Jammu/Pathankot, January 25, 2011
No turning back from flag hoisting plan: BJP leaders
BJP leaders Ananth Kumar, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley ahead of the party's Rashtriya Ekta Yatra at Madhopur bridge separating Punjab and J&K on Tuesday.
The tense standoff between the BJP and the Jammu and Kashmir government over the party’s plan to hoist the National Flag in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on Wednesday escalated with its leadership declaring on Tuesday they will go ahead ignoring Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s call to avoid “confrontation”.
As BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj addressed a rally at Punjab’s border town of Madhopor, near Pathankot, where they were sent from Jammu airport last night, the nearby Lakhanpur town on J&K side linked by a bridge turned into a security fortress to thwart the party’s plans.
“We will head towards Jammu and then towards Kashmir Valley for hoisting the National Flag at Lal Chowk along with hundreds of our activists,” Ms. Swaraj told reporters in Pathankot as BJP activists headed towards Lakhanpur trying to cross the bridge amid high tension in the area.
“We dare them (the State government) to stop us. Where ever they stop us, we will sit there at dharna till January 26,” she added.
The Omar Abdullah government has made it clear that it would neither let any yatra to Srinagar nor would it allow any Assembly at Lal Chowk.
Barricades and barbed wires have been put up at all the seven entry points at Lakhanpur in J&K’s Kathua district.
The J&K government has already imposed section 144 of CrPC at Lakhanpur.
The J&K government has sealed the border with Punjab, including putting barbed wire on the bridge over Ravi river linking Madhopor and Lakhanpur towns.
In a statement, Mr. Chidambaram appealed to Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Jaitley and other BJP leaders to give up “path of confrontation” and not push any “political agenda” that will affect peace in J&K.
Over 400 BJP activists were arrested when they tried to bring out a rally in Jammu as part of the flag hoisting plan at Lal Chowk in culmination of the party’s Ekta Yatra, police said.
Raising anti-government slogans, the activists clashed with police and smashed window panes and doors of some structures as they were prevented from criss-crossing the city.
On Monday, J&K Police had arrested over 1,300 BJP activists from across the State, including 1,000 from two Jammu-bound trains at Vijaypur Railway station in Samba.
In a fresh crackdown on BJP activists, four senior party leaders were detained at Srinagar immediately after their arrival.
Three BJP MLAs — Jugal Kishore, Gharu Ram and Sham Chaudhry — and a party leader from Udhampur Pawan Khajuria were not allowed to leave the airport for taking part in the flag hoisting plan, officials said.
Officials said as soon as the BJP leaders reached the arrival hall of the Srinagar international airport this afternoon, securitymen deployed there escorted them to the VIP lounge and not allowed to enter the city.
He said besides the city, Section 144 CrPC, which prohibits assembly of four or more persons at any public place, has been imposed in Budgam district.
A senior officer in-charge of Lakhanpur sector said over 7,000 security personnel have been deployed at the J&K-Punjab border terminal to prevent the BJP rally from entering the State.
Two women platoons have also been deployed in view of the presence of women activists, he said.
“Riot control vehicles, water cannons and deployment of CRPF and police personnel have been posted at all the entry points,” the official said.
The J&K government has ordered closure of all educational institutions in Jammu and Kathua districts and imposed Section 144 of CrPC, prohibiting assembly of five or more persons, as a precautionary measure.
“We will not allow peace in Jammu and Kashmir to be disturbed,” a senior police official said.
Addressing a rally at Madhopor, Mr. Jaitley described the government’s move to stop the party’s Rashtriya Ekta Yatra en route to Srinagar as a complete surrender of the Central and State governments before the separatists.
“We are not a banana republic the way we were detained. They cannot physically throw us like that. I informed the Home minister regarding this to which he said that he would look into,” he added.
He described as a criminal act the Centre’s act of diverting trains bound for Jammu. “What the government did by diverting trains and expelling leader’s amounts to hijack,” he said.
Mr. Jaitley said that the situation in J&K was worse than what it was in 1953 when people required a permit to enter the State. But today you physically pick up people and throw them out of the State, Mr. Jaitley said.
Ms. Swaraj said that they were determined to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on “If the J&K authorities stop us we will sit on dharna there,” she said.
In his statement, Mr. Chidambaram said the BJP leaders should respect the orders passed by the state government. It would be most unfortunate if the BJP leaders defy the restrictions placed by the State government or deliberately cause a breach of peace.
“There is no justification whatsoever to push a political agenda that will certainly affect peace and law and order in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Mr. Chidambaram said the State government has also made it clear that it would not allow the BJP leaders to cross the bridge connecting Madhopur and Lakhanpur and enter Jammu and Kashmir.
“I would request the two Leaders of the Opposition (in Parliament) and their colleagues to give up the path of confrontation, return to Delhi and join the celebrations in Delhi on Republic Day,” he added.
In New Delhi, former BJP President Rajnath Singh, who is sitting on a hunger strike at Rajghat over the issue, charged the government with trying to divert the attention of the people from the issue of corruption by not allowing party leaders to hoist the national flag in Srinagar.
While nearly a dozen BJP workers from the Valley have been taken into custody for violating prohibitory orders over the past three days, separatist leaders like JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, moderate Hurriyat Conference leaders Bilal Gani Lone, Shahidul Islam and Khalil Ahmad Khalil have gone underground as they apprehended arrest.
Mr. Malik has called for Lal Chowk Chalo march on Republic Day to counter the BJP’s Tiranga Yatra.
Keywords: Flag hoisting programme, Ekta Yatra, BJP-J&K standoff, Lal Chowk