In their first visit to the state after the February 9 hanging of Afzal Guru, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi extended the olive branch to Kashmir by dedicating a critical 17.7 kilometre long rail link at a high-profile function at Banihal on Wednesday.
event saw a huge political turnout, with those present including new railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge and senior Congress leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni.
Those on the podium also included state chief minister Omar Abdullah and governor NN Vohra.
In the run up to the 2014 elections, the inauguration of the track - connecting Banihal in Jammu to Quazigund in Kashmir - has a huge symbolic value in furthering the UPA "inclusive agenda" plank.
As part of the UPA's flagship Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramullah Rail Link (USBRL) started in 2002, the Banihal-Quazigund section costing Rs. 1672 crore has involved the construction of Asia's biggest transportation tunnel, tearing through the hard rocky terrain of the Pir Panjal range.
The section has been executed by the IRCON, a Railway's PSU.
Both Singh and Gandhi took a ride through the 11.2 kilometer long tunnel on Wednesday's inaugural run, along-with 100 children of the Banihal higher secondary school.
Later, addressing a hugely attended rally at Banihal, the UPA chairperson made a conciliatory gesture towards the hardliners, while referring to Monday's daring attack by militants in the heart of Srinagar.
"Occasionally, some incidents happen that pain us. Even as we do understand that there are genuine concerns, but feel that issues can be resolved in a democratic manner through negotiation and dialogue", Gandhi said.
"The huge voter turnout in the last Panchayat elections showed that people are fed up with violence and want peace and development. I have hope in the future of Kashmir and the central government will allocate adequate funds for developmental projects", Gandhi added.
Speaking earlier, the Prime Minister said the start of the Banihal-Quazigund train service was a result of an "engineering marvel" and one that fulfilled a 100-year-old dream envisioned by the late Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1898.
"Connecting Kashmir with the rest of the country through a rail link forms part of the UPA's agenda to bring development to the state. For execution of the 67 developmental works announced in 2004, the central government has released Rs. 7214.59 crore and 34 of these projects have been completed", Singh said.
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