A showdown between Hindu religious groups and the Jammu and Kashmir government over the annual Amarnath pilgrimage appears imminent.
Ignoring chief minister Omar Abdullah's directive, the Hindu groups have resolved to go ahead with their plan to start the pilgrimage on June 15, a fortnight prior to the scheduled date of June 29.
Rejecting all the offers of the state government to hold talks to work out a compromise, the representatives of the Hindu groups told media persons here on Friday that they were shocked by the government's attitude, which they alleged was "anti-Hindu and anti-pilgrimage".
They were particularly agitated over chief minister Abdullah's reiteration that the government would deal sternly with those attempting to start the Amarnath yatra ahead of schedule.
The schedule was announced by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board that manages the pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine, devoted to Lord Shiva, at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level.
"The chief minister has hurt the sentiments of Hindus by declaring that he would take all measures to stall the pilgrimage before June 29," said Surinder Jain, spokesman of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
"This is an assault on our religious and fundamental rights," he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and Bama Amarnath Yatra Nyas favour the early start of the pilgrimage, June 15.
On the other hand, it is reliably learnt that the state government has passed on strict instructions to the police that no pilgrim be allowed to move towards Pahalgam or Baltal in Kashmir to undertake the pilgrimage.
The administration is trying to dissuade devotees from undertaking the pilgrimage before June 29 as it is claiming that the mountainous treks leading to the shrine are covered with snow. They claim there is a risk involved if people start the trek before the snow is fully cleared from the slippery tracks.