Abdul Majeed Dar, 46, with Ravinder Raina. Dar is one of the hundreds of BJP workers and activists who have been provided accommodation by the government in different hotels across Kashmir following the “target killings”.
Srinagar: On August 8, Abdul Majeed Dar, 46, had to cut short his daughter’s wedding after his personal security officers (PSOs) informed him that he needed to move to a safer place because militants had killed two more Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in South Kashmir’s Anantnag.
“We somehow managed to say 'farewell, our daughter', and rushed to the accommodation provided by the government,” Dar, who is constituency president of Dooru, Anantnag, told Moneycontrol.
Dar has been provided safe accommodation in a housing colony at Khanbal, Anantnag, which is guarded by security forces.
Like Dar, there are hundreds of BJP workers/activists who have been provided accommodation by the government in different hotels across Kashmir following the “target killings”.
“The killings were brutal and it scared me a lot when I saw the picture of the dead bodies of the couple,” he said.
Assassinations in the Valley
On August 8, militants barged into the house of Ghulam Rasool Dar (Sarpanch), district president of the BJP Kisan Morcha in Kulgam, and shot him and his wife Jawahira, a Panch from Redwani Kulgam, dead inside their rented accommodation in South Kashmir’s Anantnag.
The killings sent "shivers down the spine" of party workers and activists in the Valley. This was the 20th killing of BJP partymen since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, said BJP Jammu and Kashmir spokesperson Altaf Thakur.
The killing spree has continued post the removal of the special status and has sparked fear among party workers, resulting in the resignation of over 30 lower- and middle-rung leaders.
Some cited the lack of security and fear, while others said they had “personal engagements”. However, the party spokesperson said only five have resigned, and that the rest were just there for their “personal benefits”.
Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba for the killing of the BJP Sarpanch and his wife.
“Although the deceased was provided a secured accommodation at Snow Cap hotel in Kulgam, and both stayed there for a short period, they had been continuously insisting on staying at their house in Anantnag Town and also submitted an undertaking in this regard,” the J&K police said in a statement, adding, “On their request they were allowed to stay at said house in Anantnag. He was also provided with one PSO, who, however, was found absent from duty at the time of the incident. The said PSO has been placed under suspension.”
Abdul Majeed Dar was yet to come out of the trauma of leaving his daughter’s wedding when a midnight call made him more anxious. “Some people had started attacking my house, and pelted stones. The guests were crying. But somehow police reached the spot quickly and averted a major tragedy,” Dar told Moneycontrol. He said he couldn’t sleep for the the rest of the night.
Living under a shadow of fear
This state of affairs is not unique to Dar; almost all the workers of the BJP are living under a shadow of fear—the fear of being killed by militants.
Dar claims to be one of the oldest members of the BJP. He joined the party ranks in 2002. After working for many years in the party, his wife and 22-year-old daughter also joined the BJP a few years ago.
But Dar alleges that while he may have been provided three PSOs by the government and is staying in safe accommodation, his wife and daughter are living at their home in Nowgam, Anantnag, without any security.
“The fear is always there, I smoke two packets of cigarettes throughout the night because my family is without security guards,” he told Moneycontrol.
Dar has been living in the accommodation for the last few years. He isn’t able to move outside without permission from the police station concerned.
“Most of the time, we have to stay indoors,” he told Moneycontrol.
While his wife, Shakeel Bano is a Panch of block Nowgam, Anantnag; his daughter, Shabeena Jan, 22, is a Panch in ward number 5 Nowgam, Anantnag.
Most BJP leaders in the Valley have been designated as ‘protected persons’. They are kept in safe houses and hotels and discouraged from travelling home. But militants manage to target them despite the security.
The latest target killing came just two months after militants shot dead another BJP councillor, Rakesh Pandita, in South Kashmir’s Tral area on June 2, 2021.
Pandita, a municipal chairman of Tral in Pulwama district, was visiting a friend, Mushtaq Ahmad, when militants opened fire at them.
The first such major incident that sent shock waves across the party was on July 8, 2019, when militants shot dead the party’s former Bandipora district president Wasim Bari along with his father and brother.
On March 30, militants stormed the office of the Sopore Municipal Council and killed two councillors, also belonging to the BJP, and a policeman.
After August 5, 2019, New Delhi detained most political leaders and workers from regional political parties. The party is now facing the heat.
The family members of Tariq Ahmad, another BJP Sarpanch, are continuously calling on him to resign from the party and give up the post. But Ahmad doesn’t want to, as he believes that he is working for the welfare of people from his area.
Ahmad joined the party seven years ago, and became the Sarpanch of Zaingeer area of North Kashmir’s Sopore.
Becoming the Sarpanch in a militancy-hit area is a daring task for the likes of Ahmad, as Sopore has been the hub of militancy and separatism since the inception of militancy in Kashmir.
“Since my area is volatile, my family always has this fear of my being killed by militants. But I won’t give up since I haven’t done anything wrong,” Ahmad told Moneycontrol.
After every killing, Ahmad becomes alert but rues that the government has failed to provide security to many workers, including himself.
“I approached the concerned authorities many times for security guards but till now nothing has been provided—putting my life in danger,” he told Moneycontrol.
A Sarpanch who heads a cluster of wards gets Rs 2,500 a month for his/her duties, while a panch is paid Rs 1,000 a month.
Ready to face any challenge
Although top party leaders concede that BJP cadre are living under the shadow of the gun and are facing tough challenges on the ground, they maintain that no one will bow down.
“Despite 20 killings, our workers managed to unfurl the tricolour in every district of the Valley. Our workers are dedicated and they are ready to face any challenge,” Altaf Thakur said, adding that “sacrifices keep parties and nations alive.”
He said most party leaders and some workers have been provided safe accommodation, while further arrangements are being made for those who are facing a threat to their lives.
Thakur claims that since the abrogation of Article 370, over 2.5 lakh people had joined the party’s ranks and the total membership now stands at 5.5 lakh.
Why only BJP?
Political killings are not new to J&K. They started when militancy broke out in 1989. Hundreds of political workers of regional parties were killed by militants to punish them for working with “collaborators”.
The BJP was alien to people in Kashmir, and joining the party ranks was seen as blasphemous until former Chief Minister, late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, entered into an alliance
with the party. The opposition parties called the People's Democratic Party (PDP)-BJP coalition an "unholy" alliance. However, the party managed to break the ice and got representatives in every district.
In 2018, the BJP won the urban local body elections in four districts of militancy-hit South Kashmir. However, the more popular the party became, the more its workers were attacked.
In December 2020, the party managed to score three victories in the maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections in the Kashmir region.
‘Pakistan not able to stomach the change’
“Before August 5, Pakistani flags were all over Kashmir but now you can see the tricolour flying everywhere. That is why we are being targeted, because of our growing popularity,” Thakur told Moneycontrol.
He added that Pakistan is not able to swallow the “change” that took place after the abrogation of Article 370—and this has led to more militant attacks.
However, party workers maintain that they have been holed up in hotel rooms due to fears that they won’t able to do any work on the ground.
“What is the fun of being in a party when we aren’t able to work on the ground for our people,” said another BJP Sarpanch from South Kashmir. “We are sitting ducks and are being killed even with security guards.”
However, Thakur argues that the safety of party workers is being given importance at the present time.
BJP Vice-President Sofi Yousuf, however, concedes that many lower-rung BJP leaders haven’t been provided any security yet. He also says that many workers who have been provided government accommodation complain about the poor quality of food and other infrastructure.
Yousuf claims that apart from militants, workers from other regional parties are also threatening BJP workers in far-flung areas.
“Mahol BJP ke khilaf banaya ja raha hai (A hostile atmosphere is being created for BJP workers in Kashmir),” said Yousuf, who claims to have been a pall bearer at the funerals of 22 BJP workers in Kashmir.
A top police official from the security wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police said that the force provides PSOs according to the categorisation list drawn up by the government.
“How many PSOs have to be provided is decided by the government, keeping in view the threat perception and the area in which the person is. Rest, the PSOs are trained enough to deter any militant attack,” he told Moneycontrol, asking not to be named as he isn’t authorised to speak to the media.
Contrary to his claims, however, militants have managed to kill BJP workers despite the PSOs guarding them.
On July 9, 2020, when militants killed BJP leader Waseem Bari along with his father and brother, his 10 PSOs failed to stop the attack and were arrested after Bari’s family was gunned down.
Similarly, the J&K Police suspended the PSO
of the BJP couple shot dead by militants in Anantnag after he was found absent from duty.