New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was part of the opposition delegation that attempted to visit Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday afternoon, said it was clear that “things are not normal” there.
His comments came after the Jammu and Kashmir administration did not allow the delegation of opposition members to come out of the Srinagar airport to take stock of the situation there after the abrogation of Article 370 provisions.
The 11-member delegation comprised members of eight political parties - Congress, CPI(M), CPI, DMK, NCP, JD(S), RJD and the TMC. They had said they were "responding to the invite of the governor of Jammu and Kashmir for visiting the state".
"Some days ago, I was invited by the Governor to visit Jammu and Kashmir. So I accepted the invitation. 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," he added.
Governor Satya Pal Malik, however, said that Gandhi's visit was political in nature.
"I had invited him out of goodwill but he started doing politics. It (their visit) was nothing but a political action by these people. Parties should keep in mind the national interest at these times," news agency ANI quoted Malik as saying.
The Jammu and Kashmir government on Friday night had issued a statement asking political leaders not to visit the Valley as it would disturb the gradual restoration of peace and normal life.
The leaders from the eight political parties, who had flown to Srinagar this afternoon but returned within hours, lashed out at the government, questioning its claim of "normalcy" in the Valley.
"The government has invited me. Now that I have come, they are saying you can't come. The government is saying that everything is normal here, so if everything is normal then why are we not allowed to go in. It is surprising," Gandhi told reporters at the Srinagar airport.
"We want to go to any area which is peaceful and talk to 10-15 people. If there is Section 144, I am ready to go in individually, we don't have to go as a group," he said.
The CPI(M) said that the delegation had planned to visit various parts of the state over the next few days, talking to various people and sections of the populace and shades of political opinion to ascertain the situation existing on the ground and the difficulties that they are encountering as a result of the shutdown in the Kashmir valley.
"The denial of entry to well-known leaders of recognized political parties is an outright attack on the rights of political parties to meet and address their constituents. Denying entry is day light robbery of rights guaranteed by the Constitution," the CPI(M) said in a statement.
The Jammu and Kashmir Congress criticised the government for turning back the delegation.
Congress state president GA Mir and other party leaders said the government action belies its "repeated claims" that the situation in the valley has largely "normalised".
"Congress criticises the action of the government to disallow opposition delegation to visit Kashmir in view of its repeated claims that the situation in the valley has normalised to the extent that all government and other institutions are working normally and there is peace in most parts of the state," a statement issued by J&K Pradesh Congress Committee said.
On one hand, the Centre and state government made claims about normalcy while on the other they have declared the state out-of-bound for all mainstream leaders of the country except those of the ruling BJP, the statement said.
The opposition is equally concerned about the overall affairs of the country and is answerable to the people, it said.
This was the fourth attempt by the opposition to reach out to the people of the state in view of the situation that emerged following the decision to scrap J&K's special status and divide it into two union territories, the party said.
On the contrary, the party said that when the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre and an unrest had erupted in the state, the government had itself arranged an all-party delegation visit to the state in which the BJP was included.
Asked about the administration's decision to not allow opposition leaders to visit the Valley, J&K Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal said that the priority is to maintain security and law and order at a time when the threat of cross-border terrorism continues to exist.
"They had been requested to not visit the Valley," he said.
The opposition delegation, in a letter to the District Magistrate Budgam, termed as baseless the objections to the delegation's movement outside Srinagar airport and the apprehensions expressed in his order.
"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 letter signed by the delegation members said.
CPI general secretary D Raja who was part of the delegation said that the fact that they were denied entry into Srinagar showed that the government was "lying" about the "normalcy" in Jammu and Kashmir.
"We were asked to go back after we were shown an order. We had gone there on the invite of the governor and despite that we were asked to return. Where is the normalcy that the government promised?" asked Raja.
The letter stated that the "detention" of the leaders was "undemocratic" and "unconstitutional" and denial of movement in Srinagar amounted to "violation of fundamental rights".
The leaders included Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and KC Venugopal, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury , Tiruchi Siva (DMK), Sharad Yadav (LJD), Dinesh Trivedi (TMC), D Raja (CPI), Majeed Menon (NCP), Manoj Jha (RJD) and D Kupendra Reddy JD(S).
(With inputs from agencies)