Jammu burns, Srinagar quietens as Amarnath order cancelled (Roundup)

July 1st, 2008 - 8:59 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Srinagar/Jammu/New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) There was tension in Muslim dominated Srinagar and trouble in Hindu majority Jammu Tuesday as the government cancelled its land allotment to the Amarnath shrine board, ending one controversy but beginning another over an issue that has rapidly gained a communal edge. The Jammu and Kashmir government, at the centre of an escalating crisis over the order, cancelled its allotment of 40 hectares of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that organises the pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The decision — taken by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad after a three-hour meeting with cabinet colleagues — quietened the violent protests in Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley that has seen five people killed in alleged police firing last week.

But it led to curfew in the plains of Jammu where at least 70 people, including several police personnel, have been injured in unrelenting protests against the cancellation of the order.

Normal life remained paralysed as the shutdown called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu groups against the government’s “climb down” entered the second day.

Police vehicles fitted with loudspeakers announced the imposition of curfew but protesters continued to fight pitched battles with the police in many parts of the city and its outskirts where even public transport was off the roads.

Police fired bullets and teargas shells at several places and deputy inspector general of police Farooq Khan said grimly: “The situation is extremely tense.”

An agitated mob staged a sit-in on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway blocking traffic on the only road link to the Kashmir Valley, where Kashmiri separatist leaders had called for a mass protest rally in the central mosque in the old Srinagar city.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chair of the moderate Hurriyat Conference, Shabir Shah, chief of the Democratic Freedom party, Nayeem Khan, head of the National Front, and other separatist leaders were placed under house arrest to prevent them from taking part in the proposed rally.

With the government finally addressing the demands of the separatists and many mainstream political parties in the Kashmir Valley demanding the revocation of the controversial order in black and white there were many kudos.

One person was killed in protests which later gave way to calls for celebration.

.”It is the success of the sacrifices made by the people and the result of their unity. It proves what the people can achieve through their unity,” said Umer Farooq over the phone.

Syed Ali Geelani, the hardline separatist leader and head of the breakaway Hurriyat group was more cautious and only said: “Our party will meet tomorrow at 11 a.m. at my residence and we will examine the government order and frame our response to it.”

The mainstream political leaders were more forthright.

“It is a victory for the people of Jammu and Kashmir who have been on the streets all these days,” said Mahbooba Mufti, president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that withdrew from the Congress-led coalition government Saturday to protest the land allotment.

“We will not be joining the government despite this order,” she added.

Omar Abdullah, president of the main opposition National Conference, said: “I hope good sense prevails and the people understand that the issue has been finally settled.”

“Unfortunately, the government took so long to decide that persons interested in prolonging the trouble are now speaking of lands allotted to security forces and so on as the state readies for the elections here. The BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are looking at the whole issue from their political prism,” he added.

As if in response, VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia called for a countrywide shutdown on Thursday.

“We will not stop until the Amarnath land is given back to the shrine board,” VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia told reporters in New Delhi.

He also announced a phase-wise agitation until the government met the VHP demand.

Shiv Sena leader Rajesh Gupta agreed: “The government is bowing before the anti-national elements.”

Kashmiris in the Valley allege the shrine board would settle “outsiders” on the allotted land and change the demography of a state that enjoys a special status in the Indian constitution.

As the polarisation becomes more complete in the troubled state, it is clear that the last word on the issue is yet to be written.

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