Jammu, Sept. 20: Suresh Jamwal had walked more than 20 km from his village in Akhnoor sector to hear Sonia Gandhi speak for the first time at the Parade Grounds, where a 10,000-strong crowd had gathered. And the Congress president did not disappoint.
“Yeh pradesh ke bhavishya ka chunav hai (This is an election about the future of the state),” Sonia said to thundering applause not heard for years at a public rally here. “Aapki zindagi mein roshni laane ka chunav hai (It is an election to brighten up your lives),” she said, pausing for a moment to judge the response. More applause greeted her.
The Congress president, who had to postpone her visit to Jammu because of the security threat, blamed the “unholy” BJP-National Conference alliance at the Centre for the rise in militancy.
“National Conference aur BJP ek hi sikkey ke do muh hain (The National Conference and the BJP are two sides of the same coin),” the Congress leader said, charging them with misgovernance in the state and the Centre. “Dono kursi ki fikr karte hain, logon ki nahin (Both care about power, not people).”
Sonia warned Pakistan to stop fomenting trouble. “Pakistan’s machinations will not succeed. I want this message to go across. The Congress will not allow the Pakistan gameplan in Jammu and Kashmir to succeed.
“The voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir can no longer be suppressed as they desire peace so that they can move towards progress and prosperity. The Congress promises to deliver whatever the people of this state want,” she said.
Citing the Gujarat riots, Sonia reminded the gathering that the violence was not allowed to spread to neighbouring Congress-ruled states. “We have to give a befitting reply to those who continue to mislead people on one or the other issue to stay in power.”
The Congress president asked supporters to realise the importance of their participation in the elections. “These elections are very important. Aap ke haathon mein pradesh hai (The fate of the state is in your hands),” she added, cautioning people not to be influenced by the rhetoric of National Conference and BJP leaders.
The Congress chief said she was aware of the plight of those suffering due to militancy. “Mujhe sab kuchh pata hai (I am aware of everything),” she said, recalling the deaths of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.
Sonia said she was aware of the allegations of discrimination against Jammu. “The Congress wants that all three regions of the state should get their due share. Our manifesto clearly states that if voted to power we would set up a finance commission for equitable distribution of funds and evolve ways and means to end poverty, generate employment, and address issues of the border migrants.
“Yeh sirf chunav ghoshna nahin hai, hamara lakshya hai (This is not just an election promise, it is our aim),” she said.
Sonia appealed to the people to create conditions to enable Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes in the Valley.
“The Congress will strive to bring them back to Kashmir with dignity and honour,” she said.
Assuring that her party will come up to the expectations of the people, Sonia said Congress governments in other states had performed better than those ruled by other parties.
Earlier, state Congress president Ghulam Nabi Azad blamed the National Conference and the BJP for the ills of the state and said it was during their rule that terrorism, which had been contained in the Valley, was allowed to reach the Jammu region.
“Both parties are power hungry. They have joined hands at the Centre because they want to remain in power. But their ideologies are poles apart,” he said.
Azad said the National Conference and the BJP have become jittery after the first round of polling. “They have realised that the people have rejected them. That is why chief minister Farooq Abdullah is saying he would prefer sitting in the Opposition benches rather than have an alliance with any party. This proves that they are losing,” Azad told the cheering crowd.
Among those who spoke at the rally included Chattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, former state Congress chief Chaudhari Mohammad Aslam and senior party leader Magat Ram Sharma.
Killings, in the meanwhile continue. At least 10 persons, including a National Conference activist and seven militants have been reportedly killed since last night in various parts of the state.