Tension mounted in Kashmir on Saturday as the government launched a massive crackdown on separatists and detained over 150 people, mainly from the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir, including its chief Abdul Hamid Fayaz, ahead of a hearing in the Supreme Court on Article 35-A of the Constitution.
Though police termed the action as routine saying that leaders and potential stone pelters have been picked up in the past, officials privy to the development said this was the first major crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The hearing on Article 35A, which provides special rights and privileges to natives of Jammu and Kashmir, is likely to take place in the apex court on Monday.
The Jamaat-e-Islami has in the past been touted to be the parent political party of the Hizbul Mujahdeen, but the organisation has always maintained that it is a socio-religious group.
Heightened tension was palpable and people were seen in groups on streets even as security was tightened.
Orders issued by some government departments added to the fears of the people.
The Government Medical College in Srinagar cancelled winter vacation of its faculty members and directed them to positively report for work on Monday.
The Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, which provides ration to people through its outlets, has directed its staff members in south Srinagar to ensure completing sale of food grains in their respective areas by Saturday evening.
They were also directed to keep ration depots and sale outlets open on Sunday as well.
As many as 100 additional companies of the paramilitary (nearly 10,000 personnel) have been sent to Kashmir Valley in the apprehension of a law and order situation. Officially, no reason was cited for the movement.
According to Union Home Ministry sources, the movement of troops was pre-election induction.
Markets in Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of the valley, and adjoining areas opened more than an hour late as business owners were not sure of the situation in the wake of detention of over 150 separatist and Jamaat cadres during the night on Friday.
The sound of frequent flying of fighter jets till 1.30 am on Saturday added to the worries of the residents due to simmering Indo-Pak tension following the Pulwama suicide car bomb attack that left 40 CRPF soldiers dead on February 14.
However, IAF officials described it as a routine exercise.
Long queues were seen outside petrol stations and people were thronging provision shops and buying essential supplies.
The Jamaat issued a statement condemning the detentions and said "...the move is a well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region."
The party claimed that during the intervening night of February 22 and 23, police and other agencies launched a mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the valley, wherein dozens of its central and district-level leaders were arrested, including its ameer (chief) Abdul Hamid Fayaz and spokesperson, advocate Zahid Ali.
The Jamaat termed the raids as "fishy" at a time when the Supreme Court is to hear a petition regarding Article 35A of the Constitution.
"The way forces personnel unleashed the spree of mass arrest and detained dozens of Jamaat members prior to the hearing seems something is hatching behind the curtains...," it said.
Besides this, police also detained JKLF chief Yaseen Malik on Friday night, and lodged him in central jail.
The Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an umbrella coalition of separatist groups, has called for a shutdown in the valley on Sunday.
"To protest these arbitrary mass arrests, nocturnal raids, insecurity among people due to state repression, killings and censorship and any tampering with Article 35-A, a strike will be observed on 24 Feb 2019 (Sunday)," the JRL said in a statement.
Reacting to the valley-wide crackdown, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti questioned the legality of the action saying the "arbitrary" move would only "precipitate matters" in the state.
"In the past 24 hours, Hurriyat leaders and workers of Jamaat organisation have been arrested. Fail to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in JK," Mehbooba tweeted.
"Under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas," she said.
Leader of People's Conference, an ally of the BJP, Sajad Lone also said such crackdowns in the past have yielded no results.
"Gov (sic) seems to be on an arrest spree. Just a word of caution. Large scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a tried tested and failed model. Please desist from it. It won't work.Things will worsen," he tweeted.
CPI(M) MLA Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami said the crackdown on and arrests of separatist leaders without any solid legal grounds do not augur well for the state.
"Curbing dissent and those holding a contradictory viewpoint is not democratic at all. On the contrary, such sections should be engaged," he said.
Moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also condemned Yasin Malik's detention and the crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir leadership.
"Strongly condemn the nocturnal crackdown on Jamat-e-Islami leadership and cadres and the arrest of Yasin Malik. Such illegal and coercive measures against Kashmiris are futile and will not change realities on ground. Force and intimidation will only worsen the situation," the Mirwaiz posted on Twitter.