PM, Sonia visit tense Srinagar, hail Kashmiriyat

Srinagar, June 25 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday hailed Kashmiriyat and the soldiers killed in a terror attack as he visited Jammu and Kashmir with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for the first time after Afzal Guru's controversial hanging over four months ago.

The prime minister reviewed the progress of various development projects with the council of ministers, including the Prime Minister`s Reconstruction Programme, and announced special assistance of Rs.710 crore to meet the cost of acquiring land for constructing roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.

The visit was meant to focus on the economic development of the state, including a critical rail link between the Kashmir and Jammu regions, but the Monday terror attack cast a dark shadow.

Both Manmoman Singh and Gandhi did refer to it in their speeches at Kishtwar in the Jammu region, their first engagement of the day, and later visited the soldiers injured in the attack in Srinagar.

But they did not let the killings overshadow their visit. Manmohan Singh spoke in chaste Urdu as he hailed Kashmiriyat and the communal harmony which it advocates.

Releasing a commemorative postage stamp in honour of poet Mahjoor, the prime minister said Kashmir was known as "the heaven on earth" not just due to its geographical beauty alone.

"We see that great spiritual personalities have made Kashmir beautiful by their furthering of universal values."

He hailed Lalla Arifa or Lallashwari and Sheikh Nurrudin Wali as "the champions of the soul of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat.

"If I say the heart of Kashmir beats with these two great personalities, I would not be wrong."

He said it was because of the spiritual and moral education of such great personalities that Kashmiris embraced communal harmony even during the most difficult times.

"I salute the great values for which Kashmir has always stood and will continue to uphold."

Speaking in Hindi, Gandhi called Mahjoor a great social reformer.

"He had the capacity to deliver his message in a language the common man understood well and for this reason Rabindranath Tagore had called him the Wordsworth of Kashmir."

Manmohan Singh and Gandhi flew into a tense Srinagar on the second leg of their two-day visit.

After first landing in Udhampur, both flew to Kishtwar town, 200 km from Jammu, in an Mi-17 helicopter.

At Kishtwar, Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone of an 850 MW hydro electric power project on the Chenab river.

There, he paid tributes to the eight soldiers killed in Srinagar in an ambush a day earlier and said terrorism can never succeed in Kashmir.

India, he added, was united in the fight against terrorism.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told the Kishtwar rally that Jammu and Kashmir would have faced difficulties but for the Congress-led UPA regime in New Delhi.

From Kishtwar, they prime minister and Gandhi flew to Srinagar via Udhampur. They first called on the soldiers wounded in the Monday attack, being treated at the Badami Bagh cantonment.

The prime minister wished the soldiers speedy recovery.

This is the first visit of Manmohan Singh and Gandhi to Kashmir after the hanging of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

Both leaders had visited the state Oct 28, 2009 when Kashmir Valley's rail link was extended from Wanpoh station to Qazigund in south Kashmir's Anantnag district.

Manmohan Singh again visited the state in 2010 for two days.

After spending Tuesday night in Srinagar, the prime minister and the Congress president are scheduled to inaugurate the 10.96 km railway tunnel that will link landlocked Kashmir Valley with Jammu region.

The tunnel will connect the south Kashmir Qazigund railway station with Bannihal in Jammu region.

Meanwhile, official restrictions and a separatist called protest crippled normal life in Srinagar.

Pedestrian and vehicular movement on the fashionable Boulevard Road was barred for the VVIP visit.

Shops, businesses and educational institutions were shut while public transport went off the roads in Srinagar.

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