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No takers for Rahul’s claim in UK lecture that he made ‘eye contact’ with militants in Kashmir

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi

Srinagar: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in a lecture at the University of Cambridge this week, reportedly said that he saw ‘militants’ eye-to-eye at his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kashmir.

According to media reports, Rahul said in his Cambridge lecture that the day he entered Kashmir—in the last leg of his 4,000 km Yatra which began at Kanyakumari on 7 September, 2022—he was warned by the security staff about a possible terror attack and advised against walking with the crowds. After a consultation with his colleagues, he insisted on continuing with the yatra.

Rahul added: “The first day, we were told about 2,000 people were going to show up and 40,000 people showed up. I am sitting on that jeep because the police and security system were just overloaded and collapsed, because they could not manage the crowd.”

“Then the really interesting thing happened. So, we have been told we are going to be killed. And we are walking. And people are coming and one guy looks at me and he says, ‘Call me. So, I am like, ‘Come’ … And the security people said, ‘Please do not do this … please do not call people, because it is putting everyone at risk.’ So, he comes and he starts walking next to me. And, he says, ‘Mr Gandhi, you have come here to listen to us.’ I am like, ‘yes’. He said, ‘That is interesting.’ He is like, ‘You really come here to listen to us.’ I am like, ‘yes’ and he is like good. And then he says, ‘You see those guys over there?’ And we are walking. I ask, ‘Who?’ He says, ‘Those boys over there.’ He is like, ‘They are militants.’ Now militants should normally kill me.”

“In that environment, militants should kill me. He says they are there and they are looking at you. So, I look at them and they are giving me this sort of look and I am like, okay, I am now in trouble because this guy has just told me this … They give me this look and I give them this look back and then we carry on. Nothing happens. Why I am telling you this is, because they actually could not do anything. They actually did not have the power to do anything even if they wanted to. Because I had come into that environment, listening”.

However, there are no takers in Kashmir for Rahul’s claim that he made eye contact with militants during his yatra. Contrary to what he said, he was given a strong security cover when he visited the region which was visible in the media coverage. Senior police officials point out that given the strength of the security cover extended to him it was not possible for any militant to come anywhere near Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul’s Yatra entered Kashmir on Friday, 27 January. After walking a distance, he complained that adequate security cover was not deployed with the rally. It was quickly contested by a statement from Additional Chief Secretary Home, R.K. Goyal. On Saturday, 28 January, a multi-tier security detail was seen blocking every unauthorised access to the rally. So, all VIPs, including Mehbooba Mufti and Priyanka Gandhi walked comfortably with Rahul with participation of about a thousand Congress workers drawn from the adjoining Devsar, Dooru and Kokernag assembly segments, retained by the party over the years.

Apparently there was no possibility and no occasion on 28, 29 and 30 January when any unauthorised person could have gained access to the Congress leader. If at all someone did, it was only on 27 January.

Like other senior national political leaders, Rahul Gandhi gets the highest security cover in Kashmir. He stays and moves closely in multiple security rings irrespective of a specific threat perception, making it impossible for a stranger to come close and speak to him like “look, they are militants”.

As for the militants, National Conference and BJP have been the first targets but they have never declared ‘amnesty’ for Congress or any other party. They treat anybody participating in the Indian elections as an enemy of their ‘mission azaadi’, though it is a fact that in the last many years they have reduced their attacks on politicians for various reasons. Those who have watched or reported Kashmir’s insurgency since 1989 know well that “violence” and “non-violence” mean nothing for the militants in Kashmir. Over 95 per cent of the targets of their fatal attacks never carried a gun or practiced violence.

In fact, Congress alone has been projected by the Kashmiri militants and separatists as “the biggest perpetrator of injustice” for the fact that both Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru were executed in that party’s regime in 1984 and 2013 respectively.

The possibility of a Congress worker whispering and pointing to some onlookers from a distance as ‘militants’, cannot be ruled out. Sharing such an experience in a private banter is understandable but least expected at an academic gathering at Cambridge.

Member of Parliament from Wayanad (Kerala) and a visiting fellow at Cambridge, Rahul, according to media reports, was delivering a lecture on “Learning to Listen in the 21st Century” to the MBA students at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Rahul’s 10-day itinerary in England includes his meeting with the Indian diaspora, an address at the British Parliament, a talk at the famous think-tank Chatham House and a press conference to be organised by the Indian Journalists Association. The Indian Overseas Congress has made elaborate arrangements for Rahul’s lectures and meetings.

On Monday, March 6, Rahul will be addressing the British MPs, Lords and Baronesses in the Grand Committee Room of the Palace of Westminster. Although organised in one of the parliamentary committee rooms— and not the chambers—his speech will be widely watched. He is scheduled to speak on how the Indian government would deal with the future leaders and governments of Britain if Congress came to power in the future.

Rahul’s address at Chatham House, which once established through a disputed opinion survey that the majority of the people in Jammu and Kashmir wanted “freedom from both India and Pakistan”, would also be interesting to watch.

Rahul is also likely to get an appointment with the Labour Party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, David Lammy. As of now, the Labour Party is tipped to win the next general election in the UK. His meeting with the then Labour Party leader and a known ‘anti-India figure’ Jeremy Corbyn in May 2022 had sparked a controversy in India. Corbyn is perceived to be a supporter of ‘azaadi’ in Kashmir.

Significantly, Rahul Gandhi’s visit is being conducted amid a big controversy on the BBC documentary on the Gujarat riots which has been blocked in India. So whatever the Congress leader speaks in Britain will be keenly watched and analysed in the media, academia and politics.