J&K says tourists can return from October 10, Mehbooba declines to meet party team

Naveed Iqbal, Arun Sharma
Following a security review meeting with his advisors and the Chief Secretary, a statement Monday said, “this will be done with effect from October 10”. 

More than two months after an advisory directed Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and tourists to leave the Valley days before the Centre scrapped the state’s special status, J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik lifted the advisory Monday.

Following a security review meeting with his advisors and the Chief Secretary, a statement Monday said, “this will be done with effect from October 10”.

Three days before the Centre moved to scrap Article 370 and bifurcate J&K into two Union Territories on August 5, Malik’s administration had cut short the Amarnath Yatra and asked tourists to leave, citing intelligence inputs on terror threats. The advisory was issued by the state’s Home Department.

Earlier, underscoring that the situation in Kashmir is bigger than party issues, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti refused to meet a delegation of her party members. A day after Governor Malik granted the PDP permission to meet its chief, the party Monday deferred the meeting with her until next week.

Mehbooba, along with a majority of the party’s leadership, has been under detention since August 5 and has not met any party member since.

Read | Time for India to lift restrictions in J&K: US panel

The party stated that the delegation took the decision to defer its meeting with Mehbooba after a meeting late Sunday, owing to the unavailability of some members from Jammu for an 11 am appointment at Srinagar.

Party sources, however, told The Indian Express that Mehbooba “is in distress” and had refused to meet the delegation stating that “the situation in Kashmir is bigger than any party matter at the moment and that she does not wish to become an international prop”. She has only met with her family at the tourist hut at Chashmashahi where she is being detained.

On Twitter, her official account said: “No meeting between Miss Mufti & PDP Jammu leaders in Srinagar tomorrow as reported by media.” She also sought to draw a comparison with J&K and Mumbai’s Aarey colony after the Supreme Court Monday restrained authorities from cutting any more trees.

“Aarey trees > Kashmiri lives,” read one tweet from Mehbooba’s account, which is operated by her daughter Iltija. Another said: “Glad that activists were able to stop felling of trees at Aarey. One wonders why Kashmiris have been deprived of the very same right to free speech & expression. GOI claims they are now at par with other Indians but truth is they’ve been stripped of even fundamental rights.”

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A senior PDP leader and former legislator, who was recently released after 59 days, said that the party was also not happy with “the rhetoric of the government portraying the meeting with top leader as some sort of resumption of political process which is a lie”.

The leader said the government “wants to show these meetings as some sort of a sign of return of normalcy which is not the reality on the ground”. According to the leader, the government had also put conditions that the party delegation which was to meet Mehbooba won’t carry mobile phones and would completely desist from speaking to media afterwards.

“These conditions rendered the meeting purposeless,” the leader said, adding, “How will we stay silent after meeting our detained leader? We are a political party and the arrests have been made to primarily disallow us to speak to our people. They (government) want to tell the world that they have started allowing political activity. This is no political activity.”

Almost the entire leadership of the PDP from Kashmir, which includes former ministers, former legislators and senior party functionaries like the president of its youth wing, general secretaries etc are all under detention.

While Mehbooba has been detained in the high-security Chashmashahi (which was designated a subsidiary jail), the other leaders have been detained at the Centaur hotel or kept under house arrest.

PDP’s Political Affairs Committee (PAC) Member of the Ved Mahajan said, “We had faxed a request to the Governor seeking permission to meet the party chief. We received approval through the Deputy Commissioner’s office at about 3 pm on Sunday for an 18 member delegation to visit Mehbooba ji at 11 am at Srinagar.”

He said the party’s Jammu wing communicated the development to the members of the delegation “but some of them had to come from Rajouri, Poonch and Reasi and they said they would not be able to reach the airport for a 9 am flight. So we held a meeting at 11 pm and decided to postpone the meeting. We will seek the government’s permission again in the next week”.

Meanwhile, a National Conference delegation led by Devender Singh Rana met with NC president and Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah at his house and vice-president Omar Abdullah at Hari Niwas where he is being held.

Rana Thursday asked Malik to allow an NC delegation to meet the party’s president and vice president so they could decide the next political steps. Emerging from the meeting, NC leaders said Farooq and Omar Abdullah were “pained and anguished about the recent developments” and ruled out participation in the coming local body polls until they were released.