Srinagar: In a major crackdown, the police in Jammu and Kashmir arrested dozens of separatist leaders and activists in overnight raids across the Valley to foil Syed Ali Shah Geelani ‘Million March’ as a parallel show of strength to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally being held in Srinagar on November 7.
The law enforcing authorities have also decided to block the pages of Facebook and other social networking sites which are promoting the ‘Million March’ call. Police sources said that as many as 120 such pages on Facebook alone have been identified and efforts are underway to block them.
Mr. Geelani in a statement termed the police crackdown on separatists as “frustration and acceptance of defeat by the Indian government.” He alleged that the arrests were being made on the direction of the Union Home Ministry to sabotage his ‘Million March’ programme and said. “We are not scared of arrests and restrictions but will continue with our ‘Million March’ programme come what may.”
“These types of directions and actions prove that the Indian government and their agents in Kashmir have virtually accepted their defeat and they are scared of facing the pro-freedom leadership of Kashmir on democratic front. India has never honoured the wishes and sentiments of the Kashmiri people and has always tried to crush the every peaceful voice of Kashmir raised against their illegal and forced occupation”, he said.
Earlier this week, the octogenarian separatist leader announced a parallel rally would be held in Srinagar on November 7 when the ruling PDP-BJP coalition has planned a joint rally in the City to be addressed by Mr. Modi. He said over a million people will join his ‘Million March’ which will culminate into a rally at Srinagar’s TRC grounds which are located at less than 300 yards from Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, the venue of the Prime Minister’s rally.
He invited all other prominent separatist leaders including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik to the proposed rally in a display of unity and said that the ‘Million March’ would be aimed also at showing the outside world that “Kashmiris are against Indian occupation.”
Among those taken into ‘preventive custody’ in the police raids are Mr. Malik and Shabir Ahmed Shah. They with dozens of second-rung leaders and activists of various separatist organisations particularly the Geelani-led faction of Hurriyat Conference have been lodged in various police stations and other detention centres in summer capital Srinagar and other places in the Valley.
While Geelani continues to be under house arrest here, Mirwaiz who on Sunday declared his support for the ‘Million March’ is likely to face similar action in next couple of days, police sources said. Mr. Geelani’s lieutenants Muhammad Ashraf Sahrai, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Imityaz Haider and Ayaz Akbar who is also the spokesman of his faction of the Hurriyat Conference too have been either placed under house arrest or detained in police stations.
Malik’s close associates Bashir Ahmed Butt who is the vice president of pro-independence Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and another senior party leader Showkat Ahmed Bakshi too have been taken into ‘preventive custody’. Malik had while declaring his support to Geelani’s ‘Million March’ asked people to enforce ‘civil curfew’ by observing a complete shutdown on November 7 in case the government cracks down on the separatist leadership and imposes curbs on people’s movement on that day.
Meanwhile, the law enforcing authorities have also decided to block the pages of Facebook and other social networking sites which are promoting Mr. Geelani’s ‘Million March’ call. The separatist leader had on Friday asked the people particularly the Net-savvy youth to create pages on these sites to promote his call. The police sources said that as many as 120 such pages on Facebook alone have been identified and efforts are underway to block them.
Local watchers were seeing in Mr. Geelani’s ‘Million March’ call a deviation from the separatists’ time tested manoeuvre of calling shutdowns during the visits of Prime Minister and other important central government leaders which they would often indulge in ever since the separatist campaign turned violent in 1989. The practice had come under severe criticism by their opponents and some supporters alike with the latter asking the leadership to look for alternatives.
The organisers of the proposed ‘Million March’ had said that they would seek formal permission for it from the concerned authorities and were ready to take the responsibility towards maintaining law and order in the City. “We will also assure the administration that those who want to attend Modi’s rally will not be stopped or hindered,” Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference spokesman Mr. Akbar had said. It had while claiming that over a million people would join its rally said it would be “a clear referendum that the people of Kashmir are with the freedom movement or they have changed with the time”.
Mr. Geelani and other prominent invitees would address the rally “to reaffirm our resolve to carry forward the freedom struggle in every way and at every cost till the goal is achieved”, it had said adding “both public rallies will decide how many people are with India and how many support the freedom struggle.”
Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the Baglihar-II hydroelectric project on Chenab river near Ramban in Jammu region and would after addressing a public rally near the dam site fly to Srinagar to address the proposed rally. He is expected to announce a slew of measures for the economic uplift of the State’s weaker sections and also a handsome package for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits during his visit.