In a day of high drama, three top BJP leaders were prevented from leaving Jammu airport and later arrested to thwart the party's controversial flag-hoisting in Srinagar on Jan 26. Even as the BJP dug in its heels, its top ally, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar expressed open disapproval of the move.
The stand-off between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Omar Abdullah government over the former's insistence on unfurling the national flag in Srinagar's Lal Chowk saw BJP leaders - Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar - being physically stopped from leaving Jammu airport. After pleas to make them return to Delhi failed, in a drama that lasted six hours, they were arrested and taken in a convoy to Madhopur in Punjab where they were freed.
The three had landed in Jammu airport in the afternoon to join the youth wing's Ekta Yatra. The Omar Abdullah government has disallowed the yatra as it could vitiate the atmosphere in the state that saw massive street protests and over 100 deaths in summer of 2010.
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar sat on the tarmac and ignored pleas by the chief minister to return to Delhi to prevent tension escalating.
They were arrested late in the evening and taken in a convoy to Madhopur Bridge in Punjab, near Lakhanpur Barrier, on the border with Jammu and Kashmir. They reached at around 10.50 p.m. Madhopur is 15 km from Pathankot. The three were formally released by the Jammu and Kashmir Police at the border, district authorities said.
BJP national secretary general J P Nadda, the party's Amritsar MP Navjyot Singh Sidhu, party Punjab unit chief Ashwani Sharma and two state ministers, Mohan Lal, transport minister, and Manoranjan Kalia, industries minister, were present at Madhopur to receive the leaders, a party official said.
Hundreds of BJP activists shouted slogans to greet them and denounced the Kashmir government for arresting them.
A party source said the three leaders will Tuesday proceed to Lakhanpur to join the rallyists entering Jammu and Kashmir.
Jaitley, speaking to repoters in Madhopur, said they were "illegally deported" from Jammu.
A huge contingent of Jammu and Kashmir Police is stationed at Lakhanpur, 90 km from Jammu, to prevent the marchers from entering the state.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, expressing open disapproval of the BJP's march, said: "I am against it. There is no justification for it."
The Janata Dal-United leader, who is running a government with the BJP in Bihar, said he did not support the Tiranga Yatra. "Given the kind of tension that is prevailing in the Valley, this yatra has no meaning and I don't support it".
JD-U chief and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav has also said he is not in favour of the Ekta Yatra.
The Congress said the BJP should instead march to Bangalore where the its government "was not being run according to law".
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari, commenting on the Ekta Yatra, said it was "a wrong display of political opportunism".
"Is Srinagar not an integral part of India? Is Jammu and Kashmir not part of India? What is the need to hoist the flag... It is not Muzaffarabad that there is need to hoist the flag," Tewari said.
But the BJP is determined to go ahead with the rally.
Party chief Nitin Gadkari, who is visiting China, termed the Omar Abdullah government's move to prevent the rally as "undemocratic" and "infringement of their fundamental rights".
Gadkari had flagged off the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha's Ekta Yatra from Kolkata Jan 12. Gadkari is on a five-day visit to China at the invitation of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government.
Earlier, Home Minister P.Chidambaram told the BJP leaders when they were in Jammu to return.
The home minister told the BJP leaders that they made their point and should come back now, a home ministry official told IANS.
From their protest area in the airport, Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, tweeted that she and her colleagues would not budge and took on the government for stopping them from entering Jammu, a known BJP bastion.
"The government has the right to arrest us but they cannot deport us," she said.
Officials then took away the mobile telephones of all three leaders. An official added that the three leaders had been allowed to use facilities inside the terminal building.
In New Delhi, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the central and state governments of trying to provoke his party but said the strategy would not succeed.
He charged the Jammu and Kashmir authorities with "repression".
Meanwhile, in Lakhanpur, police columns with armoured vehicles moved in and more than 2,000 police personnel were deployed to thwart the BJP's plans.