Omar is young, give him time: Rahul on Kashmir
Amidst reports of a meeting between People's Democratic Party patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday night that raised speculations over new political realignments in Jammu and Kashmir, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said Chief Minister Omar Abdullah 'needs time and support'.
Addressing a press conference in Kolkata, he also ruled out his intervention in affairs of Jammu and Kashmir and refused to comment on demands for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the state.
"The government has supported Omar Abdullah. National Conference is the party in power. He is a youngster. Kashmir is a difficult place. Omar is doing a tough job and he should be given time and support," Gandhi told a press conference when asked whether Omar had failed.
'Kashmir is a sensitive job'
Replying to questions on Kashmir and Omar Abdullah, he said the Congress was supporting him and he is the leader of the NC. "It is their decision to run Kashmir. They are in a partnership," he said.
"I think we have to give him support. Kashmir is a sensitive job. We have to give him time and support," Gandhi said.
In the midst of the ongoing unrest in Kashmir, Mufti held a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday night, which led to speculation that the two parties could revive their alliance to form a government in Kashmir.
To a question on AFSPA, Gandhi said he would "defer to the prime minister on the subject. I would say the prime minister has knowledge on the subject. I would lower my head. The prime minister has more knowledge on the subject".
'Kashmir is a full time problem'
"It is for senior people like the prime minister to comment on that. For me to say I am for or against would be unfair or irresponsible," Gandhi told a questioner.
When asked to comment on PDP president Mehbooba Mufti requesting his intervention in the Kashmir problem, Gandhi said, "Kashmir is not a part time problem, it is a full time problem."
Gandhi ruled out intervening in the Kashmir issue, saying, "If I were to get into it, I would have to give full time to it. There are many other leaders who want to give me a job. The way I have been brought up is to carry out my responsibility. I am doing a job now. It is a full time responsibility (as a leader of the Youth Congress). I have to finish it."
"Somebody wants me to take up Commonwealth Games organising job. They are others who can do it. I don't want to look to move from one problem to another. There are others who can handle Kashmir," said the Congress leader.
'We have to ensure political connectivity'
"I will go to Jammu and Kashmir as my drive is to go to every party of India to bring the youth into the political system. It's a full time responsibility to bring youngsters into politics," Gandhi said.
Noting that Naxalism was the result of a complex set of circumstances, Gandhi said political connectivity should be ensured to bring Naxals into the mainstream.
"In this country, we have to ensure political connectivity so that the people can be part of the national political mainstream and efforts should be directed towards that," Gandhi told a press conference.
"If we give them political connectivity, they will be able to join the mainstream," he said.
Asked if Naxals wanted to join the Youth Congress during the membership drive, he replied, "All are welcome except criminals and fundamentalists. If it is a Naxal who has killed 50 people, he is a criminal. So you get my point."
'I don't kill people, but the Maoists do'
"The difference between me and the Maoists is that I don't kill people, but the Maoists do," he said.
Gandhi disagreed with the view that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had sided openly with the Maoists.
"To say that Mamata Banerjee has openly sided with the Maoists is wrong. She has struggled a lot in Bengal for a long time. And we respect her for that," he said.
Gandhi also clarified that his party favoured an alliance with Mamata Banerjee in next year's assembly elections, but "we are not going to bow ours heads".
"We have a partnership with Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. We are going to hold hands with Mamata Banerjee. She is a senior leader. She has worked with my father. I respect her. However, we are not going to bow our heads. We will do whatever we do with dignity and respect," he told a press conference.
'Bengalis do know what respect is'
He faced a number of questions on the subject in the wake of his remarks on an 'alliance with respect' during his tour of the state.
"We respect her and we will continue to have that partnership. If we have partnership, it should be a partnership of respect. I have said this everywhere. We have partnerships in many states," he said.
To a query on what he meant by respect, Gandhi replied, "Bengalis do know what respect is."
When told that Banerjee was critical of the central government's policies, Gandhi said, "To say that she has been opposing the United Progressive Alliance's policies is unfair. She has been opposing a few policies. She has a right of opinion. We are a different party. We are sensitive to differences."
"We don't have any problem with differences of opinion. Congress is a large party. We have differences there also. Differences of opinion and disrespect are two different things," Gandhi said.
Image: Mamata Banerjee
Rahul speaks up on Kashmir, Naxalism and Bengalis
He, however, said that the views of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress were similar.
"In general, ours and Trinamool Congress' views are similar. We and the TC both fight for the interest of the poor," he said.
Reiterating that the Congress was in partnership with Mamata Banerjee, Rahul said, "We will together fight the Left Front in Bengal. Left Front is the biggest problem in Bengal. There is a Bengal of LF where you can beat and steal from anybody. Another Bengal is with the Bengalis."
He said that the present government in the state "was blinded by a dead ideology, which has failed worldwide, including Cuba."
"Even the Chinese are astounded about what is happening in West Bengal. When I go to China they ask me, what is happening in West Bengal? These are not small leaders, they are the senior leadership. The energy of West Bengal has been tied by this ideology. What Bengal needs today is to get back to the path of development. I still believe the old saying that what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow," he said.