Rahul Gandhi Welcomed With Boos And Bouquets In Kashmir Valley

Rahul Gandhi Welcomed With Boos And Bouquets In Kashmir Valley

6 October 2012
India Today
Naseer Ganai

Srinagar: Rahul Gandhi's Kashmir journey has been one of hope and despair, of bonding and loathing. The same man was received differently by separate audiences in the Valley. It was a friendlier Kashmir that he met when he reached out to the youth at Kashmir University bringing them face-to-face with India Inc's luminaries - Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Deepak Parekh, Rajeev Bajaj and Ashok Reddy. He bonded with the students as he spoke of a life-long relationship with Kashmir based on trust. He had tried to show them the route to new opportunities. However later in the day, as Rahul met panchayat body members, the reaction was the very opposite. He was booed and the panchayat members walked out of his meeting - which, ironically had been organised by his own party - saying he had nothing to offer them. The Congress general secretary had tried hard on this trip to draw on a common bond with people in the Valley. On Thursday, he had said in Sonamarg, 'I am also a Kashmiri. I am from a Kashmiri family and want to have life-long relations with the people of Kashmir.' A day later those words seemed to carry little weight with the sarpanches at their meeting in Srinagar with the Congress leader. Rahul's meeting with over 3,600 village body members had been intended to be a major public relations exercise. It went the other way. The sarpanches and the panches were disappointed that Rahul did not announce any package for them or talk about empowerment of Panchayati Raj institutions in the state. 'He didn't talk about honorarium. He didn't talk about our empowerment. We were not satisfied with his speech. We thought he would announce something but he had nothing for us. All this forced us to walk out of the meeting,' said Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, sarpanch from Kupwara district. A woman panch, who identified herself as Gulsion from Safapora in Ganderbal, said that Rahul did not fulfil any promise. 'We were told that we would be provided monthly honorarium but he did not announce anything,' she said. Nazir Ahmad Dar, who identified himself as sarpanch of a village from Pulwama district was critical too. He ignored our problems. We have signed our own death warrants by participating in the panchayat elections. Our problems are different from other states. No one looks at that aspect,' he said. As the angry panchayat members began walking out of Rahul's meeting, the failure to engage with them was not his alone. The state Congress leadership, including its president Saifuddin Soz, had gone all out to make the meeting a success. Cut to another location, another audience - the convocation hall of Kashmir University. There was a connect with the youth when he said, 'One of the first things which you need to have is stability and you also need to have trust. You will find that things will start moving once there is trust. The idea is to set up those projects that will succeed.' Opening the session at the convocation hall, he said, 'It is part of a life-long journey to understand what you have been through and to understand your difficulties. The last time I visited the campus, you had asked why business people are not coming to Kashmir.Here they are. They are looking for an environment which is stable,' Rahul said as he left the floor for the students to interact with the honchos in a first-of-its-kind exercise. The tycoons responded immediately with warmth, and thanked the Congress general secretary for opening Kashmir for them. As over 2,000 students listened, they held out hope, saying they would open their business houses for the talented youth of the state. With the students, Rahul and the corporate heads seemed to have struck a chord. Dressed in jeans and jacket, and looking like the students who had come to hear him, Rahul sounded pragmatic, saying the interaction would not solve Kashmir's problems nor of India's. 'But we need to keep the conversation on. It should not break,' he said at the closed-door interactive sessions. BONDING WITH YOUTH The corporate honchos responded to the audience effusively. 'What Mr Gandhi has done is not open a window but open a door. It is for the industry leaders to do something for people of Kashmir,' said Tata chairman Ratan Tata. Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla asked the Kashmiri youth to work with his group. 'I have worked with five Kashmiris in Miracle Couriers. I know Kashmiris have talent. They should come and work with us.' Chairman of HDFC Deepak Parekh said that whatever growth has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir in recent years has been due to stability. He said that if stability continued, things would move forward a great deal in the state in terms of investment. Rajiv Bajaj said, 'While coming out of the airport the first four persons I saw were driving Bajaj. I wish people of the state come and work with us in making and selling these products,' he said. However, as they came out of the convocation hall, there was an immediate reminder that the protests had not left them. Dozens of Kashmir University students protested against Rahul's visit and shouted pro-freedom slogans. They termed the visit as a move to politicise the campus.