No boycott call could keep the girls away from Rahul Gandhi.
The Congress general secretary’s visit to the state might have had the leaders politicking, but the auditorium of the Kashmir University was packed with girls on Monday. Others waited outside to catch a glimpse of him for well over two hours.
Turning a deaf ear to hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s boycott call, over 2,500 students – girls and boys -- had come to hear Gandhi speak. And the 42-year-old Gandhi just bowled them over.
"Rahul is just 32 years old," shouted Kashmir University student Mudasira. “No, he is 36,” shot back another. "He looks cool in his white kurta and jeans," said Adiba, a student from SSM College. Others said he looks better live than on television.
Gandhi’s speech managed to strike a chord with this generation brought up in the shadow of terror.
"My grandmother was killed when I was 14 and my father when I was 21,” Gandhi declared. “I am also a victim of violence. I am a Kashmiri that way. In fact, I am essentially a Kashmiri."
Despite his efforts to set an apolitical tone, Gandhi had to field political questions. But it was the questions on development that came thick and fast.
Students raised the issues of security forces in sports stadiums, passports, unemployment, unwillingness of MNCs to invest in the Valley and the summer of unrest in 2010. "I am not somebody who would forget what you said,” he told the crowd. “You will see me keep my promises.”
He had his audience convinced and his secretary was seen sharing phone numbers with the assembled youths.
"Rahul asked me to come to Delhi," said an ecstatic student from SSM College. “I will go and share the problems faced by Kashmiris,” she said.