On May 25, 2006, a bus ferrying Gujarati pilgrims was on its way to Srinagar’s famed Mughal Gardens when suspected militants hurled a grenade towards it as it was passing through the neighbourhood of Batpora. The grenade exploded inside the bus, killing four tourists, among them two children, and injuring six.
The attack occurred on the last day of a two-day roundtable conference chaired by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It came amid a sudden surge in militant attacks on tourists in the Valley, especially Srinagar. The bus had taken a detour through Batpora as the road leading to the garden was closed for security reasons because of the conference.
At the time, Ghulam Nabi Azad who quit the Congress last week was heading a Congress-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir while Prime Minister Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat. Years later, Modi recalled the incident during Azad’s farewell event in the Rajya Sabha and teared up.
The Rajya Sabha incident has been brought up frequently since Azad quit the Congress, with the veteran leader’s former party colleagues using it to point to his closeness to the prime minister. On Monday, Azad said he had assumed Modi to be a “crude man” but the PM had displayed humanity while recalling the terror attack.
Azad said Modi’s speech had been given a different twist by some “illiterate” Congressmen and the emotions expressed in the House were about the tragedy and not for each other. “I assumed that Modi sahab was a crude man as he did not have children or his own family… and would not care but at least he has shown humanity,” Azad said.
He added, “When the chief minister of Gujarat called, I was crying loudly. He heard me crying and he was told that I cannot talk right now and have to treat those who are injured. When I talked to the chief minister to ask for two planes, one for the dead and the other for the injured and I again cried… he (Modi) turned emotional (in Rajya Sabha) while referring to my state.”
A teary-eyed Modi told Rajya Sabha members at Azad’s farewell last year, “I will never forget Shri Azad’s efforts and Shri Pranab Mukherjee’s efforts when people from Gujarat were stuck in Kashmir due to a terror attack. Ghulam Nabi ji was constantly following up, he sounded as concerned as if those stuck were his own family members. It was pretty emotional for me … As a friend, I respect Ghulam Nabi ji on the basis of incidents and experiences. On a personal level, I would request him to not consider that he is not in the House. My door is always open for all of you… I will always expect, and value, your views.”
J&K government officials at the time said the attack had left Azad distressed and that he was in constant touch with his Gujarat counterpart. Azad was seen with folded hands seeking an apology from the family members of those killed. The then J&K CM accompanied the families to the airport and arranged a special plane to transport the bodies to Gujarat.
Recollecting what he was thinking after the terror attack, Azad told the Upper House during his farewell, “How do I respond to the kids, the sisters who had come here (Kashmir) as tourists and I was handing over the bodies to the parents … I pray to Allah that militancy and terrorism end in this country.”
This was not the only attack on Gujarati tourists in Srinagar during Azad’s chief ministerial tenure. On July 29, 2007, a powerful explosion ripped through a bus carrying tourists from the state outside the Shalimar Garden. Six people were killed in the explosion, including five tourists and one of their Kashmiri acquaintances.