Security forces have detained nearly 400 Kashmiri separatists to prevent them marching in protest during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on Saturday, police said, raising tension in the disputed territory.
Modi is making his first trip this year to Kashmir where militant violence continues, although it is nowhere near the level of the 1990s when armed revolt against Indian rule erupted.
Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir. India has long accused Pakistan of pushing separatist Muslim militants into India’s part of Kashmir to foment revolt in the disputed Muslim-majority region. Pakistan denies those accusations.
Kashmiris have in addition been protesting about the lack of federal government aid more than a year after the worst flooding in over a century devastated half a million homes.
Police rounded up top separatists after hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for a million people to walk to the centre of summer capital, Srinagar, near a stadium where Modi will address a rally on Saturday.
“Our rally will be a message to India to read the writing on the wall that Kashmiris are against Indian occupation,” said Ayaz Akbar, a spokesperson for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group of separatist political and religious parties.
Over the past week, 389 people have been taken into preventive custody, most of them separatists but also activists who have in the past led stone-throwing crowds in anti-government protests, an officer said.
Soldiers patrolled the streets of Srinagar on Friday while police set up barriers around the city, inspecting vehicles. Cellphones will be blocked during Modi’s visit, the Indian army said.
Militants have in the past sought to carry out high-profile attacks whenever a top Indian leader has visited the Kashmir Valley. On Thursday, militants attacked a paramilitary camp in Srinagar with grenades, wounding 11 soldiers.
Modi, whose party shares power in the Jammu and Kashmir region, is expected to unveil an economic package to help the state recover from the floods. But a state government minister said he expected the Indian leader to also reach out to the disaffected youth.
“The PM’s visit can’t be described in economic terms alone,” said Education Minister Naeem Akhtar. “It is true that Kashmir needs economic impetus but it is equally true that political engagement especially with youth is essential.”