Srinagar: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said the restoration of statehood and democratic process is a very important first step in Jammu and Kashmir, asserting that the security situation has not improved in the valley as claimed by the BJP.
Gandhi asked why Union Home Minister Amit Shah does not take out a yatra from Jammu to Kashmir if the security situation has improved.
Bomb blasts and targeted killings are still taking place in the Union territory, Gandhi said, when asked about the BJP's claims that the security situation in J-K has improved.
"If it (security) had improved, then the security people would not have had the conversations that they had with me.
"If what they claim is the case, then why doesn't the BJP hold a rally from Jammu to Lal Chowk? If the situation is so good, then why doesn't Mr Amit Shah walk from Jammu to Kashmir? I don't think that argument holds," the former Congress chief said.
Gandhi said he has come to Jammu and Kashmir with an open heart and open arms to help people in whatever way he can.
"Love, affection and listening, I believe, are powerful forces. I don't want to comment on the historical aspect of it, I want to look forward and I (have) come here with an open heart... and open arms to help in whatever way I can," Gandhi told reporters here at the end of the 4,000-km Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The Congress leader was asked about the promises made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir by the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru when he unfurled the national flag at Lal Chowk in 1948.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi hoisted the national flag at the city's iconic Lal Chowk after concluding his foot march.
Responding to several questions about the restoration of statehood, the Congress leader said it should be the first step taken in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Statehood and restoration of democratic process is a fundamental and very important first step. The other steps will come later and I do not necessarily have to comment on it here," he said, referring to a question about holding talks with Pakistan.
"All states have an assembly. Democratic process is the right of the people and it should be restored in Jammu and Kashmir. A solution should be found for the people of Ladakh as well," he added.
In response to a question about the revocation of Article 370 in 2019, Gandhi said the Congress Working Committee has already made its stand clear on the issue.
Article 370 granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was revoked by the Centre on August 5, 2019.
However, when asked whether the Centre’s August 5, 2019 decisions were born out of "hate" that the yatra was taken against, Gandhi said what is being seen in different parts of the country and also in J-K is a result of an assault on the country’s institutions.
“The RSS and the BJP are attacking the institutional framework of this country, whether it is Parliament, assemblies, the judiciary, or the media. All institutions are being attacked and captured by the BJP.
“What you are seeing in different parts of the country and in Jammu and Kashmir are results of that assault on the institutional framework,” he said.
"When we talk in the Parliament, our mic is shut off. So frankly, being a member of the Lok Sabha means nothing,” he said and cited it as one of the main reasons for taking out the yatra.
Gandhi said he wants to talk about ‘notebandi’, GST, China or about democracy in India, but he is not allowed to speak (in Parliament).
He said it is happening all across the country.
“And it is happening in all different ways, in different parts of the country. We lost government after government after winning the elections. We won the elections in Madhya Pradesh and our government disappeared. This is the way of operating that they have,” Gandhi charged.
The Congress leader sidestepped a question if his party will be part of the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of regional parties and the CPI(M) striving for the restoration of J-K's special status.
Gandhi said he was not happy with what he saw in J-K.
"When I entered Jammu and Kashmir, I met people from Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir regions. No one whom I met -- I met farmers, students, youths, businessmen -- seemed to be happy or excited about what is happening here," he said, adding in fact, "I am saddened when I walk through J-K.
Asked if his party comes to power, would it reverse the laws implemented by the Centre in J-K, the Congress leader said an elected assembly can take all those decisions when the democratic process is restored in the UT.
The Wayanad MP said he experienced a "powerful" feeling of homecoming during his journey through J-K.
"A strange idea came to my mind...my family came from Jammu and Kashmir and moved to Allahabad and now I was doing a reverse journey. It was a powerful feeling of homecoming," he said.
Gandhi said he was humbled by the love and affection he received in J-K.
Asked about the issues raised by people during the Jammu and Kashmir leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi said most of the issues were similar to the rest of the country like inflation and unemployment.
"Statehood, representation and voice of people was another set of issues that came up here," he said.
He, however, said the response that the yatra got in J-K was overwhelming.
“A lot of people told us that they felt that the yatra reached out to them and the yatra showed them that the politics of affection and respect is possible. So the yatra has already had quite a positive effect on the people of J-K.
“Many people who walked with us, told us that we have come out and are so happy that you are talking about love and affection and brotherhood in the country,” he said.
Gandhi said the yatra was not just a march to bring religions together, but to bring everybody together.
“It is a yatra aimed at expressing to people that we are all one, we should respect each other, all communities, all languages, all castes. We will only move forward effectively if we embrace each other, talk to each other, iron out our differences and move forward. That message is conveyed to the people as far as the yatra is concerned,” he added.