Kashmir Valley tense as separatist leaders arrested; more troops deployed

After the reports of mass arrests parts of Srinagar city, including commercial hub of Lal Chowk, on Saturday remained partially shut Pic : Khalid Khan

By Auqib Javeed

Srinagar: Tension gripped the Kashmir Valley ahead of the hearing on Article 35-A of the Indian constitution in the Supreme Court on Monday.

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Top separatist leader Yasin Malik and over 150 people, mainly from the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir including its chief Abdul Hamid Fayaz, were detained during the intervening night of Friday and Saturday.

On Friday evening, rumours were doing rounds on social media that Article 35-A might be scrapped on Monday, following a tweet by ex-Chief minister Omar Abdullah, which he later deleted. “Srinagar is agog with rumors and speculation tonight!” he said in the Tweet.

After reports of mass arrests, parts of Srinagar city, including commercial hub of Lal Chowk, remained partially shut on Saturday.

The traders have warned of “dangerous consequences” if Article 35-A is scrapped.

“We want to make it clear that if anything happens to Article-35 A, we will start a massive protest against the Indian government,” said Mohammad Yasin Khan, president of Kashmir Traders association.

Though police termed the detentions as routine saying that leaders and potential stone pelters have been picked up in the past, officials privy to the developments said this is the first major crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami.

A top Police official told TwoCircles.net that the crackdown on Jamat-e-Islami and the additional deployment of armed police forces are “purely” part of an election exercise undertaken to ensure free and fair polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I can’t say anything about hearing of Article 35A but as far as I know this is for upcoming elections,” when asked about the mass arrest of Jamaat activists he says “they (the police) have been ordered to do so.”

The hearing on Article 35A, which provides special rights and privileges to natives of Jammu and Kashmir, is likely to take place in the apex court on Monday.

Palpable tension was in the air and people were seen grouping at streets even as security had been tightened.

A top Hurriyat activist, while speaking with TwoCircles.net said they fear that Article-35A might be tinkered by the Indian government. “We want to warn the establishment that tinkering of Article 34A will be over our dead bodies,” he added.

The Home Ministry of India has called for an urgent deployment of hundred more companies of central armed forces in Kashmir.

“We have to urgently deploy CAPFs in Jammu & Kashmir. It is requested to provide 100 coys of CAPFs (CRPF – 45, BSF-35, SSB-10 & ITBP 10) to Govt of J&K with immediate effect and till further orders. IG (ops), CRPF is requested to ensure immediate movement of forces in coordination with IG (ops) of all forces,” read a Home Ministry letter to the state government, copies of which have been also sent to IG(Ops) to CRPF, BSF, ITBP and SSB.

 Officially no one has been able to provide reasons for such a massive deployment. The Jamaat issued a statement condemning the detentions and said “…The move is a well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region.”

The outfit claimed that during the intervening night of February 22 and February 23, police and other agencies launched a mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the Valley, wherein dozens of its central and district level leaders were arrested, including its Ameer (chief) Jamaat Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz and advocate Zahid Ali (spokesperson).

The Jamaat termed the raids as “fishy” at a time when the Supreme Court is to hear a petition regarding Article 35A of the Constitution.

“…The way forces personnel unleashed the spree of mass arrest and detained dozens of Jamaat members prior to the hearing seems something is hatching behind the curtains. Any attempt of eroding or tampering Article 35A is unacceptable for people of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said.

Reacting to the valley-wide crackdown, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti questioned the legality of the action saying the “arbitrary” move will only “precipitate matters” in the state

“In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders and workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in JK,” Mehbooba tweeted.

“Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas,” she said.

Moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also condemned JKLF chief Yasin Malik’s detention and the crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir leadership, saying “force and intimidation” will only “worsen” the situation.

“Strongly condemn the nocturnal crackdown on Jamat-e-Islami leadership and cadres and the arrest of Yasin Malik. Such illegal and coercive measures against Kashmiris are futile and will not change realities on the ground. Force and intimidation will only worsen the situation,” the Mirwaiz posted on Twitter.

The leader of People’s Conference, an ally of the BJP, Sajad Lone also said such crackdowns in the past have yielded no results.

“Gov (sic) seems to be on an arrest spree. Just a word of caution. Large scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried tested and failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” he tweeted.