NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have defended blocking opposition politicians from visiting occupied Kashmir, saying it was to “avoid controversy” weeks after stripping the region of its special status and imposing a major clampdown.
India’s Hindu-nationalist BJP government has been criticised by the main opposition Congress party over the contentious move on August 5 that brings Kashmir under its direct rule.
The region remains under strict lockdown with movement limited and many phone and internet services cut, although authorities claim they have been easing restrictions gradually.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, a key figure in India as a scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was earlier invited by held Kashmir’s Governor Satya Pal Malik to visit the restive valley.
But a video released by Congress showed Gandhi questioning officials about why he was stopped from entering occupied Kashmir’s main city of 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 the 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.”
The 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.
Malik told the ANI news agency he invited Gandhi out of goodwill but that he then politicised the issue.
The controversy came as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a coalition of local political parties, 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,” APHC Chairman Syed Ali 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”.
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”.