The Indian government's revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's autonomous status has led to a string of assassinations of BJP workers in India-administered Kashmir.
Bandipora, Kulgam and Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir — In a dark room sits Gousia Bashir, staring at the ceiling in silence, she fumbles as she talks about her family and their relationship with mainstream political parties in Indian-administered Kashmir. “My whole family got ruined in a moment,” said Bashir, struggling to find the right words. “I wish my brother may have never joined politics,” she adds after a brief pause.
For this 35-year-old woman, living in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, everything turned black and white following a militant attack near her residence on July 8, last year. The ambush left a young politician Sheikh Waseem Bari dead along with his father Bashir Ahmad Sheikh and younger brother Sheikh Umer Bashir.
“I had never thought my life would lose its essence so quickly,” Bashir said, adding that her identity is trapped between family and politics.
The slain politician was associated with India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) since 2014 despite strong opposition from his family. “BJP initially offered me membership with rupees 15 lakhs [$20,534] because of my popularity and public acceptance but I turned it down due to my affiliation with another political party, National Conference [NC],” she revealed.
“On seeing me associated with politics, Bari seemed very fascinated with the political glamour and was keen to join but was unaware of its ugly face,” she continued.
Bari, according to Bashir, gained a name for himself in a very short span of time and went on to become the district president for the saffron party in Bandipora. “It all happened following my prolonged sickness when he tendered resignation to NC on my behalf,” she told TRT World.
Mainstream political affiliation in Kashmir, Bashir said, is not safe and one has to avoid politics to live a peaceful life in the society. “I am of the opinion now that politics in Kashmir is good for none, it is a blame game and with every mainstream ruling party, the job becomes even tougher,” she said.
Bari’s killing created ripples in the Kashmir cadre of the BJP because the attack had taken place at a stone’s throw from a police station on one side and an army camp on the other side. Figures released by the Hindu nationalist party claim that they have lost “two dozen” workers after the Government of India stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status in August 2019.
Prior to 2019, only three workers of the party had been targeted since 2017.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a renowned political analyst and former dean of legal studies at the Central University of Kashmir, believes that the killings of pro-India political workers were carried out since the armed insurgency broke out in the region.
“There may be a feeling among the militant groups that those associated with mainstream political parties are responsible for the killing of their [militant] colleagues as there is a strong possibility of them acting as informers,” Hussain said.
“The reason behind the rise of militant attacks on BJP workers could be their closeness to the corridors of power thus making them vulnerable,” he added.
New Delhi based television channel India Today in its report while quoting police evidence claim that The Resistance Front (TRF), a shadow organisation of the Pakistan-based militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, are behind the killing of the workers of political parties in Kashmir. The report went on to say that TRF in 2020 carried out “11 political assassinations out of which 9 belong to BJP.”
In August earlier this month BJP suffered back to back setbacks as three of its members including a woman were killed two different attacks in Kulgam and Anantnag districts of south Kashmir.
Two weeks later one could still feel the mourning inside a three-story house belonging to Ghulam Rasool Dar.
Dar and his second wife Jawahira Begum were killed by militants on August 9.
The couple stayed at their alternate residence in the Lalchowk area of Anantnag district some 10 kilometres away from their ancestral home in Redwani, Kulgam. He had married like-minded Jawahira after his retirement and disagreements with his first wife over political affiliations.
Dar’s self-exile from his first family was due to his political engagements which were of course rooted in the ruling BJP. “Everyone was against his decision of joining mainstream politics and was primarily opposed by our mother when he joined National Conference,” said his elder son Mohammad Latief Dar. “He stayed with the NC for a very short period of time and later on joined BJP after NC denied him with a mandate,” he added.
A local resident on the condition of anonymity told TRT World that Dar was guarded by two policemen and he roamed from one place to another seeking refuge. “Dar was financially sound but was captivated by power and prominence,” the neighbour said.
Dar used to visit his hometown Redwani, also known as Kandahar of Kashmir, to take stock of developmental work. Redwani witnesses frequent militant activities and military operations.
Dar’s family said that they don’t want to continue the bruised legacy of their father. “We are farmers and want to remain so, with least interest towards politics, this was the sole reason the relation with our father wasn’t good,” Latief added.
Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, BJP media and IT head believes that BJP workers are being targeted due to their nationalist ideology. “Whosoever is affiliated with our party hoists the tricolour (Indian national flag) above his house,” Bhat told TRT World.
The continuous attacks on the BJP, Bhat believes, hinder the party's growth and development as its associates are scared of moving around freely. “As compared to the rest of political parties BJP is putting efforts to work for people since its reign spread over Jammu and Kashmir,” he said adding that no other party is dedicated towards India's 'cause' like the BJP and as a result, they became the prime targets of militants.
Bhat said that they stopped new memberships for a time being because of the non-availability of adequate security. “We have written a letter to Lieutenant Governor requesting him to provide cluster accommodations along with security cover to BJP workers in their respective districts so that they could carry out developments in their wards and blocks,” Bhat said adding that the majority of the party workers have to stay at different locations for their survival.
Meanwhile, the BJP has asked the government to conduct an intelligence verification of all its 1,270 party workers in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. The development came days after police arrested a BJP village head identified as Aqib Shafi Badder and his associate along with a gun, two magazines and 12 rounds of bullets from their possession.
BJP, according to right-wing Indian news channel The Republic World, will remove its members from holding positions in the party if the intelligence report hints at their involvement in 'anti-national' activities.
"There is clear direction from Party top brass that no anti-national element will be part of the party at any level and those carrying out anti-national activities under the garb of politics needs to be exposed,” reported Republic World while quoting sources in the BJP.
The fear of getting killed is rapidly growing among party associates. Several workers have either left politics or joined regional political parties.
Farooq Ahmad Rather, a resident of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, left the BJP following frequent attacks on party workers by militants. He shifted to a newly formed political camp, Apni Party led by businessman-turned-politician Altaf Bukhari. “I felt scared and that is why I left BJP,” he said.