Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi began a three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday with a visit to Balakote, where six people were killed and dozens wounded in Pakistani firing earlier this month. The visit came against the backdrop of high tensions along the border with Pakistan and the collapse of bilateral talks over the weekend. Footage on television showed Gandhi meeting people living in Balakote area of Poonch district who have been affected by incessant firing and shelling by Pakistani forces in recent weeks. He interacted with men and women and listened to their problems. He will also meet representatives of different sections of society and address a panchayat conference. During his trip, Gandhi will travel to all three regions of the state – Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. On Thursday, he will go to Kashmir Valley, where he is expected to visit Sopore and Pampore areas. Sopore, the hometown of Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was in the news recently after suspected militants killed several people associated with the telecom business. The attacks forced many to close down their operations. Gandhi is also expected to discuss the state of affairs in the Congress with senior leaders and workers. Infighting in the faction-ridden state unit has escalated recently. The party last month suspended former Congress Working Committee member Gulchain Singh Charak and former ministers Abdul Ghani Vakil and Prem Sagar Aziz from the primary membership of the Congress for indulging in “anti-party” activities. The three have been up in arms ever since the party’s central leadership appointed former minister Ghulam Ahmed Mir as the head of the state unit early this year.
2015 Kashmir Despatch