New Delhi/Jammu: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Monday vowed to press ahead with plans to hoist the national flag in the heart of Srinagar even after its leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were detained from the Jammu airport.
Tension gripped the Jammu airport area following the move, bringing in hundreds of BJP activists and many leaders in the state to the main gates of the heavily guarded complex. Authorities hurriedly shut its gates.
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and former union minister Ananth Kumar landed in Jammu by a special flight from New Delhi to take part in the party`s "Ekta Yatra" rally that culminates with unfurling the Indian tricolour at Srinagar`s city centre Lal Chowk on Republic Day Wednesday.
From their protest area, 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, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir and 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.
Later, when the 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.
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar sat on the tarmac and ignored pleas by the chief minister to return to Delhi to prevent tension escalating.
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 the state.
The move triggered noisy demonstrations outside the airport by BJP activists. Several BJP workers and leaders were arrested in what could be a prelude to the arrest of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar.
Police sources said Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was personally directing the police action against the BJP workers. "We are doing what we have been told to do," a police official said on condition of anonymity.
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".
Jammu`s Deputy Commissioner Sanjiv Verma handed over a letter to the BJP leaders stating that prohibitory orders banning the assembly of more than five people were in force in the city.
This sparked an ugly exchange of words between Jaitley, a lawyer by training, and police officers. Police urged them to return to New Delhi by air but they refused.
As news of the protest spread, BJP activists gathered outside the airport in large numbers. Police reinforcements were also brought in, leading to tension in the city.
In Beijing, BJP president Nitin Gadkari criticised the "repressive approach of the central and state governments" towards plans to unfurl the national flag in Srinagar.
Gadkari had flagged off the "Ekta Yatra" from Kolkata Jan 12. The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, led by its president Anurag Thakur, plans to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk Jan 26.
He said: "Under the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime, secessionists are enjoying royal treatment while nationalists are assailed because they plan to unfurl the national flag."
Meanwhile, police columns with armoured vehicles moved in and all buses were checked at Lakhanpur, the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir, ahead of the BJP`s plans.
Most policemen deployed in the small roadside town of Lakhanpur, which faces a tourist resort of Punjab across the bridge over river Ravi, were from the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police. They were armed with canes and teargas canisters.
The middle of the bridge is believed to be the dividing line between Jammu and Kashmir and neighbouring Punjab.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has opposed the BJP`s plan, fearing it will create a law and order problem in the valley.
A police officer told IANS: "All necessary measures have been taken to prevent BJP activists from entering Jammu and Kashmir." He said the police had been told to "use force whenever it becomes necessary".
To counter the BJP march, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has also vowed to march to Lal Chowk on Republic Day.
Six BJP activists were arrested Saturday when they attempted to paste some posters in and around Lal Chowk.