Congress leader Rahul Gandhi along with a delegation of various Opposition leaders who reached Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday afternoon to review the situation in the state were sent back to Delhi, ANI reported. This came days after they held a protest rally at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to demand the immediate release of political leaders detained in Kashmir.

The delegation includes Communist Party of India leader D Raja, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and KC Venugopal, Loktantrik Janata Dal chief Sharad Yadav, Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Tiruchi Siva, Nationalist Congress Party leader Majeed Memon, Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha and Janata Dal (Secular) leader D Kupendra Reddy, IANS reported.

Gandhi said he accepted Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik’s invitation and visited the state, ANI reported. “We wanted to get a sense of what people are going through, but we weren’t allowed beyond the airport,” he told the news agency. The former Congress president also claimed that media people who were with them had been beaten and mishandled. “It’s clear that situation in Jammu and Kashmir isn’t normal,” Gandhi said.

Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad said the situation in the state was terrifying. “The stories we heard from the passengers of Kashmir present in our flight, would bring tears even to a stone,” he was quoted as saying by ANI. The delegation later wrote a letter to Budgam district magistrate. “We record our strong objection to the basis of our detention, which prima facie is undemocratic & unconstitutional.”

The Congress lashed out at the government for halting their visit and asked what the “government is trying to hide”.

“If the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is ‘normal’ as the govt claims, why has the delegation of Opposition leaders led by Rahul Gandhi been sent back from Srinagar airport,” Congress questioned in a tweet. “What is the Modi govt trying to hide?”.

Malik said there was no need for Gandhi to visit the state, ANI reported. “He was needed when his colleague was speaking in the Parliament,” Malik said. “If he wants to aggravate the situation and come here to repeat the lie he told in Delhi, it is not good.”

Malik said he had invited Gandhi earlier to visit Jammu and Kashmir out of goodwill but he started doing politics. “Parties should keep in mind the national interest at these times,” he said.

Gandhi had last week accepted Malik’s invitation to visit the state to understand the situation there in the aftermath of the revocation of special status under Article 370. The Congress leader had claimed that there had been much violence in the state. However, after much back-and-forth between the two leaders, Malik had said on August 14 that a decision on Gandhi’s visit will be taken “at a convenient time”.

Congress said the visit was an attempt “to review the reality” in the state. “Shri Rahul Gandhi is leading a delegation of opposition leaders to assess the ground situation in Kashmir today,” the party said on Twitter. “This visit is an attempt to review the reality in the region after the abrogation of Article 370.”

Ahead of the visit, Azad asked why they were not allowed to visit the state if the situation was normal as the government claimed. He also questioned why former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were still placed under house arrest. “Why aren’t they allowing me to go to my home? If it’s normal, why aren’t we allowed?” Azad asked.

Nationalist Congress Party’s Majeed Memon echoed similar views and added that the administration feared that their presence would create disturbances. He said that the leaders were going to the state as the “government’s support” so that they could also provide insights on what needed to be done.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration had on Friday asked the leaders not to visit the state as it said they would be “putting other people to inconvenience”. The state’s Department of Information and Public Relations said that they would also end up violating restrictions imposed in several areas. “Senior leaders should understand that top priority would be given to maintaining peace, order and preventing loss of human lives,” it said in a statement.

The state has been under an unprecedented lockdown ever since the central government decided to revoke its special status. Thousands of troops have been deployed to prevent law and order situations in the region and communication lines have been cut off for several weeks now. The authorities have claimed that the restrictions would be eased gradually, however protests in the Valley have made it difficult to do so.

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