Kashmiris Stock up on Essentials as Troop Deployment, Arrests of Separatists Create Panic
Long queues were seen outside petrol stations and people were thronging provision shops and buying essential supplies.
A CRPF personnel stands guard in front of closed shops next to the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, on February 23, 2019. (REUTERS)
Srinagar: Tension gripped Kashmir on Saturday after the Centre rushed in 100 additional companies of paramilitary forces to the valley on an ‘urgent’ basis and launched a massive crackdown on separatist leaders. A series of administrative decisions taken by the state added to the sense of panic.
The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has ordered for the additional deployment of 100 companies (nearly 10,000 troops) of paramilitary forces. This includes 45 companies of CRPF, 35 from BSF and 10 each from SSB and ITBP. Officially, no one has been able to provide reasons for such a massive deployment.
Over 150 people, mainly from the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, including its chief Abdul Hamid Fayaz, were arrested, ahead of a hearing in the Supreme Court on validity of Article 35-A of the Constitution. JKLF chief Yasin Malik was also arrested from his residence late on Friday night.
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.
Speculation fuels tension
Heightened tension was palpable and people were seen in groups on streets even as security was tightened. Orders issued by some government departments added to the fears of the people. Long queues were seen outside petrol stations and people were thronging provision shops and buying essential supplies.
The Government Medical College in Srinagar cancelled winter vacation of its faculty members and directed them to positively report for work on Monday. The chief medical officers of all districts were also directed to collect medicines and surgical disposable supplies in view of “prevailing situation” in Kashmir.
The Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, which provides ration to people through its outlets, directed its staff members in south Srinagar to ensure completing sale of food grains in their respective areas by Saturday evening. They were also directed to keep the ration depots and sale outlets open on Sunday as well.
In a statement, however, the divisional commissioner of Srinagar said there was no need to panic. He said fuel rationing was ordered due to shortage caused by the prolonged closure of the National Highway. On food rationing, the DC said the department of food supplies and consumer affairs was asked to ensure proper distribution due to procedural requirements.
Former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, in a tweet, said that the government orders were creating panic. “People in the valley, especially the cities and towns, are taking everything said or done as a sign that some big trouble is just around the corner. People are hoarding food & fuel,” he said.
“The administration needs to take steps to reduce this sense of panic. People are wound tight with worry and the speculation on some TV news channels is contributing to this as well. Let’s hope someone in the government is listening,” he added.
'Tried, tested and failed model'
Top police officials termed the raids om separatist leaders as “preparations for the Lok Sabha elections”, even as former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti criticised the action, saying one could imprison a person “but not his ideas”.
“In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders & workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in J&K. Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas,” Mehbooba said.
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.
Moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, too, 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.
Confirming the arrests, the Jama’at said, “During the intervening night of February 22-23, police and other forces raided many houses in the Valley wherein dozens of our central and district level leaders were arrested.”
“Those detained include Ameer Jama’at Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz, Advocate Zahid Ali (Spokesperson), Ghulam Qadir Lone (Former Secretary General), Abdur Rouf (Ameer Zila Islamabad), Mudasir Ahmad (Ameer Tehsil Pahalgam), Abdul Salam (Dialgam), Bakhtawar Ahmad (Dialgam), Mohammad Amin Wani (Tral), Bilal Ahmad (Chadoora), Ghulam Mohammad Dar (Chak Sangran) and dozens more,” added the spokesman.
Poll Preparation or 35-A?
Police sources, however, played down the arrests, saying the arrests were necessary for elections to be held peacefully. A senior police official told News18 on the condition of anonymity that those arrested were held earlier too.
Officials privy to the developments said it was the first major crackdown on the organisation that is part of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, a separatist conglomerate.
Jama’at is seen as the political wing of the Hizbul Mujahideen in the Valley and its cadres were picked up from across south Kashmir, including Anantnag, Pahalgham, Dialgam and Tral.
On Friday night, choppers were also reported to be hovering over Kashmir Valley. The sound of frequent flying of fighter jets till 1.30 am added to the worries of the residents due to simmering Indo-Pak tension following the Pulwama suicide car bomb attack. However, IAF officials described it as a routine exercise.
The Jama’at, while condemning the action against its cadre, also referred to Article 35-A and said ‘something is hatching behind the curtains’ amid rumours that the government was bringing in an ordinance on the matter.
The additional deployment of forces in the Valley, police sources say, is for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in the state and the request for the immediate movement has been made due to the closure of the Jammu-Srinagar Highway.
“The highway is closed and we can’t take chance. We cannot go for a war with 12,000 forces,” the police official responded when asked about rumours on India preparing for a war with Pakistan.
“We don’t want sudden arrival of forces at the time of election. They need to get familiarised with the situation and will be put on training,” the police official added.
Meanwhile, a team of the Election Commission will visit Jammu & Kashmir on March 4 and 5 to review the security situation, officials said on Friday. Since the February 14 attack in Pulwama, which the Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for, tensions have escalated between India and Pakistan.
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