Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said the restoration of statehood and democratic process is a very important step in Jammu and Kashmir as he avoided a question on whether his party would be part of an Opposition alliance in the Union Territory.
Gandhi said he has come to Jammu and Kashmir with an open heart and open arms to help people in whatever way he can.
"Love, affection and listening, I believe, are powerful forces. I don't want to comment on the historical aspect of it, I want to look forward and I (have) come here with an open heart ... and open arms to help in whatever way I can," Gandhi told reporters in Srinagar at the end of the 4,000-km Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The former Congress president was asked about the promises made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir by the country's first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru when he unfurled the national flag at Lal Chowk in 1948.
Earlier in the day, Gandhi hoisted the national flag at Srinagar's iconic Lal Chowk after concluding his foot march.
Responding to several questions about the restoration of statehood, the Congress leader said it should be the first step taken in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Statehood and restoration of democratic process is a fundamental and very important first step. The other steps will come later and I do not necessarily have to comment on it here," he said, referring to a question about holding talks with Pakistan.
"All states have an assembly. Democratic process is the right of the people and it should be restored in Jammu and Kashmir. A solution should be found for the people of Ladakh as well," he added.
In response to a question about the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019, Gandhi said the Congress Working Committee has already made its stand clear on the issue.
Article 370 granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was revoked by the Centre on August 5, 2019.
The Congress leader sidestepped a question if his party will be part of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of regional parties and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, striving for the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir's special status.
Gandhi said he was not happy with what he saw in Jammu and Kashmir.
"When I entered Jammu and Kashmir, I met people from Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir areas of the region. No one that I met -- and I met farmers, students, youth, businessmen -- seemed to be happy or excited about what is happening here," he added.
The Lok Sabha member from Wayanad in Kerala said he experienced a 'powerful' feeling of homecoming during his journey through Jammu and Kashmir.
"A strange idea came to my mind... my family came from Jammu and Kashmir and moved to Allahabad and now I was doing a reverse journey. It was a powerful feeling of homecoming," he said.
Gandhi said he was humbled by the love and affection he received in Jammu and Kashmir.
Asked about the BJP's claims about the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Gandhi said bomb blasts and targeted killings are still taking place in the union territory.
"If it (security) had improved, then the security people would not have had the conversations that they had with me.
"If what they claim is the case, then why doesn't the BJP hold a rally from Jammu to Lal Chowk? If the situation is so good, then why doesn't Amit Shah walk from Jammu to Kashmir? I don't think that argument holds," he added.
Asked about the issues raised by people during the Jammu and Kashmir leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi said most of the issues were similar to the rest of the country like inflation and unemployment.
"Statehood, representation and voice of people was another set of issues that came up here," he said.