Srinagar: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, making his first visit to Srinagar since the government scrapped special status for Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, and split it into two union territories, has demanded restoration of J&K's statehood and the conduct of a "free and fair" Assembly election.
He also slammed the government for shutting down the opposition, saying that they were "shouted down whenever we want to raise the issue of J&K or Pegasus", and warned people of a "direct assault on Jammu and Kashmir, and an indirect assault on the rest of the country".
"Ghulam Nabi Azadji asked me to raise the issue of Kashmir in Parliament. But I want to tell you we are not allowed to speak there. There are many issues like Pegasus, corruption and unemployment that I want to raise but we are not given a chance to speak," Mr Gandhi said.
"Today it is not only J&K but every institution, like the judiciary, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, that is being attacked. The media is not reflecting the truth... they are being suppressed, threatened. They are scared. They fear losing jobs if they report facts," he added.
"Statehood (for J&K) should be restored and the democratic process - that is, election (to the J&K Assembly) should be started," he stressed.
Mr Gandhi said his visit - today is the second and final day - was a homecoming of sorts.
"I want a relationship of dignity and love with people of Jammu and Kashmir, who have faced pain and suffering... before Delhi, my family was living in Allahabad. Before that they were living in Kashmir..."
"I understand you. My family has taken the water of Jhelum. Your customs and your thinking... which we call kashmiriyat... is also in me," the Congress leader, said, vowing to fight and defeat "the ideology of fear and hatred (spread) by the BJP and RSS".
Addressing J&K party workers in Srinagar - where he opened a new office for the party - Mr Gandhi said: "My message to you (Congress workers and the people of J&K) is that I have brought respect and love for you... this new office is a new beginning. I tried coming earlier but was stopped at the airport itself. Aaj aaya hoon, jald waapis bhi aoonga (Today I have come, and will return soon)".
Mr Gandhi also visited the famous Hazratbal Dargah in Srinagar.
He posted images on Instagram and said: "Prayed for peace and brotherhood at Hazratbal Dargah. The biggest strength of our country is our unity - there is no place for hate and fear here."