Srinagar: A fortnight after Rakesh Pandit’s father had died in Jammu, he told his family that he was going to his hometown Tral in Kashmir, where he had a few important errands to run. His family never saw him after that.
Pandit was a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and municipal councillor of Pulwama’s Tral, who, according to police, was killed in firing by three militants on June 2.
He joined the long list of party workers and leaders killed in the last one year. He was killed after he had come out to visit his friend in Tral Payeen just a few meters away from his residence. A 22-year-old woman who was accompanying him in his personal vehicle, was also injured.
It has been eight days since he was gunned down, but mourners haven’t stopped visiting his family members in Roopnagar, Jammu, where they are currently settled.
Jawlal Pandit, a retired teacher and uncle of Pandit, tells The Wire that they always shared concerns about Pandit’s safety and would tell him to keep a low profile while he was in Kashmir.
“But he was a fearless nationalist who would work for his people and always loved to go back to Kashmir to work,” he says.
After Pandit’s death, Jawlal says that the family has no one to look after them. “He was a sole bread winner. Not just for his family, he would take care of us as well. He was our pillar,” he adds.
Pandit is survived by his mother, his wife, Aparna, and his son, Paras, a Class XII student. He also has a brother who is disabled.
Jawlal reminisces about the 1990s when the family lived in the main town Tral. They were apiculturists and would supply honey to different places for business. Jawlal, who worked as a teacher in a school in Tral, has taught many Kashmiri students, whom he adored a lot.
“We are attached to that place. We have Muslim friends who even visit us here in Jammu,” he says.
He adds that killing someone should never be a path to take, even if one’s ideology doesn’t match with another’s.
In October 2018, Pandit was elected unopposed to the municipal council in Tral. The local polls were boycotted by the two major mainstream political parties, the National Conference and PDP. BJP had won the urban local body elections in four districts of south Kashmir at that time.
The panchayat system begun in 2018, soon after Jammu and Kashmir was placed under presidential rule several times. That year after the panchayat and municipal elections were held, most candidates were given accommodation in heavily secured hotels in Srinagar, far from their villages and wards. Many still remain there.
The unprecedented victory for the BJP gave it the control of at least four of the 20 civic bodies in the four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian. But this did not stop the attacks on BJP workers.
The Wire spoke to a BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur who said that since last year, 17 BJP workers have been killed in Kashmir. Of them eight worked in south Kashmir, seven worked in north Kashmir and two were from central Kashmir.
“Besides that, there were attacks on four other BJP workers, but they are safe,” he says.
Over the last two years, over a dozen party workers have resigned from their posts. In fact, many panches and sarpanches also have quit, after the spate of attacks on political workers in the Valley.
The police say that the attack on the municipal councillor took place at a time when he was not accompanied by his two personal security officers (PSOs).
According to Jammu and Kashmir police data, 157 BJP workers have personnel security officers, 30 have guards at their residences.
Kashmir right now has at least 7.5 lakh BJP workers on the ground and all of them do not have security.
As per the reports, since August 5, 2019, 1,600 people in the Valley have been designated as ‘protected persons’. They have been moved to ‘safe houses’ and hotels and have been discouraged from traveling home.
Police told a local newspaper that Pandit had told his personal security guards that he was still in Jammu on the day he was shot dead in Tral town in Kashmir.
Police have claimed that they have not made any formal arrests yet and investigation is still going on.
The Wire has reached out to Awantipora police for comment. This report will be updated once they respond.
Pandit’s family members have no idea as to whether he had security guards or not. “They had to have looked after him if he was in the hit list,” they say.
In Kashmir, besides targeting BJP workers, reports suggest that militants have also targeted elected panchs and sarpanchs, especially in South Kashmir, and have warned people to stay away from any political activity.
Thakur says that attacks on BJP aren’t going to stop them from working on development and bringing peace to the Valley.
“We are a strong nationalist party and militants are targeting us as they want to create an atmosphere of terror,” he says.
He adds that the party hasn’t stopped developmental work even during the pandemic and their outreach programmes are annoying the militants.
“This hasn’t let us down, but we will keep working,” he says.
Pandit had told his family that he was going to draw the salaries of Anganwadi workers and had a scheduled meeting with local bodies in Tral on the day he was killed.
“This was our last conversation with him,” Jawlal, Pandit’s uncle, recalls.
After his death, some BJP leaders, including provisional president Davendra Raina, had visited the family. They were told that they would receive compensation.
“No one from the government approached us. Everyone came to console us for a few hours and left,” says Jwala.
As per Thakur, the government has a policy for political workers who are killed and families will accordingly receive compensation.