A massive, multi-layered security has been put in place in the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir on Saturday.
Modi is scheduled to address a public rally at heavily-secured Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in the heart of Srinagar, where he is expected to announce a big economic package -- likely to be around Rs 92,000 crore -- for rehabilitation of flood victims and rebuilding infrastructure for the state’s economic growth.
Billboards welcoming Modi have sprung up on the route that Prime Minister’s cavalcade would take while driving from the airport to the rally venue.
The two ruling parties, People’s Democratic Party and the BJP have been mobilising crowds for Modi’s rally, his first in Kashmir. Each MLA of both parties has been tasked to bring at least 200 supporters for the gathering.
Curfew-like restrictions have been enforced since Friday in many parts of the city, particularly in downtown areas known to be strongholds of separatists leaders who have called for protests against Modi. Several front-line separatists have been put under the house arrest or taken into preventive custody.
Mobile internet services have also been affected in Srinagar due to the visit.
Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has given the call for a “million march”, continues to be under house arrest for past many months. The authorities disallowed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq from holding his customary Friday congregation at Jama Masjid in the city.
Controversial MLA Engineer Abdul Rashid was also put detained for waving black flags ahead of the visit.
Shops and schools remained shut, examinations were cancelled for the day and public transport was suspended. Police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets.
It remains to be seen whether Modi will use the Srinagar pulpit on Saturday to redress the internal dimensions of Pakistan-stoked troubles of the state where the BJP made history by coming to power in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) last year.
Even the PDP is expecting Modi to go beyond the financial package and deliver a political message that would signify his reaching out to Kashmiris and a broader commitment on resuming peace talks with Pakistan. “We want the Prime Minister to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan as this is part of our agenda for alliance,” Waheed-ur Rahman Para, political adviser to chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, told Hindustan Times.
Union minister of state in the prime minister office, Jitendra Singh, who represents Jammu in the Lok Sabha, said his party would carry forward former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s pro-dialogue legacy on dialogue on the Kashmir issue.
During his day-long trip to the volatile state, Modi will also inaugurate the 450 MW Baglihar hydroelectric project on the Chenab, in Ramban district.
This is Modi’s second Diwali-time visit to Kashmir in last one year. He had spent the last festival of lights in Srinagar as a gesture of empathy for the flood-ravaged state.