NEW DELHI: Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday slammed the government for not allowing a delegation of opposition parties to visit Kashmir, saying it indicated that the things in Valley are not normal.
A delegation of 12 leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, was detained soon after it landed at the Srinagar airport. They were made to wait at the airport before they were sent back by another flight to Delhi.
They landed back in Delhi around 6.45 p.m.
In Delhi, Rahul Gandhi told reporters that a few days back he was invited by the Governor to visit J&K and that he had accepted his invitation. "We wanted to get a sense of what people are going through, but we were not allowed beyond the airport."
Hitting out at the government, the Congress leader said, "Press people with us were badly handled and beaten. It is clear that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is not normal."
According to Congress leaders, the delegation wanted to visit the Valley to take stock of the situation. The Valley has been placed under security lockdown since August 5, when Article 370 was abrogated.
Besides Rahul Gandhi, the delegation comprised Communist Party of India leader D. Raja, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Sitaram Yechury, Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and K.C. Venugopal, Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) Chief Sharad Yadav, Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, DMK's Tiruchi Siva, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Majeed Memon, RJD's Manoj Jha and Janata Dal Secular's D. Kupendra Reddy.
Earlier in the day, when the Opposition party leaders were detained, Rahul had told the Srinagar administration that the Government had invited him to visit the state.
"Now when I have come, you are telling that I am not allowed. That is a bit surprising," he said.
"The government is saying everything is normal here. If that's the case, then it's quite surprising that we are not allowed to go out," he said.
The Congress leader then said: "We want to go to any area which is peaceful, talk to 5-10 people... if Section 144 is imposed, then I am ready to go individually, not in a group."
The J&K administration had on Friday advised the leaders to stay away from the region, saying attempts should not be made to disturb the gradual restoration of normalcy in the state.
The opposition delegation's move came almost three weeks after the Centre abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution that accorded special status to J&K.
Before leaving for Srinagar, CPI's D. Raja said they were not going to the Valley to create any law and order problem. Congress' Azad also echoed similar views.
"The government says the situation in J&K is normal. But then they don't allow leaders to visit? Haven't seen such a contradiction. If things are normal there, why aren't we allowed to visit?" Azad asked.
"We are citizens of the country. So is everyone in J&K. We are not among those who can make things difficult for anyone. We just want to see the situation on the ground," Sharad Yadav told reporters.
On August 8 too, Azad was sent back from the Srinagar airport. Similarly, CPI and CPI-M General Secretaries Raja and Yechury, respectively, were also detained at the airport and then sent back.
Earlier in the month Rahul Gandhi and J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik entered into a war of words on Twitter. The Governor had said Rahul was responding to "fake news" and trying to politicise the situation.
The Governor on August 12 offered to send Rahul by an aircraft to visit the Valley and see for himself the ground situation, to which the Congress leader had said he didn't need an aircraft, but freedom to travel and meet the people.