Srinagar: Since the Union government read down Article 370 in August 2019, 23 Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leaders and workers have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur, 12 BJP leaders and workers were killed in Kashmir Valley and 11 in Jammu during the past two years. “During last one year, nine BJP workers were killed in Kulgam district alone,” said the BJP leader.
Amid relentless militant attacks, Thakur (38) is asking police to provide adequate protection to BJP leaders and workers.
BJP also suggests that there is an urgent need to set up safe cluster accommodations for the BJP workers in all 10 districts of the Valley in view of the threats they face and continued attacks on the party workers and leaders by militants.
Police sources said that hundreds of BJP workers were taken to secured accommodations while many were provided security. However, militants still managed to target BJP leaders and workers, mainly in the rural belts of the Valley.
Immediately after taking over the reins of the Union territory in August last year, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had promised better security cover for grassroots representatives and workers of the BJP.
“Measures to protect political workers and panchayat representatives have already been taken. We will ensure better security arrangements in the days ahead,” LG Sinha had stated at the launch of books highlighting developmental work carried out in the Union territory last year.
However, nothing has changed on the ground.
On social media, many have also asked as to what happened to the BJP’s promise of ensuring a militancy-free Kashmir after the scrapping of the erstwhile state’s special status.
On July 8 last year when 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, BJP shifted many of its members and panchayat representatives to “safe houses” in various districts of the Valley.
Many members were shifted to hotels at tourist resorts of Pahalgam in south Kashmir and Gulmarg in north Kashmir. Workers were also accommodated in hotels of the summer capital Srinagar.
But this plan did not go well as workers had to return home periodically as they were staying away from their families for weeks.
The persistent killings also caused widespread fear among party workers, triggering a spate of resignations.
While many resigned due to fear, some quit BJP because being confined to government accommodations was impractical for their livelihoods.
Recent spate of killings
According to a report in Kashmir-based news portal The Kashmir Walla, in August 2020, nearly a dozen BJP workers in Kashmir resigned from the party following an attack on the party’s Other Backward Class (OBC) Morcha district president of Budgam, Abdul Hamid Najar.
During the last two weeks, four persons including a minor son of a BJP leader were killed in three separate militant attacks in the region.
The fresh killing took place on August 17, when BJP’s constituency in-charge Javaid Ahmed Dar, son of Mohammed Abdullah Dar, was shot dead in Brazloo, Kulgam.
Dar was a BJP activist and also the party’s constituency in-charge for Homeshalibugh assembly segment of Kulgam.
“Preliminary investigation revealed that terrorists barged into the house of a civilian, identified as Javid Ahmad Dar (contractor by profession), and fired indiscriminately upon him. In this terror incident, he received critical gunshot injuries and died on spot,” police said in a press release, a copy of which is with with The Wire. “As claimed by BJP spokesman, the deceased person was a BJP worker. As per district police, no one approached for security and even local BJP leaders didn’t share his name in the list of PPs (protected persons).”
A senior police official said that Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and The Resistance Front (TRF) militant outfits are mostly involved in the killing of BJP men.
Five days before his killing, on August 12, a two-year-old child was killed while six others were injured after a grenade was lobbed towards the house of BJP mandal president Jasbir Singh in Rajouri town in Jammu.
On August 9, BJP Kishan Morcha district president Kulgam Gh Rasool and his wife Jawhara Banoo, a BJP panch belonging to Redwani Kulgam, were killed by militants in Lal Chowk Anantnag.
On June 2, BJP leader and president MC Tral Rakesh Pandita was killed by militants in Tral township of Pulwama district.
Soon after the assassination of Pandita, Jammu and Kashmir Police said the deceased was a “protected person” who had two PSOs and a secured accommodation in Srinagar. “However, at the time of the incident, he was without any security as he defied the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] and went to his native village without PSOs,” the police had said in a statement.
On March 30, militants stormed the office of the Sopore Municipal Council and killed two councillors, also belonging to the BJP, and a policeman.
During the past four months, nine BJP leaders and workers were killed across the Kashmir Valley.
Since the scrapping of the special status of the erstwhile state in August 2019, nearly 43 political activists, including panchayat members and grassroots workers, have been killed by militants in Kashmir. Half of them (22) belonged to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In the last 30 years, the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party and Congress have together lost over 7,000 supporters to militant attacks. However, most of the brunt has been borne by the NC.
Amid all this, the BJP managed to win at least four of the 20 civic bodies in the four militancy-prone districts — Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian.
Political killings are not new to J&K and started when militancy broke out in 1989. Hundreds of political workers of regional parties were killed by militants from time to time. But the BJP was alien to people in Kashmir, and joining the party ranks was seen as taboo until 2015 when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) entered into an alliance with the party. Many including opposition parties had termed the PDP-BJP coalition an “unholy” alliance.
Even late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed himself described the alliance as “the coming together of the north pole and south pole”.
Talking to The Wire, BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur claimed that since the reading down of Article 370, over 2.5 lakh people had joined the party’s ranks and the total membership now stands at 5.5 lakh.
“Since August 5, 2019, 350 people in the Valley have been designated ‘protected persons’. They have been moved to ‘safe houses’ and hotels and have been discouraged from traveling home,” said Thakur.
When asked why mostly BJP leaders and workers are being targeted by militants, Thakur said that a large number of workers are without security and protection which makes them vulnerable in militancy-infested areas.
“When our leaders and workers who are living away from their families in government accommodations go and meet their families, militants target them. Besides all the development and BJP’s fanfare, in Kashmir, the party is abhorred by Pakistan and militants.”
Contrary to his claims professor Noor Ahmad Baba, a political scientist from Kashmir told The Wire that irrespective of affiliation, militants have been killing political leaders and workers in Kashmir from time to time. However, he quickly admitted that due to BJP’s policies, including the Article 370 move, its leaders and workers have been exposed to serious vulnerability.
“It is not just Pakistani elements which may be carrying attacks on BJP workers but local Kashmiri militants may be also involved in attacks. One of the major reasons why militants are targeting BJP workers could be how BJP-led Union government revoked the special status of the region and downgraded the state into two union territories,” said Baba who was the former head of the political science department at Kashmir University.
Following the killing of nine BJP men in Kulgam district, party’s district president Abid Hussain Khan wrote a letter to the deputy commissioner Kulgam and the SSP Kulgam seeking security and accommodation for 26 BJP leaders and workers.
Khan sought security and accommodation for 600 out of 1,270 BJP workers in the district.
“The BJP graph is increasing in Kulgam district and that is the reason militants are after us. We need security and accommodation. My own vehicle was also burnt down,” he was quoted as saying in a report.
Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir and he tweets @irfanaminmalik.