Jammu and Kashmir in panic mode after advisory on Amarnath pilgrims

Jammu and Kashmir in panic mode after advisory on Amarnath pilgrims

Srinagar: Tourists and Amarnath Yatra pilgrims started leaving the Kashmir Valley en masse on Saturday following a government's advisory to cut short their stay amid talk of plans to repeal Article 370 and 35A.

The Constitutional provisions allow Jammu and Kashmir special status and privileges.

Governor S P Malik urged political delegations led by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti to tell their supporters to maintain calm and not to believe "exaggerated rumours" being circulated in the Valley.

The governor said in a statement the state had no knowledge of any changes to constitutional provisions.

Despite the assurance from the governor, the Congress and the National Conference indicated they would seek clarifications from the Centre when Parliament meets again on Monday.

Jammu and Kashmir in panic mode after advisory on Amarnath pilgrims
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah

Abdullah said the party needed the assurance as the governor is not the final word on Jammu and Kashmir.

The advisory asking pilgrims and tourists to leave had cited security concerns.

Indian Air Force flights were also pressed into service to bring the visitors home, an official said.

The Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department sent buses on Friday, immediately after the advisory was issued, to different tourist destinations to bring the visitors back to Srinagar, Tourism Kashmir director Nissar Wani said.

The sudden turn of events has left many unhappy, including the business community.

"I have been visiting Kashmir for past so many years, but have never seen such an irresponsible behaviour by the government," Anil Verma, a tourist from Delhi, said.

Haryana's Ramesh Kumar said the government order was "unprecedented".

The state administration defended the order.

Jammu and Kashmir in panic mode after advisory on Amarnath pilgrims

“There were credible inputs regarding terrorist attacks on the Amarnath Yatra," the governor said.

But Abdullah said he has asked party MPs to move a motion in Parliament seeking a statement on the situation in the state over the past few weeks.

The Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) also expressed concern.

“No one knows what is happening. There is uncertainty. We are seeing this type of situation for the first time and it has raised questions. We want the Centre as well as the state government to clarify what is going on," JKPCC president G A Mir told reporters.

Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said the government advisory has "caused irreversible damage to the economy of the state."

The advisory was issued after the Army on Friday said Pakistan-based terrorists were planning to target the Amarnath Yatra.

A top Army official said searches in the past few days had led to the recovery of a Pakistan-made mine and a huge cache of arms along the yatra route.

The BJP's Jammu and Kashmir unit on Saturday accused leaders of the NC, the PDP and the Congress of deliberately trying to trigger panic.

Top sources said security forces have been told to be in readiness during the next 24 hours for a Valley-wide clampdown.

"We are giving a 72-hour window to Amaranath yatris and tourists to leave the Valley," a government source said.

Stocking supplies

For the common Kashmiri, the priority right now is completely different: the immediate concern is stocking rations, medicines, edible oil, salt, tea, pulses and vegetables.

As the news about an impending clampdown spread in the Valley, people mobbed ATM outlets and petrol stations.

While the authorities were drafting contingency plans, discussing and re-drafting them, the common man was making his plans to adjust to the administrative and security arrangements.

NIT students leave, Machail Yatra suspended

The government last night issued an ordered for the suspension of classes in National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar where students across India are enrolled for different engineering courses. This morning, students from different states were seen boarding buses of State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) to leave the valley.

The 43-day-long 'Machail Mata Yatra' in Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir was also suspended.Authorities have asked people not to start the yatra and those on the way should leave and get back.

The yatra commenced on July 25 and was scheduled to end on September 5.

Thousands of devotees from across the country visit the scenic Paddar valley, also famous for its sapphire mines, during the yatra and pay obeisance at the holy shrine of goddess Durga in Machail village of Kishtwar after trekking a 30-km arduous route.

Jammu and Kashmir in panic mode after advisory on Amarnath pilgrims
Ajit Doval

Doval's 'secret' visit

It was National Security Adviser Ajit Doval's "secret visit" to Kashmir that set the rumour mill rolling. The NSA, it was said, had come for the Amarnath Yatra. But does the NSA have the time to spend three days in Srinagar?

Officials said he did not take part in any security meeting during his stay here.

But, nobody said he was on a holiday. Reports said the NSA met the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat inside an Army tent near the Amarnath cave shrine.

When 10,000 paramilitary troops were brought in the Valley, it was called a routine movement of security forces.

Top sources said 70 companies were ordered to reach Srinagar out of which 34 have arrived here.

Thus, the smokescreen of "routine movement of troops" was finally dropped on Friday.

On Friday evening, truckloads of provisions carried by the paramilitary forces were seen in Srinagar as ground forces were reportedly told to be ready for a Valley-wide curfew within the next 24 hours.

All sensitive installations have been taken over by the state police and the paramilitary forces.

Local police guards at shrines have been withdrawn on apprehensions of weapon snatching by militants.

All police stations have received their requirements of reinforcement and communication. Some locals are still using the time available to buy few essentials they might have forgotten to buy.

What does the Centre want?

If former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is to be believed, it cannot just be for abrogation of Article 35A or delimitation. Omar believes alerting the Air Force and the Army does not gel with the idea of abrogating Article 35A.

Informed sources said the centre has discussed two plans for "settling the Kashmir issue for good".

One is to divide the state into three centrally administered union territories. Top sources say this would need a constitutional drill that might take several weeks.

The second option is abrogation of Article 35A. The order promulgating this Article that gives the state legislature the power to define state's permanent residents and their privileges, was issued by then President Rajendra Prasad on May 14, 1954.

The order was never ratified by Parliament. Constitutional experts say the President of India can rescind the order using the same powers he enjoys under section 1 of Article 370.

Constitutional experts say the order to rescind (abrogate article 35A) would be constitutionally and legally valid.

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