Ekta Yatra exposes Centre-State’s Shenanigans
A high political drama was exhibited in Jammu and Kashmir this week as the highly publicised efforts of BJP to unfurl Indian flag in historic Lal Chowk of Srinagar were brutally smashed by Jammu and Kashmir government.
The state government led by Omar Abdullah with full backing of New Delhi refused entry to BJP Ekta Yatra into Jammu and Kashmir on what he claimed could “provoke separatists in Kashmir”. Even, the separatist organisations particularly the JKLF headed by Yaseen Malik had warned that they would take on the BJP with a march of their own to Lal Chowk on Republic Day.
After war of words for weeks between BJP and Omar Abdullah, after BJP announced its plan to unfurl flag on Republic Day the high drama started when the three senior BJP leaders including Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and former Union Minister Ananth Kumar were ill-treated by the state government and the administration and confined to tarmac of Jammu Airport, a day ahead of Ekta Yatra was scheduled to leave for Srinagar.
The plane they had arrived in was grounded and BJP leaders were forced to return to Delhi instead of entering Jammu city, the party leaders however defied to leave Jammu. The BJP leaders who were to take command of the flag unfurling ceremony were not allowed to enter the Jammu city on the ground that prohibitory orders were in force in the city. In a sheer act of nervousness, all the three senior BJP leaders were forcibly driven to Madhopur in Punjab adjoining Jammu and Kashmir.
The Omar Abdullah government which has full backing of New Delhi had imposed prohibitory orders in Jammu city. Even the lone highway connecting Kashmir valley with rest of India was shut down.
Drama began at Jammu Airport on January 24 afternoons, when the Jammu and Kashmir government in conveyance with New Delhi in what the people describe as a `grim reminder of emergency’, prevented the chartered plane of BJP top brass from landing. However, since the plane had permission from Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), it landed at the airport. Sources said the District Magistrate and police officials initially tried to prevent the BJP leaders from deplaning and asked them to return as Section 144 has been imposed in the city. In the meantime, the administration locked the terminal building and confined the BJP leaders at tarmac. It was only after Home Minister P Chidambaram spoke to Jaitley and Omar on telephone from New Delhi that the BJP leaders were allowed entry into the airport lounge from the tarmac. However, the plane remained grounded as the administration kept on hoping that the BJP leaders would agree to return but they didn’t.
The BJP’s Ekta Yatra, which was flagged off in Kolkata on January 12, was to enter Jammu and Kashmir on January 24. A highly-placed government source said New Delhi was fully behind the state government’s decision not to allow the BJP to hoist the tri-colour in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk as it may lead to a law and order situation in the Kashmir, which is currently witnessing relative peace.
After hours of high drama at airport, the trio were packed off in three vehicles and driven to Madhopur in Punjab, bordering Lakhanpur at 11:15 pm. Though the BJP leaders were not allowed to speak to media and were kept confined in the airport lounge, Sushma Swaraj continued to write horrifying experience on twitter, which exposed the blatant misuse of the administrative machinery against the BJP leaders. “You don’t arrest us. You don’t allow us to leave the airport. This is not the law that I read. Arun (Jaitley) and I are both lawyers. I practiced before Supreme Court right from 1973 onwards. You can’t do this under Section 144,” she tweeted.
One of her messages read: “Vande Mataram. We will enter Jammu and Kashmir again. We have been dumped at a place called Madhopur on Jammu and Kashmir-Punjab border three minutes ago. We didn’t come for a Satyagraha. We have come for Tiranga Yatra. We won’t give up. Come what may.”
The crackdown on top BJP leadership according to old timers in party was repeat of the scenes of May 1953 when the founder of the Jan Sangh, the previous incarnation of the BJP, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was arrested from the Madhopur-Lakhanpur Bridge on May 17, 1953.
And on January 25, 2011, this was the similar spot from a large brigade of party headed by senior party leaders were arrested to thwart their mission to enter Jammu and Kashmir border to unfurl flag at historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar. It must be mentioned that one half of the bridge on Ravi river is Punjab while the other half is in Jammu and Kashmir.
As Mukherjee was arrested by the then state government, so were the current breed of BJP leaders though Mukherjee died in Srinagar prison of what the government claimed a ‘heart attack’. Mukherjee had decided to breach the permit regime in protest against the alleged shooting down of three Praja Parishad activists for trying to unfurl the tri-colour at Heeranagar, 15 km from Jammu towards Pathankot.
Significantly, BJP leader Shanta Kumar was arrested at Lakhanpur for second time after 58 years while carrying tri-color to Jammu and Kashmir. He was the lone BJP leader in who was arrested in 1953 while defying permit system to enter Jammu and Kashmir along with Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Shanta was 19 years old, when he was arrested at Lakhanpur along with Mukherjee in 1953.
“Then, we defied the permit system and the government ultimately had to abolish it. Today, we are being stopped from hoisting tri-color in Srinagar, which is part of our own country. This is ridiculous,” Kumar told reporters, where he had been detained. “History is repeating after 58 years. At both times, the government committed mistakes.”
A day after being thrown out of the Jammu and Kashmir, senior leaders Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar tried to re-enter the state along with the Ekta Yatra but it was foiled. As soon as thousands of BJP and BJYM leaders and workers started their march towards Jammu and Kashmir after a massive public meeting, the CRPF and police personnel deployed in huge number in full battle dress took positions at the middle of Ravi Bridge where the territory of Jammu and Kashmir starts. A chopper carrying Home Secretary BR Sharma and DGP Kuldeep Khoda maintained surveillance on security arrangements at Madhopur-Lakhanpur border from the skies.
Significantly, all BJP leaders and workers were carrying national flags. Not even a single BJP leader was spotted with the BJP flag. BJP leaders said that they wanted to hoist tri-color at Lal Chowk and not the BJP flag and by stopping them the government and administration have done a disservice to the nation.
“What can be more unfortunate that those who burn the national flag are being provided security, while those holding the national flag are being stopped,” said Swaraj as she was being arrested along with Jaitley, Kumar and Thakur on entry into Jammu and Kashmir from Punjab.
“Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said if you visit the state, the separatists will be provoked. This shows the psychological surrender (by the state government) before the separatists…it is a historic mistake,” Jaitley said.
Jaitley said that when a “group of separatists” gathered in New Delhi and made anti-India speeches, the government did not take action contending that freedom of speech was their right. This has happened for the first time in independent India that the flag hoisting has been banned in an integral part of India. In pre-Independence area, the people carrying national flag were described as freedom fighters while today they are being arrested as criminals, he regretted.
The Clock Tower in Lal Chowk Srinagar continues remain a perfect centre of political communication since decades. After 1947, the place attained lot of significance because of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru-Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s shared understanding and certain speeches from the place. Many flags, sometimes even the controversial ones, were hoisted atop the tower by the separatist circles giving tough time to the security agencies to control protesters, who marched toward the spot many a time.
In 1992, the then BJP President, Murali Manohar Joshi, hoisted the tri-colour at the same spot. Lal Chowk, a business hub, is named after the central marketplace in Moscow—Red Square. Local historians say it was some enthusiastic communists who thought up the name after Lenin seized power in Moscow in 1917. They say Sheikh Muhammed Abdullah, an admirer of socialism, gave the square the name Lal Chowk.
Omar Abdullah government had pulled out all the stops to prevent and equally defiant BJP from hoisting the tri-colour in Srinagar on Republic Day. As part of their efforts to counter the Yatra, the government had a large arrangement of security personnel at Jammu-Punjab border with huge contingents of Haryana and state police along with CRPF with riot control; tear smoke, water canon vehicles etc since Punjab has refused to take any action against the BJP workers. All the traffic on land route to Jammu was halted; even crackdown was done on Vaishno Devi pilgrims boarding different Jammu bound trains.
Kashmir police also arrested seven BJP activists as they made a vain bid to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, which had been turned into a fortress to foil the party’s plan. A lone BJP supporter appeared at Regal Chowk, less than 100 yards away from Clock Tower at Lal Chowk, carrying a national flag at 8:30 am, officials said.
Srikant, a resident of Gurgaon in Haryana, was apprehended by police personnel before he could make his way to the venue for hoisting the flag. He was taken to Kothibagh police station.
Simultaneously, at least a dozen separatist leaders, including Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, were arrested on Republic Day as they tried to march towards Lal Chowk to hoist the party flag on Clock Tower. Malik and several other separatists had gone into hiding over the weekend as they apprehended arrest by police to foil their ‘Lal Chowk chalo’ march. The JKLF chairman had called for the march to Clock Tower to counter the BJP’s plan to hoist the national flag.
Meanwhile, till the filing of this report, the BJP leaders were released and they left for Jammu to meet the party workers and hoist the national flag with them. Talking to media persons at Kathua after their release the BJP trio briefly said that they will hoist flag in Jammu at party office. They however criticised the approach of state government succumbing down to separatist forces.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu