New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today stepped into the raging controversy over the BJP's Ekta Yatra to Jammu and Kashmir to try and hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar.
In a hard-hitting statement, the PM says, "The Republic Day is not an occasion to score political points or promote divisive agendas. Call upon all concerned to observe maximum restraint in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir." (Read: Prime Minister calls for restraint ahead of Republic Day)
The Prime Minister's statement comes as the showdown between the Jammu and Kashmir government and the BJP seems to be getting more intense with six BJP workers being arrested in Srinagar. Late Saturday night, BJP's state vice president Sofi Yousf was also arrested in Srinagar.
The BJP's youth workers are on their way from West Bengal to Jammu and Kashmir. They plan to end their march at Lal Chowk, where, in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru promised Kashmir a plebiscite. That speech forms the basis of separatist discourse. The BJP says hoisting the tricolor here will prove Kashmir is an integral part of India.
The separatists have called for a counter-march on January 26. And tense Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has warned, "It is clear we will not allow anybody to vitiate the atmosphere and the separatists travelling to Lal Chowk also fall under this purview?" (Read: Omar warns BJP against Ekta Yatra to J&K)
At Lal Chowk, security has been stepped up after BJP workers tried to put up posters last night. A crackdown is also being launched against the separatists for their proposed counter march to Lal Chowk.
There is now a proposal within the government to allow the BJP marchers to cross the Lakhanpur entry point into the state. The idea now is to allow them beyond Jammu too, and stop them before the freezing cold of Patnitop and the Banihal pass.
"We have to maintain law and order and it is applicable to all groups. No matter which group they come from implication will be on law and order," said Kuldeep Khoda, Deputy General of Police, J&K.
Although there is support for separatist call in Srinagar, there is a fear that the political tug of war over flag hoisting may precipitate instability once again.
"No disrespect to the Indian flag, but there is a sentiment of Kashmiri nationalism, and when jingoist nationalism is thrusted down their throats by the BJP, separatists are bound to respond," said a local resident.
In New Delhi, the Congress and the BJP continued to duel and posture. "It is a nationalistic movement to build the pride of the country. The way the state government has succumbed to the separatists' pressure and has been trying to stop the yatra is sad, but the BJP will not accept this," said BJP Spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy.