Srinagar: Following a series of attacks on its workers in Kashmir, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has decided to shift many of its members and Panchayat representatives to “safe houses” in different districts of the Valley.
Since July this year, suspected militants have killed at least five BJP members, triggering a spate of resignations from party workers and elected representatives.
“Most of our leaders and designated members are under security. Now, we have decided to shift panchs, sarpanchs and some leaders who have become vulnerable (to the attacks), to the safe houses. These safe houses are either government buildings or rented hotels,” said party chief spokesperson, Altaf Thakur.
The BJP leader said two such safe houses have been identified in each of the 10 districts of the Valley, which have the capacity to accommodate around 200 persons.
“There was a temporary set up for shifting political workers in accommodation in some districts, but these accommodations will now be a permanent feature. These safe houses will have complete security as both the government and security agencies have given go-ahead to the program,” said Thakur.
The party plans to shift the members alone to these new places wherefrom they will be allowed to carry out political activities under the watchful eye of the security forces.
“This entire structure has been put in place in the wake of the recent attacks,” said Thakur.
The fresh cycle of attacks on the BJP members started when suspected militants shot dead BJP district president, Waseem Bari, his father Bashir Ahmad Sultan and his brother Umar Sultan, outside their residence in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district on July 8.
Since then, two party members, Sajad Ahmad Khanday, a Sarpanch of Vessu village of Kulgam district and Abdul Hameed Najar, district president of Budgam OBC Morcha have been shot dead, while a BJP panch, Arif Ahmad Shah, was critically wounded in a separate attack in south Kashmir.
A senior leader said three more workers including a female party functionary from Chadoora township of Budgam was attacked inside their homes since July, but they escaped unhurt.
The attacks have led to panic within the party ranks. At least 16 members including some panchayat representatives have resigned from the BJP since. Many of them have announced their resignation on social media.
One such resignation letter reads: “I Sameer Ahmad Shah, son of Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah of Humhama, Budgam, as district officer secretary, BJP Budgam, resign from the membership of the BJP party. Right from today, I have no concern with the BJP.”
The letter went viral on social media, along with Shah’s photograph, earlier this month.
A BJP sarpanch uploaded a short video clip on social media to announce his resignation from the party as well as the post.
“I’m resigning from the post of Sarpanch. There is no benefit of being one. I haven’t earned a penny from being a Sarpanch. I have children and no wife or parents. Who will take care of my children if anything happens to me?” the BJP Sarpanch from Kulgam district can be heard saying in the video.
Thakur said those who resigned were the “political labourers” and had joined the BJP to “earn money”.
“They were not committed to the party ideology and that is why they left,” said Thakur.
A senior BJP functionary from central Kashmir, however, blamed the government for letting them down.
“What else do you expect from these workers,” he talked about resignations. “These people risked their lives and families when they joined BJP, but what are they getting in return. Why can’t the authorities ensure bare minimum security for them when they put everything at stake?”
Following the attacks, many BJP members and elected representatives were shifted to different hotels at tourist resorts of Pahalgam in south Kashmir and Gulmarg in north Kashmir. Many workers were also accommodated in different hotels of the summer capital Srinagar.
But, after staying away from their families for weeks, and amid complaints of inadequate facilities, these members started to return to their homes. Many of them spent their eid away from their families.
Senior BJP leader Ashok Koul said 1,650 political workers including those from BJP were already staying in different hotels and government buildings.
“We will ensure protection to each of our party worker,” said Koul.
But many party workers are not satisfied with the arrangements made for their accommodation. “How can we stay away from our families? The security of our families, our children is more important to us. The government should arrange family accommodation for us,” said a BJP sarpanch from Anantnag district who stayed for more than three weeks in a hotel before returning home.
The party had also sent a list of more than 260 leaders and designated members to J&K police for providing them security.
“This updated list included Panchs and Sarpanchs as well. At least 70 of them have already been provided security,” said Thakur.
He said the BJP political workers were being selectively targeted in the Valley which, he said depicted that militants and “some other elements” were not happy with the BJP’s growing popularity.
Thakur said the BJP has around 7.5 lakh members in the Valley, apart from 1,267 panchs and sarpanchs and 71 chairpersons of bock development councils.
“Our members are heading 14 municipalities committees and municipal councils in the Valley,” he said. “All these numbers point towards the growing popularity of the BJP in Kashmir.”
A source said the issue of security of the BJP leaders and elected Panchayat members was raised during a meeting headed by party general secretary Ram Madhav, with the district BJP presidents, at Srinagar today.
Madhav arrived in the Valley on Thursday for a two-day visit. The source said the district presidents gave their feedback during the meeting and urged for addressing the security concerns of the party leaders and workers.
The meeting took place days after the J&K BJP unit flagged the issue of security of its members in Kashmir, with the party high command at New Delhi.
Koul said Madhav also took up the security issue with the J&K administration. “He was assured that all measures have been put in place and these people will be shifted to secure accommodations in the next two to three days,” said Koul.