Huge turnout at R-day function in Srinagar
26 January 2003
Our Special Correspondent
JAMMU: For the first time in 13 years of turmoil in Kashmir, a huge gathering turned up at the Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar today to witness the Republic Day parade where the Finance Minister, Muzaffar Hussain Beig, took the salute at the march past. He called upon the gun-wielding youth to respond positively to the offer of talks by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and put an end to the people's miseries. A general strike was observed in the Kashmir valley and other areas in response to a call by the Hurriyat Conference. But an estimated 5,000 people, braving threats and defying the boycott call, reached the stadium. The People's Democratic Party cadre were seen encouraging them to witness the parade and join the country in celebrating Republic Day. In the past, the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations at the stadium would witness a thin attendance with the chief guest addressing a few columns of policemen at the parade. Today there were unprecedented security arrangements and all roads leading to the stadium were sealed, making it appear like a fortress. The civilians, who came to attend the function, were escorted by the police from their destinations. The National Conference president, Omar Abdullah, and the former Minister, Ali Mohammad Sagar, were present at the function. Mr. Sagar later said that it was a stage-managed show of the PDP Government and that 'the alienation had not gone from Kashmir'. However, he appreciated the people's participation. Mr. Beig said a 'new dawn of reconciliation and expectation' was breaking in the State and anybody going against the 'public mood would be doing so at his own peril'. After the recent elections, the atmosphere in the State was upbeat with the people expressing their desire for peace and a dignified life. The Kashmiris had suffered immensely during the last 13 years and the agonies could not be allowed to prolong anymore. The need for peace was being recognised the world over. 'Extremist elements and enemies of peace would soon find it difficult to hide anywhere, including in the entire sub-continent. The people would themselves take on such elements.' Mr. Beig appealed to the separatist elements to look beyond 'narrow politics' and feel the pain and agony of the people. Hoping the Indo- Pak. hostilities would end soon, he said this had compounded the problems of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It was primarily for the Centre to talk to Pakistan and find a solution to the Kashmir problem. The Minister said that the policy of 'healing touch' initiated by the Centre in the State should not be construed as 'weakness or a policy of appeasement'. The winning of hearts and minds of the people was necessary to win the war against violence and uncertainty. In Jammu, the Governor, G.C. Saxena, took the salute at the march past and addressed the gathering. He said that a new dawn of hope and peace had come with the elections and lauded the people's desire for peace. The Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ministers, senior civil and police officers were present.