Srinagar: The Kashmir Valley’s seven million-plus residents spent yet another day indoors amid the persisting tensions and an enlarged security clampdown on Thursday. They also continue to reel under a total communications blockade.
It was the first Independence Day after Parliament passed a resolution abrogating the special status of Jammu and Kashmir state under Article 370 of the Constitution and a bill to split the Himalayan state into two Union territories.
Thousands of J&K policemen and members of the Central paramilitary forces including the CRPF, in riot-gear enforced the curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar and other cities and towns of the Valley. They laid additional barricades, drop-gates and other security checkposts on the streets in an effort to impede protests.
Throughout the day, Army columns carried out regular patrolling across the Valley for area domination. The men in olive green were out also to secure sensitive installations.
Official sources said besides these deployments, a robust security cover was also put in place, which included the use of UAVs fitted with cameras. The Army flew helicopters for aerial surveillance.
Governor Satya Pal Malik was joined by national security adviser Ajit Doval at the ceremonial parade at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium. Mr Doval is camping in Kashmir for the past several days to monitor the situation closely and take decisions instantly to ensure maintenance of peace as tensions run very high in the Muslim-majority Valley and part of the state’s Jammu region in the aftermath of the government’s August 5 moves.
The security forces had taken over control of the venue days ahead. The other venues of the official ceremonies elsewhere in the Valley and in Jammu had also been secured by the local police, CRPF and other Central forces.
All roads leading to the Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium in Srinagar were sealed off. Only those who had passes issued by the J&K police security wing were allowed to get in. The presence of locals in the ceremony was negligible.
It was also the first time that mainstream political parties besides the BJP were not represented by anyone at the official ceremonies as their leaders and prominent activists are in jail or under house arrest after the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A and the bifurcation of the state.
Speaking on the occasion, the governor said the changes brought in “are not just historic but have opened a new vista of development for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh”. He said for the past seven decades, the people of the state had been distracted over the core issues of economic development, peace and prosperity. “Rather than focusing on these, people have been misled about issues which are not material to their lives. It is amazing that whether it is an election or otherwise, the public discourse never focused on issues of roti, kapda and makan,” he asserted.
He said that with these changes the veil has been removed. “This will speed up economic growth and prosperity, promote good governance, usher in self sufficiency, provide enhanced job opportunities and, more important,bring a feeling of belonging and oneness amongst the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, with the rest of the country.”
The governor added: “At this point, I would like to assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that their identity is not at stake nor has been tampered with. The Constitution of India allows many regional identities to thrive and prosper.
He said: “No one should get worried that their identity will be lost with the measures taken by the Union government. In fact, this opportunity can be used to promote the traditional cultures, values and languages in the state.”
Mr Malik said that a long-pending demand of the people of Ladakh had also been fulfilled with the formation of a Union territory of Ladakh. “This will enable the people of Ladakh to realise their aspirations in spite of the problems they face on account of the large and difficult terrain”, he said.
He reiterated that Kashmir was incomplete without the Kashmiri Pandits. He said his administration was committed to the safe return and rehabilitation of the Pandits in the Valley.
An official spokesman said the Independence Day celebrations across the state went off peacefully. He said people from different sections of society, including senior government officials, members of the police and security forces and the students of educational institutions took part in the functions at the district headquarters in Jammu and Ladakh.