The three leaders were taken into custody after a nearly six-hour high drama at Jammu airport where they were kept locked to prevent them joining the party’s ‘Ekta Yatra’ to hoist the national flag in Srinagar on January 26, which the state government has disallowed, party sources said.
Madhopur is 15 km from Pathankot.
Earlier in the day, Jaitley and Sushma were barred from leaving the Jammu airport, forcing them to squat on the tarmac. Tension gripped the Jammu airport area following the move, bringing in hundreds of BJP activists and many leaders in the state to the main gates of the heavily guarded complex. Authorities hurriedly shut its gates.
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and former union minister Ananth Kumar landed in Jammu by a special flight from New Delhi to take part in the party’s ‘Ekta Yatra’ rally that culminates with unfurling the Indian tricolour at Srinagar’s city centre Lal Chowk on Republic Day on Wednesday. From their protest area, Sushma, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, tweeted that she and her colleagues would not budge and took on the government for stopping them from entering Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir and a known BJP bastion. “The government has the right to arrest us but they cannot deport us,” she said. Officials then took away the mobile phones of all three leaders. An official added that the three leaders had been allowed to use facilities inside the terminal building.
“We will not allow them to enter Jammu city, come what may,” an official said. The move triggered noisy demonstrations outside the airport by BJP activists. Several BJP workers and leaders were arrested in what could be a prelude to the arrest of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar.
Police sources said Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was personally directing the police action against the BJP workers. “We are doing what we have been told to do,” a police official said on condition of anonymity. The state government has opposed the BJP’s plan, fearing it will create a law and order problem in the valley.
In New Delhi, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the central and state governments of trying to provoke his party but said the strategy would not succeed. He charged the Jammu and Kashmir authorities with “repression”.
Jammu’s Deputy Commissioner Sanjiv Verma handed over a letter to the BJP leaders stating that prohibitory orders banning the assembly of more than five people were in force in the city. This sparked an ugly exchange of words between Jaitley, a lawyer by training, and police officers. Police urged them to return to New Delhi by air but they refused. As news of the protest spread, BJP activists gathered outside the airport in large numbers. Police reinforcements were also brought in, leading to tension in the city.
In Beijing, BJP president Nitin Gadkari criticised the “repressive approach of the central and state governments” towards plans to unfurl the national flag in Srinagar. He said: “Under the UPA regime, secessionists are enjoying royal treatment while nationalists are assailed because they plan to unfurl the national flag.”
Meanwhile, police columns with armoured vehicles moved in and all buses were checked at Lakhanpur, the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir that resembles a battle zone ahead of the BJP’s plans. Most policemen deployed in this small roadside town which faces Madhopur, a tourist resort of Punjab across the bridge over river Ravi, are from the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police, equipped with canes and teargas canisters. To counter the BJP march, the JKLF has also vowed to march to Lal Chowk on the Republic Day.
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