Tension escalated along the Jammu and Kashmir-Punjab border Tuesday as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began a rally at the Madhopur bridge separating the two states, ignoring a call by Home Minister P. Chidambaram to abandon the march to Srinagar to hoist the national flag on Republic Day.
Among those expected to address the rally, signalling the determination to go ahead with the plan to unfurl the tricolour at Srinagar's city centre Lal Chowk on Republic Day Wednesday, were top BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar.
The leaders were brought to Madhopur in Punjab Monday night by Jammu and Kashmir police from Jammu, where they were detained when they arrived at the airport.
The Lakhanpur barrier-Madhopur bridge area, on the border between Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, resembled a battle-zone Tuesday morning with hundreds of armed security personnel being deployed.
Armoured vehicles, water-cannon trucks, teargas equipment and riot-control vehicles and personnel were stationed to thwart any attempt by the BJP leaders and activists to enter Jammu and Kashmir. Wired fencing was put up all across the bridge to prevent anyone from crossing it.
Security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab sealed the Pathankot-Jammu national highway, NH-1A -- the only road link that Jammu and Kashmir has with the rest of the country. The strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway was also shut to traffic to scuttle attempts by BJP activists to sneak into the Kashmir Valley.
Prohibitory orders were also issued in Ramban, Kishtwar, Doda and other areas.
"Any one violating orders would be dealt with as per law," said a police officer.
Authorities also decided to impose curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar to scuttle planned marches by both the BJP and the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Lal Chowk on Republic Day, official sources in Jammu said.
In New Delhi, union Home Minister P. Chidambaram Tuesday asked BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley to respect the orders of the Jammu and Kashmir government and call off their planned flag-hoisting in Srinagar by giving up the "path of confrontation".
"I would request the two leaders of the opposition and their colleagues to give up the path of confrontation, return to Delhi and join the celebrations in Delhi on Republic Day," Chidambaram said in a statement.
"There is no justification whatsoever to push a political agenda that will certainly affect peace and law and order in the state of Jammu and Kashmir," Chidambaram added.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has said it would not allow the flag hoisting by any political group in Srinagar.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was elated with the central government's unqualified support in stopping the BJP march to Srinagar and the treatment meted out to three top party leaders, sources say.
"The chief minister is happy with the centre's support. Almost every one is speaking in his favour and he is rightly delighted," a source in the government who has been interacting with him told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The chief minister, officials added, personally monitored the 'deportation' of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar and has reportedly instructed police that anyone entering Jammu and Kashmir from Punjab with the tricolour should be dealt with.
The government has announced the closure of all educational institutions in Jammu as a precaution to prevent trouble in the city and other parts of the region.
Senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh, who started a fast in New Delhi Monday, termed as "undemocratic" the government's efforts to stop the party's youth wing from hoisting the national flag in Srinagar on Republic Day, saying it was their fundamental right.
"It is the fundamental right given to the people of India to hoist the (national) flag and it is very unfortunate and undemocratic that the central government, along with the state government, is not allowing people to hoist the flag at Lal Chowk (in Srinagar)," Rajnath Singh told reporters.