Srinagar: India has launched a major crackdown across the restive Kashmir valley 10 days after the Pulwama bombing that left 49 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel dead.
In overnight raids carried out throughout the state, dozens of top separatist leaders including Yasin Malik and Abdul Hamid Fayaz have been arrested.
Yasin Malik, Chairman of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was arrested from his Maisuma residence in Srinagar.
In what looked like a simultaneous operation, scores of members from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI, one of the biggest religio-political organisations in Jammu and Kashmir) including its chief Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz were also arrested.
Since the arrests come just days ahead of a crucial hearing on the contentious Article 35-A in the Supreme Court of India, many expressed apprehension that the arrests might be a precautionary step as the government fears widespread political trouble in the valley.
Article 35-A grants special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and is opposed by rightwing Hindu groups in India.
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and PDP president, was quick to criticise the surprise move to arrest separatist leaders. “Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in J&K. Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas,” Mufti said in a tweet.
BJP ally Sajad Lone, who was a minister in the previous PDP-BJP state government, also lashed out at the authorities.
“Gov seems to be on an arrest spree. Just a word of caution. Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried-tested-and-failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” the politician tweeted.
“The sudden development (arrests and deployment of additional forces) has given rise to speculation here that Article 35-A and Article 370 of the Constitution of India may be abrogated by the Modi government. If such a thing were to happen, the situation in Kashmir will take a turn for the worse,” Syed Ghulam Ahmed, a senior citizen and resident of Srinagar told Gulf News.
Police play down arrest
However, the police played down the arrests, dubbing it as part of an election exercise undertaken to ensure hassle-free polls in Jammu and Kashmir.
“The arrival of central forces and arrests of leaders and activists of separatist groups including Jamat-e-Islami is part of election exercise undertaken to ensure free and fair elections in the state along with other parts of the country,” Kashmir Police informed the local news agency KNS .
Amidst high political drama and growing public anxiety in Kashmir, as many as 100 additional companies of paramilitary soldiers have been airlifted to Srinagar. The fresh deployment includes 45 companies from CRPF, 35 from BSF (Border Security Force) and 10 companies each of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
A Home Ministry letter on Friday asked the Inspector General (Operations) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to ensure immediate movement of the forces in coordination with all other forces.