In his first election rally in the Kashmir valley during the present Lok Sabha campaign, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi told his listeners that he had come to them not as a politician, but to make friends.
“I’m not here as a politician,” the 38-year-old Congress general secretary said, addressing a crowd of around 5,000 people on the vast lawns of a government dak bungalow on the outskirts of the town, 55 km south east of Srinagar. “I’ve come to befriend the youth of Kashmir. I extend my hand in friendship.”
The listeners were brought to the venue in requisitioned buses, following the bandh call given on the occasion by the Syed Ali Shah Geelani headed faction of the separatist All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The bandh was only partially successful, with traffic plying normally in the town, though most shops remained shut.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah (39) shared the dais for the second time with Rahul, both urging the crowd to vote for the local National Conference candidate Mahboob Beg. They had earlier campaigned together a week ago in Udhampur in the Jammu region.
Anantnag, which goes to the polls on April 30, is a stronghold of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which won 12 of the 16 assembly seats here in the assembly elections held in November last year. Clad in white kurta-pajamas and a traditional Kashmiri (karakuli) cap, Rahul, who is part-Kashmiri, spoke of his family’s links with the region and the love and affection his forefathers had for the Kashmiri people.
“I’m not asking you to vote for NC or the Congress,” Rahul concluded. “I need your vote for the prime minister of India. There are two candidates. We have Dr Manmohan Singh (76). The NDA has nominated L.K. Advani (81). Advani believes in the politics of disruption and rage. We believe in friendship and development.”