India's top opposition leaders sent back from occupied Kashmir after landing in Srinagar

Published August 24, 2019
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi led the delegation of opposition leaders on the Kashmir visit. — AFP/File
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi led the delegation of opposition leaders on the Kashmir visit. — AFP/File

The administration of Indian-occupied Kashmir on Saturday sent back a delegation of India’s top opposition leaders, including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, shortly after they landed in Srinagar, Hindustan Times reported.

The opposition leaders had intended to visit Kashmir to assess the situation in the wake of the BJP government's decision to revoke the occupied region's special autonomy.

Top officials had told Reuters that the local administration of Jammu and Kashmir would not allow the opposition members to leave the airport at Srinagar, and had booked a return flight to New Delhi for them a few hours after they land.

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Around eight senior leaders from several parties including the Congress, Communist Party of India and All India Trinamool Congress had boarded the flight from New Delhi.

The Congress had tweeted that the visit led by Gandhi was "an attempt to review the reality in the region after the abrogation of Article 370".

The party condemned the BJP government's move to prevent opposition leaders from visiting occupied Kashmir, asking on Twitter why the delegation was sent back if, according to the government, the situation in the valley was "normal".

"What is the Modi govt trying to hide?" it further questioned.

The Congress also shared a representation signed by opposition leaders that was sent to the governor of Jammu and Kashmir "objecting to the undemocratic and unconstitutional detention of the multi-party delegation in Srinagar".

The situation in Kashmir remained tense with security forces using tear gas against stone-throwing local residents in Srinagar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions. As many as 400 politicians, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, remain under arrest, NDTV reported.

Speaking to the media before boarding the flight, the opposition leaders said they wanted to assess the situation in the valley which has been under lockdown for nearly three weeks now.

This was the second attempt to visit the region by opposition leaders and the first by Gandhi after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government withdrew special rights for the Muslim-majority region.

The leaders of the Communist party were stopped at the Srinagar airport during their first visit.

The Jammu and Kashmir media department had said late on Friday that political leaders have been asked not to visit Srinagar at a time when the government is gradually trying to restore public order.

“If the situation is normal then why is the government restricting us from entering the valley. On the one hand the government says that things are normal and on the other they impose entry restrictions, why so much contradictions,” senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said in comments to reporters before taking the flight from Delhi.

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