India defends barring politicians from visiting occupied Kashmir

August 26, 2019

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Rahul Gandhi, his team after being sent back from Srinagar. — Photo courtesy DNA India
Rahul Gandhi, his team after being sent back from Srinagar. — Photo courtesy DNA India

Indian authorities have defended blocking opposition politicians from visiting occupied Kashmir, saying it was to "avoid controversy", as a crippling security lockdown entered its fourth week in the restive territory on Monday.

India's Hindu-nationalist government has been criticised by the main opposition Congress party over the contentious move on August 5 that brings occupied Kashmir — which has waged an armed struggle against Indian control since 1989 — under its direct rule.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, still a key figure in India as a scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was earlier invited by Indian-occupied Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik to visit occupied Kashmir.

But video released by Congress showed Gandhi questioning officials about why he was stopped from entering Srinagar at the airport on Saturday.

"The governor has said I'm invited. He has invited me so I have come but you're saying I can't go," he said.

"And government is saying everything is OK, everything is normal. So if everything is normal, why are we not allowed out? It is a bit surprising."

Regional police chief Dilbagh Singh told AFP police supported the decision.

"In an environment that is getting to normalcy, we didn't want any controversial statement from anyone. That's why they were asked to return from the airport itself," Singh said on Sunday.

Malik told the ANI news agency he invited Gandhi out of good will but that he then politicised the issue.

Read: 'We won't give an inch': India faces defiance in 'Kashmir's Gaza'

The controversy came as the All Parties Hurriyat Confe­rence (APHC) released its first official comments since the clampdown and called for locals to "resist at this critical juncture" New Delhi's move.

"Each and every person must face the naked Indian brutality with courage [...] People should organise peaceful protests and demonstrations in their areas of residence," chairman of the APHC Syed Ali Shah Geelani said in a statement obtained by AFP.

The Hurriyat Conference added that Pakistan and the wider Muslim community should "come forward to [...] help the besieged people".

Read: Hurriyat leader Geelani urges Kashmiris to unite, issues 5-point 'programme of action'

The call came as India's home affairs ministry refuted a report by India's News18 television on Sunday that the region was running out of lifesaving medicines, saying supplies were “slightly higher than the monthly average”.