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On I-Day, governor assures J&K identity safe as spectators chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai

Empty chairs marked the absence of mainstream Kashmiri politicians, who remain in detention since the abrogation of Article 370.

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Srinagar: The official Independence Day function in Srinagar was predictably muted as Governor Satya Pal Malik hoisted the flag before an audience comprising security personnel, civil servants and journalists, most of whom had come from Delhi to cover the event.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who has been in Kashmir since Article 370 was abrogated last Monday, was in attendance too.

Conspicuous by their absence at the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium were mainstream Kashmiri politicians like former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, who have been under house arrest since 4 August, a day before the Modi government stripped J&K of its special status.

The workers of their parties, the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference, remain in detention too.

Over the years, the mainstream politicians of Kashmir have been known to be enthusiastic participants in the function. Their absence was evident in the empty chairs at the stadium. Though police personnel were reportedly asked to occupy the chairs to project a fuller house, it didn’t help much.

The function concluded without any incident, but there was palpable tension. Srinagar witnesses a major lockdown every 15 August in apprehension of law and order problems, with no civilian or vehicle allowed in the Sonwar area, where the stadium is located.

But this was made worse this year by the communication curbs in place since 4 August.

After the unfurling of the Indian flag, the governor received the guard of honour in a government vehicle that hoisted the Jammu & Kashmir flag for the last time. With the revocation of Article 370, the state no longer has a flag of its own.

During his speech, the governor assured the residents of J&K, which
has now been bifurcated into two union territories, that their identity will be safeguarded.

Malik said the step will enable good governance, bring self-reliance and employment opportunities to people Jammu and Kashmir and most importantly the feeling of unity and equality with the rest of the country.

“I want to assure people of Jammu and Kashmir that their identity is neither at stake nor has been tampered with. Indian Constitution allows many regional identities to prosper… Nobody should be bothered that their identity will finish because of the steps taken by the Central government… This step can be used to promote language, culture and identities within the state,” he said.

Local tribes which did not have political representation will now get it under the new system, he said.

‘Happy, but…’

Some of the spectators, non-Kashmiris, raised “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram” slogans as the function proceeded.

Youngsters from Jammu in attendance at the function said they were happy about the Article 370 decision, but also talked about some fears.

Aman of Satwari region in Jammu said he was concerned about a potential “increase in crime rate” with the influx of outsiders.

“No one will settle in Kashmir for many reasons. There hasn’t been any internet for 11 days. Who will survive?” he added, “But Jammu is peaceful and I fear that there will be more crime if a lot of people come to settle there.”

Chitra from Jammu said Kashmiris’ concern that their identity might get diluted was genuine. “But we also have to see how much development will happen in our state,” she added.
Sushant, another youngster, seemed to be more optimistic and said
property rates in the state would increase “by four fold”.

Kajal, also from Satwari, said the move was “good for our state but people here aren’t happy”.

Also read: NSA Ajit Doval in Srinagar, discusses state security with J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik


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