In an attempt to hold on to the last straw of influence in Srinagar, the ruling National Conference-backed Muslim Auqaf Board on Friday organised prayers in the compound of the Hazratbal shrine after one week of standoff between the security forces and worshippers.
"Hundreds of devotees performed prayers in the compound today. We plan to throw open the shrine premises too for prayers soon," said Muslim Waqf Board vice chairman MY Qadri.
Six days ago, the security forces personnel beat up a group of worshippers and injured a woman critically, when they defied curfew and raised pro-freedom slogans inside the shrine, which traditionally has been a religious space under the tutelage of the National Conference, headed by Farooq Abdullah.
The shrine was, in fact, renovated and rebuilt by the founder of National Conference Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in the 1960s but was taken over by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front militants to propagate its ideology of independent Kashmir in the 1990s.
The grave of Abdullah is just a few hundreds metres away from the shrine, which is constantly under threat from protesters of Tailbal area who try to converge on the grave with rods and digging tools.
Since the confrontation over pro-freedom sloganeering inside the shrine last week, worshippers were performing prayers on the roads and inside their houses.
"This is my first Ramazan when I am not performing my prayers inside the shrine. This is disheartening. To add insult to the injury, the security forces barge into people's houses, break window panes and terrorize them," said Yaqoob Qureshi, a retired teacher who frequently visits the shrine for prayers.
The separatists are eyeing to cash in on the confrontation. While moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq described alleged disallowing of prayers as "infringement into religious rights and called for protest prayers in the roads outside the shrine, hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for handing over the shrine to locals.
Unnerved by the separatists' efforts to wrench away the pulpit from National Conference, the local Board brokered a peace with worshippers. The party, which is losing ground in Srinagar in the wake of civilian unrest, has very few pulpits left to reach out to people here.
"We have dismantled two security pickets outside the shrine and have already replaced the personnel guarding the shrine," said Qadri.
Locals alleged they found a set of playing cards inside the shrine during ablution ceremony, initiated after security forces allegedly broke windowpanes. Now, tempers have simmered down to some extent after locals offered prayers at the shrine.
The shrine took a centre stage in 1993 because of the siege laid down by security forces to nab militants hiding there. The siege was on for more than a month.