A year after Article 370 revocation, restrictions prevent NC's all-party meet

SRINAGAR: Curfew-like restrictions remained in force here on Wednesday as authorities foiled plans of the National Conference to hold an all-party meeting on the first anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir losing its statehood and special constitutional status, but BJP cadres held symbolic celebrations to mark the day.

The official curfew was lifted Tuesday evening but there was no easing of restrictions across the valley on the day when a year ago Article 370 of the Constitution giving special status to the state was revoked and it was transformed into a Union Territory.

Authorities said the restrictions were imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Police and CRPF personnel were deployed in strength across the valley, especially Srinagar city, to ensure there were no demonstrations to disturb the peace, officials said.

They said police vehicles with public address systems went around localities announcing imposition of strict restrictions for combating COVID-19 spread.

"There is a ban on assembly of more than three persons and people are requested not to violate the law and stay indoors," the police said.

Barricades were erected at several places in the valley including Srinagar city to regulate movement of essential services and emergencies and concertina wires were laid on lanes, the officials said.

The authorities in Srinagar had on Monday announced that curfew will be imposed in Srinagar city in view of inputs about violent protests endangering public life and property, as separatists and Pakistan-sponsored groups were planning to observe August 5 as ''Black Day''.

However, the order imposing curfew was suddenly withdrawn on Tuesday evening. An official spokesperson said there was no untoward incident after the curfew was lifted.

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah had called an all-party meeting at his Gupkar Road residence but restrictions imposed by the authorities played a damper as all roads leading to the VIP area were sealed by barricades and concertina wires.

Abdullah had invited leaders of several political parties to his residence to chalk out a joint political strategy for restoration of the special status through democratic means.

National Conference MP from Anantnag in south Kashmir Hasnain Masoodi and PDP''s Rajya Sabha member Fayaz Mir were turned away from Gupkar Road citing restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, NC leaders said.

CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami, NC MP from Baramulla in north Kashmir Akbar Lone and Abdullah''s nephew Muzzafar Shah, who heads the Awami National Conference, were not allowed to go out of their residences, they said.

Former CM and Abdullah''s son Omar Abdullah took to Twitter to say the authorities in Kashmir did not allow the meeting to take place.

"One year on, this is Gupkar road today - police vehicles opposite our gates, concertina wire strung across the road at regular intervals and no vehicles allowed. My father had called a meeting of leaders of MAINSTREAM parties to deliberate on the current situation," Omar said on Twitter.

In a veiled reference to a statement by BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav earlier that politicians should step up their activities, Omar said, "Clearly the meeting is not being allowed to go ahead. The BJP gets to announce a 15-day celebration to mark August 5 and a handful of us aren't allowed to meet on my father's lawn. So much for BJP national leaders wondering why there is no political activity".

Omar said the authorities were "still too afraid" to allow them to meet or carry out any normal political activity.

"One year later the authorities are still too afraid to allow us to meet much less carry out any normal political activity. This fear speaks volumes about the true situation on the ground in Kashmir," he said in another tweet.

CPI(M) leader Tarigami tweeted "locks on gates, lock downs as celebrations and lies as defences has been the hallmark of last year. Today, political leaders were supposed to meet at Dr Farooq Abdullah''s residence to discuss the political challenges the region is facing. But unfortunately, we were not allowed."

Local BJP leaders and workers, meanwhile, celebrated the day by hoisting the tricolour and distributing sweets at the party office at Jawaharnagar here.

BJP''s Altaf Thakur hit out at parties like National Conference and PDP which had termed August 5 as ''black day'' saying these parties were sympathisers of ISIS.

"Those who are in love with black are sympathisers of ISIS. Today is a colourful day and it is an ideological battle between black and colourful forces. The colourful forces will emerge victorious. They (opponents) should think what they are supporting," he said.

Omar took note of JK BJP twitter handle showing leaders exchanging sweets and said "BJP displaying its hypocrisy. They can gather and celebrate. The rest of us can't even meet to discuss what's happening in JK."

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti''s twitter handle, being operated by her daughter Iltija, said, "until the restoration of the special position of Jammu and Kashmir, August 5 will be observed as Black Day. This is the issue of our identity and existence, this is the battle of all of us that we have to fight collectively."

She also posted a picture of four PDP workers staging a protest outside the party office in Srinagar after which it was sealed by the authorities.

"Despite the stringent and unofficial curfew, a handful of PDP workers managed to stage a protest in Srinagar today.The number might seem insignificant but symbolises how tough it is for the people of JK to peacefully protest," she tweeted.

People''s Conference chairman Sajjad Lone tweeted "sadness and emptiness billow amongst the vast swathes of helplessness and hopelessness. It is faceless. The newness is eerie and scary. The trees, the birds, the gaiety of summer seem all caged. What a sad day. What a sad reminder."

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PTI