Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah summoned party colleagues from Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, as the BJP decided against pulling out of the ruling alliance in the state but sent out a stern message to the PDP over the release of hardline separatist Masarat Alam.
Sources said Shah met deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh, state party chief Jugal Kishore Sharma and other key leaders to take stock of the situation amid growing fears that the incident may have dented the BJP's nationalist image.
The issue has snowballed into a major controversy with the Centre forced to firefight in Parliament.
The home ministry said it had sought more information from the J-K government after two letters circulated on social media by a news channel showed the process to release Alam began when the state was under central rule.
The letters emerged a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the Muslim League leader's release in Parliament and said the Centre was neither consulted nor informed about the matter by the 10-day-old PDP-led government in which the BJP is a partner.
Sources said Shah asked state BJP leaders to strongly oppose any such move in future, sending out a stern message to the PDP, but the option of pulling down the government was ruled out.
Shah and deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh spoke to chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on Monday, said sources.
An upset Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the issue threadbare the same morning with home minister Rajnath Singh, finance minister Arun Jaitley, national security adviser Ajit Doval and Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma, sources said.
The fledgling coalition has been buffeted by a slew of controversies with Alam's release emerging as the latest embarrassment after the BJP had to distance itself from Sayeed's statement crediting Pakistan and separatists for the peaceful December polls.
The 42-year-old separatist, who played a key role in the 2010 anti-India protests in the Valley that led to more than 100 deaths in police firing, was released last week from J-K's Baramulla jail where he was lodged under the PSA.
There is a bar on detaining a person for more than two years under this law.
The letters, termed "authentic" by the PDP, reveal the ball was set rolling on Alam's release when the state was under Governor's Rule for about eight weeks after the December assembly polls threw up a fractured mandate.
In one of them, dated February 4, state home secretary Suresh Kumar told the Jammu district magistrate that an order detaining Alam under the Public Safety Act (PSA) had become invalid as it had not been confirmed in time by the state home department.
When the home department asked whether there were fresh grounds for detaining the separatist, the magistrate replied in the negative.
"The letters are authentic and official," said senior PDP leader and state education minister Nayeem Akhtar.
In the second letter on March 4, three days after the PDP-BJP government took power in the state, the magistrate told police Alam's preventive detention had "not been approved by the government" and he should be released.
"We understand it was legally difficult to keep Alam under detention any more. But there is a problem of perception and fear about political fallout. All these issues were discussed with J-K leaders and their feedback taken," a senior BJP leader said after the meeting with Shah.
Rajnath Singh said his government's top priority was national security and not the continuance of the state government.
"The home ministry has sought additional information about the [release of Masarat Alam]. The situation is unclear, because, we have not received any further additional information," minister of state for home Kiran Rijiju told the media in Delhi.
(With agency inputs)