A series of targeted deadly attacks on BJP workers across the restive Kashmir Valley has created fear and resulted in mass resignations of several activists and sarpanchs (village chiefs) affiliated to the saffron party.
In the latest incident, which happened on August 9, a BJP party worker, named Abdul Hamid Najar, was shot at by suspected militants in Ompora area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Najar was BJP’s OBC Morcha district president.
Reports suggest that 38-year-old Hamid Najar was attacked when he was out for a morning walk. Najar succumbed to his bullet wounds at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital the next day.
Seven deadly attacks have been reported in the valley in the last two months which were aimed at BJP leaders. Five BJP-affiliated party workers and sympathisers lost their lives in these incidents.
The attacks have triggered panic in the BJP camp. The fear among party workers is palpable as their leaders, workers and sarpanchs (village chiefs) subsequently submitted resignations fearing for their lives. Some BJP sarpanchs even posted short video statements on social media to announce their resignations.
In one such video message, a sarpanch said in Urdu: “I am resigning as sarpanch forthwith. Being a sarpanch in Kashmir is of no use. Neither do we have earned a penny nor have we derived any other benefits. I have small children to look after. I don’t want to die.”
Wali Mohammad Bhat, constituency BJP president in central Kashmir’s Chrar-e-Sharief area, also resigned along with his constituency team. “I, Wali Mohammad, resign from the party. I request people (of Kashmir) to forgive me if my past actions have hurt them,” Bhat was quoted as having said.
In Budgam, Sameer Ahmad Shah announced his resignation from the BJP along with Avtar Singh, general secretary for BJP in Budgam and Imran Ahmad, another party functionary.
Last week, at least four BJP members from district Kulgam resigned from the party’s primary membership. They include Nisar Ahmed Mir, party’s district secretary of Kulgam; Shahzad Ahmad Bhat, district general secretary Chowgam; and two party workers Mohammad Ayoub Ganai and Gul Mohammad Ganai. Earlier, three BJP members from Kulgam had put in their papers.
Before Hamid Najar’s killing, suspected militants shot dead a BJP-affiliated sarpanch named Sajjad Ahmad in South Kashmir’s Qazigund area on August 6.
Similarly, Arif Ahmad Shah, another village chief close to BJP, was shot at in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. He was critically wounded in the attack, but survived miraculously.
In a severe attack on July 8, suspected militants shot dead a former district president of BJP Sheikh Wasim Bari, his father Bashir Ahmad Sheikh and brother Umer Bashir Sheikh in the northern district of Bandipore in Kashmir.
The attacks on BJP-linked village heads and party workers have happened in north, south and central parts of Kashmir.
According to a counter insurgency expert, the attacks have a dangerous pattern and it seems the militants are working in a coordinated way to target the BJP as it is the only political party active on the region’s altered political landscape since August last year.
Worried over attacks on its party workers, the BJP has asked for safe accommodation for its leaders and sarpanchs at major district headquarters. The party has also issued an advisory for its members, asking them not to venture out from their safe houses without getting security clearances.
Related news: BJP sarpanch shot dead in Kashmir’s Kulgam district
Altaf Thakur, BJP’s spokesperson for Jammu & Kashmir, described the killing of Hamid Najar as “inhuman and barbaric”. Thakur appealed to J&K police to immediately arrest Najar’s assassins and also devise a comprehensive security plan for its party members in each district of the valley.
One of Thakur’s demands is to have separate buildings reserved for BJP leaders at each district headquarters. “Safe accommodation along with food and other basic facilities should be provided for at least 50 to 60 people at such places,” Thakur said. He also issued a whip to his party workers to not to go out without approval from those responsible for their security.
Key Kashmir watchers are of the view that militants may be targeting BJP workers because they are the only ones visible in public with their political activities while political vacuum continues in the region. Party activities of Kashmir’s major regional parties like National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, People’s Conference and Awami Ittehad Party remain suspended and restricted since Jammu and Kashmir lost its semi-autonomous status and statehood in August last year.
Security experts believe the deadly attacks on BJP leaders in north Kashmir in July was the handiwork of newly floated militant outfit The Resistance Front (TRF). It was for the first time after the now proscribed Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a militant group in Kashmir had chosen to use a non-religious name.
It is widely believed in the security establishment that TRF is basically Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in disguise. In the past three months or so, several purported audio and video statements of TRF have been released.
In a latest audio message largely being linked to either TRF or Hizbul Mujahideen, a suspected unidentified militant talked about TRF’s compulsion in not handing over the body of an army man “due to Covid19 pandemic restrictions”. “We understand the ache of the family involved, but because of Covid-19 restrictions we cannot hand over the body of the army soldier we had kidnapped,” the audio message said.
The Federal could not independently verify the veracity of the audio message.
Since March this year, government forces have refused to handover the bodies of local slain militants citing Covid-19 restrictions. The possible killing of Shakir Manzoor and the militant group’s refusal to hand over his body to the family is seen as a tit-for-tat tactic.
On August 3, militants kidnapped Shakir Manzoor, an off-duty Territorial Army soldier, and set his car ablaze in south Kashmir’s Kulgam.
“He (Shakir Manzoor) was on leave and was heading home to Rishipora for Eid when his car was intercepted by gunmen. He was abducted and later burnt his car,” a senior security official had said at the time. Soon after Manzoor’s abduction, a massive manhunt was launched in Kulgam.