BJP march: Kashmir gateway turns into battle zone

Monday, January 24, 2011

LAKHANPUR - Police columns with armoured vehicles were Monday moving around and all incoming buses being checked at Lakhanpur, the gateway to the state, which resembles a battle zone ahead of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) planned march to Srinagar’s Lal Chowk Jan 26 that the government has vowed to prevent.

Most policemen deployed in this small roadside town which faces Madhopur, a tourist resort of Punjab across the bridge over river Ravi, are from the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police, equipped with canes and teargas canisters. And they are keeping a strict vigil over the bridge and the river bed.

“We are under instructions to foil any attempt by the BJP marchers to enter this point,” one of the police officials standing in the middle of the nearly 100 metre bridge told visiting reporters. The middle of the bridge is believed to be the dividing line between Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

More than 2,000 police personnel have been deployed on the Jammu and Kashmir-Punjab border. Many more are on stand by.

Fresh instructions are being relayed to police officers on mobile phones or wireless sets, their superiors demanding to know the latest situation. There is apprehension that the BJP workers from other states might enter Jammu and Kashmir in the guise of Vaishno Devi pilgrims and cause trouble inside the state.

BJP plans to unfurl the tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar Jan 26 even though the Kashmir government has opposed the plan, fearing it will create a law and order problem in the valley.

The road coming from Punjab, better known as National Highway I-A, is the only road link that Jammu and Kashmir has with the rest of the country. Lakahanpur has various entry points, one is from the bridge, and then there is a kuccha road and then the riverbed, which is dry because the river water has been tamed by a barrage.

Deputy Commissioner, Kathua, Zahida Khan, under whose jurisdiction this area falls, has visited the town several times, passed on instructions, but she refuses to answer the questions of reporters.

A senior police officer told IANS: “All necessary measures have been taken to prevent BJP activists from entering into Jammu and Kashmir.” He disclosed that police were under instructions to “use force whenever it becomes necessary”.

Even supply trucks, which are usually exempted from any searches, are being searched. All supplies to Jammu and Kashmir come via this road.

Local residents can’t recall this kind of police strictness in the area. “I don’t recall police being deployed in such strength here ever,” Gopal Krishan, 54, who runs a small eatery on the roadside, told IANS.

He said this was not the case even during a march by the BJP 19 years ago.

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