FILE PHOTO: Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, attends a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in New Delhi, India, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top opposition leaders including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi went ahead with their plans to visit the Kashmir valley in defiance of requests from local authorities not to do so.
The local administration of Jammu and Kashmir will not allow the opposition members to leave the airport at Srinagar, the state’s main city, and have booked a return flight to New Delhi a few hours after they land, top officials told Reuters.
Around eight senior leaders from several parties including the Congress, Communist Party of India and All India Trinamool Congress boarded the flight from New Delhi.
The situation in Kashmir remained tense with security forces using tear gas against stone-throwing local residents in the main city Srinangar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions.
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 would be the second attempt to visit the state by opposition leaders and the first by Gandhi after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government withdrew special rights for the Muslim-majority state.
The leaders of the Communist party were stopped at the Srinagar airport during the their first visit.
The Jammu and Kashmir media department 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 New Delhi.
Reporting by Aftab Ahmed and Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Editing by Shri Navaratnam