NEW DELHI: “The (Jammu and Kashmir) Governor has invited us, and now you are telling us we cannot go into the city. The government is saying everything okay here, everything is normal. If everything is normal here then why are we not allowed in. All we want to do is go to any area that is peaceful, talk to a few persons there. Thats all. If it is a question of Section 144 we are willing to go individually, and not as a group,” Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi tried to reason with the authorities who stopped the Opposition delegation at the Srinagar airport.

The 12 leaders representing as many parties were stopped at the airport, placed in a room, with the District Magistrate reading out an order that they could not go in as it would constitute a threat to peace. The MPs --Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, D.Raja, Manoj Jha, Sitaram Yechury and others---signed a letter of protest, saying that they were surprised they were not allowed into the city, that they were leaders of recognised and responsible political parties, that they were elected representatives of the people, and yet were stopped from entering the city. This, they wrote, was a denial of their democratic rights.

Rahul Gandhi was referring to Governor Satyapal Malik’s Tweet asking him to visit Kashmir and that he would send a plane to bring him if required.

CPI general secretary D.Raja said that they had gone as “our party leaders are out of touch maybe in jail, to express solidarity with the people of Kashmir at this critical time so they do not feel they are alone and no one is with them.” Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha said, “we went in solidarity and support for the people. We also would have helped the government had they allowed us into the city, as we could have countered the narrative being put out by the international media.”

However, the people they could not meet were represented by Kashmiris returning to their jobs and studies in Delhi on the flight back. A woman, crying and visibly agitated, spoke directly to Rahul Gandhi who reached out to hold her hand to calm her down speaking of her brother, a heart patient who did not have access to his doctors or medicines, and the plight of her family in Kashmir. Another woman sitting next to one of the MPs cried as she said she had gone to check on her family, as she had no idea if they were alive or dead or in jail.

The Opposition members were surrounded by agitated passengers and got a “whiff’ as one of them put it, of the unhappiness and anger with several just wanting the government to “restore the earlier status quo.” Jha said it was heart wrenching to hear them. Raja said they were all very very upset and angry. It was as if a flood gate had opened when they found political leaders from Delhi willing to listen to them. Worried flight attendants can be seen trying to intervene and calm the visibly emotional passengers, while the media and others recorded the conversations.

Raja said that some of the journalists who had also travelled to Kashmir to cover the Opposition visit, were also detained at the airport. One Aaj Tak correspondent claimed in her reportage that they were mandhandled by the security forces.

Kashmir has been under curfew for 20 days --it will be three weeks tomorrow---with efforts to relax it failing because of continued protests. The government maintains that the situation is fast returning to normal.