In a move that is being seen as further evidence that the People’s Democratic Party is playing second fiddle to its Bharatiya Janata Party coalition partner in he Jammu and Kashmir, the state government on Sunday banned a seminar organised by a group led by separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani. Several political activists who had travelled from other parts of the country to participate in the event were detained.

The seminar, titled “Indian State Fascism and Our Response”, was organised by Tehreek-i-Hurriyat and was to be held at Geelani’s home in Srinagar's Hyderpora area, where he has been under house arrest almost continuously since he returned from Delhi in April. But on Sunday morning, large contingents of police and security forces were deployed to prevent from anyone reaching the venue. The road leading to Geelani's home was also closed.

Among those taken into custody were Harpal Singh Cheema, chairman of Sikh Human Rights, Simrenjit Singh Mann from the Akali Dal and Kanwarpal Singh from the Dal Khalsa. Several other members of Geelani’s party were also arrested.

Sudden swoop

Kanwarpal Singh said that the police arrived at the hotel they were staying at 10 am and announced that the seminar had been banned. “You are detained,” the police said. “You have to accompany us to the police station.” At noon, they were told to leave the city by 3 pm. Eventually, the police agreed to let them stay in Srinagar for a night as per schedule on the condition that they would not attempt to go to the venue.

Some news reports claimed that human rights activist Gautam Navlakha had also been detained. He was supposed to fly in from Delhi for the seminar but his flight did not land in Srinagar. The passengers were told there was congestion at Srinagar airport and were taken back to Delhi.

Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday had warned that the seminar would not be allowed since it was “an anti-India activity”.  “The law will take its own course,” he said. “We will not allow them to hold the seminar at all. The people like Geelani would not be allowed to do any type of antinational activities.”

Geelani hit the headlines in May when he applied for a passport to travel to meet his ailing daughter, Farhat Jabeen, in Saudi Arabia. His request for documents strained relations between the PDP and the BJP, which contended that the separatist should be denied a passport unless he accepted that he was Indian. A little later, Geelani listed his citizenship on his application form as Indian, but said, “I am not Indian by birth. Passport is a compulsion.”

Obvious tension

The tense ties between the allies had become apparent on April 15, when the government allowed Geelani to hold a public rally in the outskirts of Srinagar. He was joined at the event by another separatist leader, Masarat Alam, who had been released from jail only in March, after being imprisoned for more than four years under the Public Safety Act, which allows the government to jail suspects for two years without a trial.  Angered by the fact that Pakistani flags were waved at the rally, the BJP had Alam re-arrested two days later.

Sunday’s actions seem to contradict the statement Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed made soon after he assumed office in March. During a meeting with top police officials in March, Sayeed had said that dissent in a democracy makes the system vibrant and dynamic. “We should always try to evolve such a system,” he said. “Democracy is a battle of ideas and it should not be held hostage to the agreements or disagreements on issues."

But a week after Geelani’s rally in April, when separatist leader Masarat Alam was arrested, Kashmiris began to believe that Sayeed was unable to resist the BJP’s demands.

Omar Abdullah's reaction

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference was quick to cancellation of the seminar.

Junaid Azim Mattu, the spokesman of his party, also joined in.

Speaking over phone from Delhi, Navlakha described the police action as ridiculous. “This is going to rebound them in a big way,” he said. “It is much more then freedom of speech issue. They [government] are exposing themselves. They are cowards..."