JAMMU (Reuters) - The leaders of the main opposition Hindu nationalist party were stopped on Monday from travelling to disputed Kashmir to hoist the national flag, the party said, for fear of provoking violence in the sensitive region.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the plan to fly the flag in Srinagar, the summer capital of revolt-torn Kashmir, to mark Republic Day on Wednesday, was a patriotic right, the government dismissed it as a political stunt ahead of state elections this year.
“We have landed in Jammu. It appears they have locked the terminal gates. Not being allowed to go out,” Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the BJP in parliament said in a tweet from the airport in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state.
“Just see - we are being deported because we want to fly the national flag,” she said, as hundreds of party supporters blocked roads outside the airport to protest against the administration’s decision not to allow her to travel onwards to Srinagar.
Officials in Kashmir fear that the BJP’s plan to hoist the Indian flag as a symbolic show of control over the region could reignite separatist protests in which more than 100 people were killed last year.
Republic Day has traditionally been a lightning rod for anti-Indian protests in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir which is at the heart of hostilities between India and Pakistan.
Separatists who have been fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir since 1989 had vowed to oppose the BJP’s move to hoist the flag in the heart of Srinagar.
A nervous calm prevails in Kashmir after last summer’s anti-Indian protests, the worst in two decades. Between June and November, young men and women had almost daily hurled stones at security forces on the streets.
The BJP leaders planned to go to Srinagar, 300 kilometres from Jammu, on road along with activists who have been travelling with the flag across the country.
“We have requested them to return to Delhi but they don’t agree,” a security official said. Tens of thousands of security forces have been deployed in the Himalayan region.
The separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front said it would unfurl its own flag in the city centre in Srinagar and demand independence.
Close to 50,000 people have since the insurgency broke out in 1989. India accuses Pakistan of supporting the separatists with money and arms, a charge Islamabad denies.
Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in SRINAGAR; Writing by C.J. Kuncheria; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sanjeev Miglani