Security restrictions paralysed life across Kashmir as Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh arrived in Srinagar on Monday afternoon on a two-day visit, when he is expected to make a fresh call to separatists for talks.
This is the prime minister's second visit to the state after being re-elected for the second term. Singh had visited the state with United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi to inaugurate the South North rail link in October.
The prime minister was received by Governor N N Vohra and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at the Technical airport in Srinagar.
The visit comes against the backdrop of the 'quiet diplomacy' initiated by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram with separatist leaders failing to make any headway, as the Hurriyat refused to join it owing to pressure from militant groups.
The ruling National Conference is likely to seek early talks on providing greater autonomy in the state as recommended by the Sagir Ahmed Committee set up by the prime minister, party sources said.
Singh's busy schedule primarily includes a convocation address at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of agriculture sciences at the international conference centre, situated on the banks of Dal Lake.
Though the army had asked for the shift of the convocation venue to the heavily guarded cantonment area following inputs that militants of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba were planning a suicide attack, the state police said it "had examined the intercepts and those were not authentic".
The state administration threw a thick security blanket around the international conference centre restricting pedestrian and vehicular movement.
Here, Singh is likely to announce a Rs 200-crore package for the saffron industry, which is facing tough times due to adulterated saffron flooding the market. Complaining that they were not finding enough buyers, saffron growers had staged a demonstration demanding action against those harming their trade.
Singh is also expected to review the security and development scenario in the state with Abdullah, his cabinet colleagues and state government officers. He will also hold one-to-one talks with the chief minister to review the progress made in regard to the recommendations made during the two sessions of the Round Table Conference chaired by him.
The prime minister will launch the National Youth Corps on Tuesday. The group is a wing of Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangthan that will arrange countrywide tour of 8,000 Kashmir youth to various parts of the country to expose them to the progress made in various fields.
The police, paramilitary and central reserve police force have deployed in the old city where no movement has been allowed, while road intersections having been blocked by razor fitted wire and barricades.
Also, hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called a strike against the prime minister's visit and the recent killing of three youth in the Machil sector of the Line of Control, further paraysing life in Kashmir.
The strike closed shops, businesses, public transport across Kashmir where examinations scheduled for today were postponed in view of the strike call.
Reports from other towns said the strike was complete crippling normal life.
The prime minister will also carry out a review of the Rs 634 crore Srinagar-Leh Transmission line spread over 375 km.
With PTI inputs
Image: Kashmiri women walk past policemen at road blockade ahead of Indian PM's visit in Srinagar | Photograph: Fayaz Kabli / Reuters