Sharing the dais with J-K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah [ Images ] more than two decades after their fathers had addressed joint rallies in Jammu and Kashmir, Rahul, who was sporting a traditional Kashmiri cap (karkuli), said the voting was not for the National Conference or the opposition People's Democratic Party but for the prime ministerial candidate.
"Vote for National Conference candidate means a vote for Manmohan Singh," he said and asked the people to reject the National Democratic Alliance and its politics of "division and hate."
Reaching out to the youth, the 38-year-old All India [ Images ] Congress Committee general secretary said, "I have not come here to play politics. I am a youth and have come here for friendship and I am extending my hand of friendship to people of Kashmir, especially youth."
Assuring the state government of all assistance, Rahul, who started his speech with "assalam-u-alekum" (muslim greeting), said, "I promise that I will do whatever possible for the development of the state".
Striking an emotional chord, he said "I had accompanied her (Indira Gandhi [ Images ]) to Kashmir, five to six days before her assassination.... I remember how much love she had for this state".
"The relations were very old... Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and (first prime minister) Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru [ Images ] started the friendship and late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi [ Images ] and NC President Farooq Abdullah [ Images ] and now Omar Abdullah and myself," Rahul said addressing an election rally Khannabal in Anantnag.
Referring to the last year's assembly elections in the state, he said people had come out in large numbers to vote and a youthful chief minister in Omar Abdullah took over.
"Whatever difficulties you have, come to me in Delhi [ Images ]. I will fight shoulder to shoulder with you for removing the difficulties", he said adding "the most important thing is that I want friendship with the youth of Kashmir".
The separatist Hurriyat Conference had called for a shutdown in Anantnag and Pulwama to protest Rahul's visit which paralysed normal life in the two districts. This was the first visit of any top Congress leader to the Valley to seek support for ally National Conference.
Under the seat sharing agreement, Congress and NC have put up candidates in three seats each in the state. While Congress is contesting Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh seats, NC has put up candidates in Anantnag, Srinagar [ Images ] and Baramulla constituencies.
Accusing opposition BJP for working for a particular section of society, Rahul said Congress was for peace, amity and development of all regions and communities . "There is difference between us and BJP. We work for overall development but opposition works for elected members of their own party. We work for development and progress of all regions and communities and they (opposition) are working for a particular section", he said.
"I have come here for my friend Omar Abdullah", Rahul said. Predicting that the Congress and NC alliance would last for a long time, he said, "Omar is young. I am also of his age and can play a long innings in politics. Our thinking is big and we want to jointly take Jammu and Kashmir to progress and development and eradicate unemployment."
Terming the Manmohan Singh government "as the government of farmers, labourers and downtrodden", he said Jammu and Kashmir got a rail link while major power projects were launched for the progress of the state.
Rahul, who arrived at noon, was greeted by enthusiastic workers of the Congress and the National Conference who shouted slogans like "Omar-Rahul Itehad Zindabad, NC-Congress Itehad Zindabad."
Rahul was also accompanied by Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee president Saifuddin Soz, AICC general secretary Prithvi Raj Chauhan, deputy chief minister Tara Chand and minister for school education Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed.