New Delhi: An opposition delegation led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi heading to Kashmir, was stopped at the Srinagar airport and sent back to New Delhi on Saturday, soon after they landed there.
The delegation was planning to meet people at Srinagar and assess situation in the Kashmir Valley where restrictions are in place after the Centre withdrew special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
The delegation representing nine political parties - the Congress, CPI(M), CPI, DMK, NCP, JD(S), RJD, LJD and the TMC - had said that they were "responding to the invite of the the governor of Jammu and Kashmir for visiting the state".
"The government has invited me. The governor has said that I am invited. 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," Congress leader Rahul 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.
A statement from CPI(M)'s Politburo slammed the government over "denial of entry" into Srinagar to opposition leaders, alleging it was "day light robbery of rights" guaranteed by the Constitution. It also said the visit by politicians would be in violation of restrictions that have been imposed in many areas of the Valley.
The development comes a day after the Jammu and Kashmir government issued a statement asking political leaders not to visit the Valley as it would disturb the gradual restoration of peace and normal life. It also said the visit by politicians would be in violation of restrictions that have been imposed in many areas of the Valley.
Jammu and Kashmir has been under a security clampdown since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, that accorded the state a special status.
The delegation of 11 opposition leaders had left Delhi by 11:50am. It was not allowed to leave the airport, IANS reported.
"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 for days together," the CPI(M) statement said.
"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," it said.
The CPI(M) also alleged misbehavior of police with media at the airport.
"If 'normalcy' exists in the Valley as claimed by the government, why is it stopping representatives of political parties from meeting the people?" it asked
It said that the people of the country were watching this "blatant trampling upon of the democratic rights of people and their representatives by a party which seeks to impose a totalitarian regime".
Top Congress leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma had accompanied Rahul Gandhi. CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury, CPI's D Raja, DMK's Tiruchi Siva, RJD's Manoj Jha and Dinesh Trivedi from TMC were also be part of the delegation.
Before leaving for Srinagar, Raja said they were not going to the Valley to create any law and order problem. Azad also said they were not going to break any law as they were leaders of responsible political parties.
"The government says 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 said.
So far, the government has not allowed any political leader to enter the state ever since provisions of Article 370 were abrogated by the Centre.
Leaders of regional parties, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have been put under house arrest.
Earlier in the month Rahul Gandhi and J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik had entered into a war of words on Twitter. The Governor had said Gandhi was responding to fake news and trying to politicise the situation.
The Governor on August 12 had offered to send Gandhi an aircraft to visit the Valley and see for himself the ground situation, to which the Congress leader had responded saying he didn't need an aircraft but freedom to travel and meet the people.
On August 8, Azad had tried to visit Srinagar, but was not allowed to leave the airport. Similarly, Raja and Yechury were also detained at the airport and then sent back to Delhi.
(With inputs from IANS and PTI)