Ekta Yatra: Omar Arrests, Packs Off Sushma, Jaitley To Punjab25 January 2011
The Indian Express
Jammu: With the BJP youth wing’s Rashtriya Ekta Yatra scheduled to enter Jammu and Kashmir tomorrow, senior party leaders Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar were detained at the Jammu airport and not allowed to enter the city on Monday. They were later arrested and taken by road towards Punjab. The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha’s (BJYM) Ekta Yatra, which began from Kolkata on January 12, is set to culminate with the hoisting of the national flag at Lal Chowk, in Srinagar, on January 26. Earlier, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had advised restraint, cautioning that the incident may “disturb the peace”. The three BJP leaders, who were scheduled to address a rally of party activists marching to Srinagar tomorrow, arrived here in a chartered plane at around 3:15 pm. They were immediately asked to return to Delhi, as senior officials pointed out that their party’s request for holding a rally in Jammu had been rejected in view of the imposition of prohibitory orders. But the trio refused to return, and spent the first couple of hours at the airport’s arrival lounge. At around 5:45 pm, they were taken to the VIP lodge at the airport, after Director General of Police Kuldeep Khooda arrived at the spot. As all efforts by senior civil and police officers to persuade them to return failed, the BJP leaders were formally arrested at about 9 pm and taken by road to Punjab. Sources said Jaitley’s son, who was also on the chartered flight and was on his way to visit his maternal uncle in Jammu, was sent back too. The four are reported to have been taken to Madhopur in Punjab. Earlier in the day, amidst the drama in Jammu, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram called up Jaitley in an attempt to persuade him to drop his party’s plans. As tempers frayed, Chidambaram spoke to Omar Abdullah to discuss possible options to defuse the situation. Abdullah is learnt to have conveyed to the Home Minister that it was not possible to let the BJP activists march till Srinagar and unfurl the Tricolour at Lal Chowk. He expressed his inability to even let the BJP leaders address the proposed rally in Jammu, sources said. Chidambaram then asked Abdullah to send some senior state government officials to Jammu to talk to the BJP leaders and persuade them to return to Delhi. Abdullah agreed to send Chief Secretary S S Kapoor and DGP Kuldeep Khooda to Jammu. State BJP spokesperson Jatinder Singh said the state government’s action was “most outrageous”, adding that the government’s decision to prevent the hoisting of the national flag at Lal Chowk was “unpardonable, undemocratic and unjustified”. In Delhi, BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad said: “This is a repressive action by the government of India. We condemn it. We will go ahead with the yatra”. Targeting the Centre, he said, “this decision could not have been that of the J&K Chief Minister alone. It has to be at the behest of the Centre”. Meanwhile, a dozen local BJP leaders, including two MLAs, were taken into custody in Jammu and prohibitory orders imposed under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) all along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway passing through Kathua district from Lakhanpur. Movement of vehicles on link roads within various districts, especially along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, has also been suspended. Having already sealed its borders with neighbouring Punjab with the deployment of seven to eight companies of CRPF personnel, senior civil and police officers from the state held a meeting with their Punjab counterparts to seek their help in stopping the yatra from entering the state tomorrow. To prevent any BJYM or BJP activist from entering the state under the guise of pilgrim or tourist, the Kathua district administration plans to ban the entry of all vehicles coming from Punjab from tomorrow morning. In other districts, security has been intensified along the national highway right upto the Jawahar tunnel. Meanwhile, local BJP leaders said their Lal Chowk programme would be held as scheduled, and a number of BJYM workers from elsewhere in the country have already reached the state.