Bond Renewed After A Decade19 April 2010
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Srinagar: If Kashmir needed a brand ambassador to send the message that it was safe again, it couldn’t have got a better one. Priyanka Vadra today ended a three-day family trip to the militancy-hit Valley, putting Kashmir back on the list of holiday destinations of the Nehru-Gandhi family after a gap of over a decade. The visit was to celebrate her husband Robert’s birthday and accompanying the couple were their children Raihan and Miraya. The Nehru-Gandhis trace their roots to Kashmir, the family’s favourite holiday destination before militancy bloodied the state. Priyanka, who reached Srinagar on Friday and stayed at the posh Lalit Grand Palace Hotel overlooking the Dal Lake, is the first from the family to visit the state for an apolitical trip since the late eighties, when the insurgency began. A senior government official said it was not clear whether the family came of its own or was invited by chief minister Omar Abdullah, a friend of her brother Rahul. “But the government was certainly delighted to receive them. For us it is an indication that the country by and large believes that it is safe to be in Kashmir,” the official said. The family, he added, kept the visit private, denying audience to even senior Congress leaders. Omar, though, hosted them lunch on Sunday at Dachigam National Park in Srinagar, famed for the Hangul, or the Kashmiri Stag. Dachigam receives many visitors on Sundays but entry of sightseers were restricted yesterday. Dachigam was a favourite destination of Priyanka’s grandmother Indira Gandhi, who occasionally visited the park and other spots like the Chashma Shahi garden. Tour operator Nazir Bakshi said Indira was mesmerized by the beauty of Chashma Shahi and would take the water from the crystal-clear spring in the garden to her home in Delhi. “Kashmir was the last place Indira had come for a holiday before her death in 1984,” he said. “She was killed three days later.” Bakshi couldn’t recall whether Priyanka’s father Rajiv Gandhi ever came to Kashmir on holiday. “He certainly came to Kashmir at least twice but they were both official trips. But it is also true that no person from the family perhaps ever came to Kashmir without going for sightseeing, even if the purpose of their visit was official,” he said. Congress leaders in Kashmir said the country’s first political family never stopped visiting Kashmir even after militancy broke out but the trips have been political. In March 2008, Priyanka’s mother Sonia Gandhi inaugurated Asia’s biggest tulip garden on the banks of the Dal Lake, but the Congress chief was on an official trip. Sonia visited Kashmir last year, too. So did Rahul. A Congress leader said Priyanka visited Aahgam village in south Kashmir about a decade back to meet families who had suffered during an encounter between security forces and militants.