Srinagar: Life in the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region’s Chenab valley came to a standstill as a 48-hour-long shutdown began on Sunday morning over the “onslaught” against Article 35A of the Constitution, which guarantees special rights and privileges to the permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir.
The call for the strike had been issued by an alliance of key separatist leaders and endorsed by several political, social, religious and trade outfits, including the Kashmir Bar Council and civil society groups.
A three-member Supreme Court bench is scheduled to resume hearing a petition seeking removal of Article 35A on Monday. The petition filed in 2014 by an NGO “We the Citizens”, believed to be an RSS think tank, challenges 35A on the grounds that it was not added to the Constitution by an amendment under Article 368 and that it was never presented before Parliament, and came into effect immediately.
In view of the rising tensions and the shutdown call, the authorities also temporarily suspended the annual Amarnath Yatra from Jammu on Sunday. Officials said though that while no pilgrim was allowed to move towards the Valley from the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas in Jammu on Sunday, those already at the base camps of Baltal and Pahalgam began their journey through the rugged hills towards the 3,888-metres cave-shrine in the Kashmir Himalayas.
It was the 39th day of the two-month pilgrimage when 1,529 devotees paid obeisance at Amarnath, raising the number of visitors this year to 272,815, a Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) spokesman said.
The officials said special checkposts had been set up along the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Udhampur and Ramban areas to ensure the movement of pilgrims doesn’t take place “as a precautionary measure.” They added the yatra from Jammu will remain suspended on Monday as well.
Shops and other businesses were shut in the Kashmir Valley and all public and private transport were off the roads on Sunday. The authorities had announced suspension of rail services between Baramulla in the Valley and Banihal town of Jammu’s Ramban district for two days — August 5 and 6. The officials said there had been overwhelming response to the strike across Kashmir. They also added that the situation was peaceful and no major incident of violence was reported from anywhere.
Director-general of police Shesh Paul Vaid said: “The situation is being closely monitored. Every step required to maintain law and order will be taken.” Official sources said Union home ministry officials stayed in touch with the authorities in Srinagar all through Sunday for up-to-the-minute reports.
A group of traders and civil society activists staged a protest sit-in at Lal Chowk, the historic central square of Srinagar, to renew their pledge to defend Article 35A “with our blood”. The Valley has over the past six days seen a series of protests and rallies against any tinkering with Article 35A and Article 370, which guarantees special status to J&K in the Indian Union. Various parties, including the National Conference, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the Congress and the CPI(M), have joined the chorus by holding rallies in support of continuing Article 35A. They warned of “serious repercussions” for the state and the rest of India if Article 35A or Article 370 was fiddled with.
The J&K government on Friday moved an application in the Supreme Court seeking adjournment of hearing in view of a possible law and order situation and citing the coming panchayat and urban local body elections in the state. Official sources said that the intelligence agencies had warned that there could be a “revolt” in the J&K police ranks and a massive unrest in the state if the court passes an “adverse” order on Article 35A on Monday.
Governor N.N. Vohra is learnt to have earlier written to home minister Rajnath Singh, saying the issue of Article 35A should not be dealt with till a popular government had been formed. J&K has been under Governor’s Rule since June 20 after the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government collapsed as the BJP walked out of its alliance with the PDP.