BJP's flag march in Jammu & Kashmir fizzles out
With its leaders and activists who travelled to Kashmir all held back in Jammu, the BJP's campaign to unfurl the tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on Republic Day came to naught.
A few BJP activists, who somehow managed to reach Srinagar, made repeated attempts through the day to march to the chowk carrying the flag, but were arrested each time well before they reached the spot.
Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik, who had also called for a march to Lal Chowk to counter the BJP's flag hoisting, was arrested soon after he set out with his followers.
"Some separatist and BJP activists have been arrested as they defied the orders of the district administration," confirmed SM Sahai, inspector general of police, Kashmir.
As in previous years, the official Republic Day ceremony was also held at the enclosed Bakshi Stadium in the capital, with state finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather raising the national flag.
On Tuesday night, chief minister Omar Abdullah called up detained BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj to suggest they join him for the official celebrations, but the invitation was turned down.
"We got a farcical invitation from the chief minister to take part in the official function in Srinagar," said Swaraj.
"Was he not aware that we were under arrest?"
Jaitley, Swaraj and other detained BJP leaders were released on Tuesday night. They participated in a flag-hoisting ceremony in Jammu's Kathua town where they had been held before leaving for Delhi. Jaitley said he would raise the issue in Parliament.
"The Kashmir government's action in not allowing the flag hoisting, apart from being an ideological and psychological surrender to the separatists, sends the message that by gagging the voices of Opposition leaders, it intends to deny democratic space to opposition parties," Jaitley said.
The Lal Chowk flag hoisting - distinct from the official one - was a tradition that began with BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi's Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari to Srinagar in 1992, which culminated with Joshi raising the tricolour at that spot on Republic Day amid enormous security and controversy as well.
The para-military forces in Kashmir kept up the tradition in subsequent years, but Omar Abdullah, after he became chief minister, had it discontinued in 2008.
Though peaceful, Wednesday remained a tense day in Srinagar, with entry to the roads leading to Lal Chowk and Bakshi Stadium heavily regulated.
Even telephone and internet services were jammed in the entire Kashmir Valley till the forenoon.