presence of the opposition leaders, who had intended to assess the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the effective revocation of its special status, could affect normalcy in the state.

Leaders present alongside Gandhi, who travelled to Srinagar in a 11:50am Vistara light on Saturday, said they were detained at the airport there for three hours and then sent back on another flight at 4pm.

Once detained, the leaders were shown a J&K government order, which said the state dispensation was apprehensive of locals being mobilised to stage protests and breaking the peace in the region.

“It has come to my notice that consisting of following honourable members of Parliament and other political leaders intend to mobilise people, on the 24th of August 2019. After their arrival at Srinagar international airport, in connection with recent Parliament proceedings, vis-a-vis abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India,” the order, signed by the district commissioner Budgaum, read.

Parliament on August 5 and 6 effectively revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, which conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and Article 35A, under which benefits such as government jobs and property ownership were reserved for those deemed to be permanent residents of the state. The Centre also bifurcated the state into Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh.

In a video released by the Congress party, Gandhi is seen speaking to J&K officials. “The Governor has said that I am invited. Now that I am here, you are saying that I cannot be here. That is a bit … (the) government is saying that everything is working here and everything is normal. So, if everything is normal, then why are we not allowed out? It’s a bit surprising. We want to go to any area which is peaceful, talk to 5-10-15 people, that’s all; we don’t want to do anything more. And if it’s 144, then I am ready to go individually,” Gandhi is heard saying in the video.

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code bars the public assembly of five or more people. Restrictions clamped on public movement and communications links in the Kashmir Valley to deter protests are still in place in some parts of the region.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Jha is seen asking an officer in another video shot by one of the leaders that in the absence of mobile connectivity, what does one do in case of a heart attack. When the police officer replies that the communication blackout was a “precautionary measure”, Nationalist Congress Party’s Majeed Memon is seen saying that the opposition leaders had not been consumed by politics when they travelled to Kashmir.

Trinamool Congress’s Dinesh Trivedi inquires about local political leaders — Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference’s Omar Abdullah — who are under detention and whether they are safe. As the officials do not relent, the delegation writes a memorandum.

“We are here at the public invitation of the honourable Governor who asked us to visit and see for ourselves the peace and normalcy that prevails. We are responsible political leaders and elected representatives and our intentions are entirely peaceful and humanitarian,” the memorandum read. “We record our strong objection to the basis of our detention, which prima facie is undemocratic and unconstitutional.”

Jha said several media personnel travelling on the flight were manhandled by the local police. “The officials did not allow us to meet our own citizens, and the manner in which media personnel were manhandled, leads me to say that I will not want to agree that the situation is normal.” Communist Party of India leader D Raja said: “This is a denial of our democratic rights; we went there on the governor’s public invitation. We now understand is that the situation is not normal at all.” He added that on the flight, several Kashmiri travellers came to Gandhi and others to recount their problems.

Gandhi was accompanied by several senior leaders, including party colleagues Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and KC Venugopal, Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Tiruchi Siva, and Janata Dal (Secular) leader D Kupendra Reddy, apart from Jha, Memon, Raja and Trivedi.

In Delhi, Gandhi and others addressed the media at the airport. “Some days ago, I was invited by the Governor to visit Jammu and Kashmir. So I accepted the invitation,” Gandhi said.

“The Governor had suggested that everything was normal and that he would send me a plane to visit the state. I told him I don’t need your plane but I will accept your invitation and I would come to Jammu and Kashmir,” Gandhi said. “We wanted to get a sense of what people are going through and help the situation if we could. But unfortunately we were not allowed to go beyond the airport. The press people with us were mishandled, beaten. It’s clear that things are not normal in Jammu and Kashmir.”

First Published:
Aug 24, 2019 23:43 IST

Source: HindustanTimes