J&K admin stops oppn team from visiting Srinagar

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Left party leaders D Raja and Sitaram Yechury, Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) chief Sharad Yadav, DMK MP Tiruchi Siva and others at Srinagar airport, Saturday, Aug 24, 2019. (PTI photo)

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and 11 other leaders from nine parties were shepherded out of Srinagar after they flew into the Jammu Kashmir capital on Saturday afternoon to see for themselves the situation in the state, which is under lockdown following the scrapping of its special status by the Narendra Modi government three weeks ago.

If their flying into Srinagar itself was dramatic, high drama awaited them in their return to Delhi at 4 PM as a host of passengers in the aircraft, including women who were flying out of the Valley, rushed to them seeking their intervention to save them as well as the youth from harassment.

Some of them spoke to Rahul asking him to “help us” in this hour of trouble while a flustered crew had difficulty in setting an order in the airline. The leaders, including CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury, CPI's D Raja and veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadav, assured them their support.

The leaders, who also included DMK's Tiruchi Siva, Trinamool Congress' Dinesh Trivedi, NCP's Majid Memon, RJD's Manoj Jha and JD(S)' Kupendra Reddy, landed in Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport at around 1:30 PM and were immediately taken to a lounge where they were told they cannot proceed to the city. Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, and K C Venugopal were also part of the team.

Senior administration officials denied them permission to step out and told the leaders that their visit would disturb the law and order in the state. To this, the leaders told them that they were there on an invitation from Governor Satyapal Malik who had asked them to “see for ourselves the peace and normalcy that prevails" in the state.

In what the leaders later termed as “objectionable” and attributes “motives which are baseless and lack substance”, the order restricting them said that political leaders and MPs have reached Srinagar with an intent to “mobilise people and fuel protests” after their arrival.

“I have come here and now you say I can't go out. The government is saying everything is normal. So if everything is normal, why are you not allowing us. It is a bit surprising. We want to go to any area which is peaceful and talk to 15 people. If Section 144 is imposed, I will go alone. We don't even have to go as a group,” Rahul told officials.

Sources said leaders also asked about the whereabouts and well-being of political leaders, including Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti.

In a terse letter in response to the order, the leaders said they were responsible people and their intentions are “entirely peaceful and humanitarian”.

"We are here to express solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as well as to expedite the process of return to normalcy. We record our strong objection to the basis of our detention, which prima facie is undemocratic and unconstitutional. This denial of our movement in Srinagar also amounts to a violation of our fundamental rights," they said.

Opposition sources said they would be meeting again in a couple of days to chalk out plans to intensify protests demanding the release of political leaders under detention for the past three weeks in Jammu and Kashmir after the scrapping of special status.

On Thursday, 10 parties joined a protest in Delhi to demand the release of leaders and in a meeting the next day, they decided to fly to Srinagar. Opposition leaders claimed that the way the government is behaving is not conducive for bringing peace and normalcy and pressure should be put on the administration to take steps to help people of Kashmir. 

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