Jammu/Pathankot: In a
day of high drama, three top BJP leaders were prevented from
leaving Jammu airport and later arrested to thwart the party's
controversial flag-hoisting in Srinagar on Jan 26. Even as the BJP
dug in its heels, its top ally, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
expressed open disapproval of the move.
The stand-off between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Omar
Abdullah government over the former's insistence on unfurling the
national flag in Srinagar's Lal Chowk saw BJP leaders - Arun
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar - being physically stopped
from leaving Jammu airport. After pleas to make them return to
Delhi failed, in a drama that lasted six hours, they were arrested
and taken in a convoy to Madhopur in Punjab where they were freed.
The three had landed in Jammu airport in the afternoon to join the
youth wing's Ekta Yatra. The Omar Abdullah government has
disallowed the yatra as it could vitiate the atmosphere in the
state that saw massive street protests and over 100 deaths in
summer of 2010.
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar sat on the tarmac and
ignored pleas by the chief minister to return to Delhi to prevent
They were arrested late in the evening and taken in a convoy to
Madhopur Bridge in Punjab, near Lakhanpur Barrier, on the border
with Jammu and Kashmir. They reached at around 10.50 p.m. Madhopur
is 15 km from Pathankot. The three were formally released by the
Jammu and Kashmir Police at the border, district authorities said.
BJP national secretary general J.P. Nadda, the party's Amritsar MP
Navjyot Singh Sidhu, party Punjab unit chief Ashwani Sharma and
two state ministers, Mohan Lal, transport minister, and Manoranjan
Kalia, industries minister, were present at Madhopur to receive
the leaders, a party official said.
Hundreds of BJP activists shouted slogans to greet them and
denounced the Kashmir government for arresting them.
A party source said the three leaders will Tuesday proceed to
Lakhanpur to join the rallyists entering Jammu and Kashmir.
Jaitley, speaking to repoters in Madhopur, said they were
"illegally deported" from Jammu.
A huge contingent of Jammu and Kashmir Police is stationed at
Lakhanpur, 90 km from Jammu, to prevent the marchers from entering
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, expressing open disapproval of
the BJP's march, said: "I am against it. There is no justification
The Janata Dal-United leader, who is running a government with the
BJP in Bihar, said he did not support the Tiranga Yatra. "Given
the kind of tension that is prevailing in the Valley, this yatra
has no meaning and I don't support it".
JD-U chief and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav has also said he is not
in favour of the Ekta Yatra.
The Congress said the BJP should instead march to Bangalore where
the its government "was not being run according to law".
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari, commenting on the Ekta Yatra,
said it was "a wrong display of political opportunism".
"Is Srinagar not an integral part of India? Is Jammu and Kashmir
not part of India? What is the need to hoist the flag... It is not
Muzaffarabad that there is need to hoist the flag," Tewari said.
But the BJP is determined to go ahead with the rally.
Party chief Nitin Gadkari, who is visiting China, termed the Omar
Abdullah government's move to prevent the rally as "undemocratic"
and "infringement of their fundamental rights".
Gadkari had flagged off the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha's Ekta
Yatra from Kolkata Jan 12. Gadkari is on a five-day visit to China
at the invitation of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese
Earlier, Home Minister P.Chidambaram told the BJP leaders when
they were in Jammu to return.
The home minister told the BJP leaders that they made their point
and should come back now, a home ministry official told IANS.
From their protest area in the airport, Sushma Swaraj, 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, 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 telephones of all three
leaders. An official added that the three leaders had been allowed
to use facilities inside the terminal building.
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".
Meanwhile, in Lakhanpur, police columns with armoured vehicles
moved in and more than 2,000 police personnel were deployed to
thwart the BJP's plans.