Some incidents of stone-pelting were reported on Wednesday as Jammu city witnessed a near total bandh in protest against alleged desecration of a temple on Tuesday night, an issue which resonated in the state assembly as well.
Fearing a flare-up, the government suspended mobile Internet services and deployed police in strength to maintain law and order.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appealed for calm, saying, ‘Jammu and Kashmir is the most secular place’ and it should not be ‘hijacked (by the) extremist forces’.
She said some elements were ‘hell-bent’ on creating communal tension in the region but the people of Jammu, irrespective of their religion, must unite and fight the nefarious designs of such forces.
She warned that communal politics in Jammu region could have a disastrous effect as the state was already facing separatism in the Kashmir valley.
“Separatism and communalism are the two faces of a same coin and they ultimately divide the society and the country,” she said while addressing a function at Jammu University.
The city on Tuesday night saw protesters setting on fire three vehicles and resorting to stone pelting on police after the alleged desecration of an ancient temple situated in Roop Nagar area apparently by a ‘mentally disturbed’ person.
On Wednesday, a few incidents of stone pelting were reported, barring which the situation across Jammu region remained by and large normal.
Even though no political or social organisation had called for a bandh, the businessmen and transporters decided to observe a shutdown in protest against the desecration of the temple.
Most of the shops and business establishments remained closed whereas traffic remained off the road.
“The situation right now is normal barring a few incidents of protests by local residents. We have deployed adequate number of police personnel,” Jammu Deputy Commissioner Simrandeep Singh said.
He said that even as the mobile Internet services have been snapped, no curfew or Section 144 is in force in any part of the city.
“The situation does not warrant the imposition of curfew or Section 144 as it would create problems for the masses. The situation is restricted to one place and that too is under control and we are regularly monitoring it,” Singh said.
A huge posse of police personnel, geared with anti-riots equipment, were deployed in the area after protesters had last night set three vehicles on fire and resorted to stone pelting on police after the news of the desecration of the temple spread in the city.
Earlier in the day, people gathered at the Aap Shamboo temple and performed the ‘shudi karan puja’ there.
Mehbooba said time and again the people of Jammu have showcased their secular credentials and it was evident from the fact that the region gave refuge to people who came there while fleeing from militancy-hit areas.
Police said the person accused of desecrating the temple was ‘mentally unstable’ and that he had been arrested.
The issue also resonated in the state assembly where Bharatiya Janata Party members created ruckus as soon as the House assembled.
As soon as the House assembled, the BJP members took to their feet and demanded a statement from the government on the issue.
“It is matter of serious concern...Some anti-social elements have carried out an anti-social act. Situation in Jammu is bad. The government should make a statement,” BJP MLA Ravinder Raina said.
National Conference’s Altaf Ahmad Kaloo and Independent MLA Sheikh Abdul Rasheed also joined in, demanding the government to ensure safety of Kashmiris in Jammu region.
“Four boys from Pahalgam area have been arrested in Jammu. What is their fault?” Kaloo asked.
The BJP MLAs took offence to intervention from Rasheed and Kaloo and exchanged heated words.
Communist Party of India-Marxist MLA M Y Tarigami later intervened, saying the entire House should condemn the incident and appeal for maintaining calm and brotherhood.
“Let us not divide this state along communal lines,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Omar Abdullah supported Tarigami, saying, “It would have been better if the suggestion had come from the Treasury Benches.”
“Usually, the chief minister comes here (assembly) and intervenes but today neither she nor the deputy chief minister is here when the situation in Jammu is on the brink,” he said.
Abdullah said that instead of fighting over the issue, the legislators ‘should set an example for the people to follow on ground. What we do here will be cue for the people in Jammu’.
Earlier, Law Minister Abdul Haq Khan made a statement on the issue.
“As per information received by Roopnagar police station, one mentally disturbed person, identified as Yasir of Doda, tried damaging and defiling a temple in Janipur area.
“The accused was arrested by police but while he was being taken away, the temple priest and some local residents tried preventing police from discharging their duties,” the minister said.
“The residents then held protests outside the police station and resorted to violence, setting several vehicles, including two police buses, on fire,” the minister said, adding three policemen, including the station house officer of the police station, were injured in the incident.
Khan said police resorted to use of ‘mild lathi-charge’ and tear smoke shells to bring the situation under control.
The minister also informed the House that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh were not present in the assembly as they were in Jammu to personally monitor the situation.
A similar statement was made in the Legislative Council by Education Minister Naeem Akhtar after members of BJP, NC and Congress demanded answers from the government.
Akhtar said two cases have been registered at police station Janipur and investigation into the incident has been initiated. Some accused persons have been arrested so far.
“The preliminary investigations suggest that the accused person who entered the temple is a lunatic patient,” he said.
Mehbooba appealed to students to play a positive role and get involved in political activities, but at the same time cautioned them against politics of religion.
“Jammu has always been a glaring example of secular harmony... In 1990, people of Jammu opened their doors for the people who escaped militancy and took refuge here,” she said.
She said it was the people of Jammu who had voted her father Mufti Sayeed to the assembly for the first time in 1985. “It was the secular character of Jammu that they elected my father, a Muslim from Kashmir, from R S Pura,” she said.
IMAGE: Members of Bajrang Dal shouting slogans against state government in Jammu. Photograph: PTI Photo