Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Economic Times
Srinagar: After abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year, most political leaders and workers from regional political parties were detained in a wave of arrests carried out by the government to thwart any opposition to the decision.
Since then, most political parties in Kashmir suspended their work, except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had the entire field to itself, and
continued to carry out rallies and political meets, despite hostilities that emerged in the region after downgrading of the state into two Union territories.
One year down the line, new challenges face BJP with a series of fresh militant attacks on its leaders, leaving its workers increasingly wary about their and their family’s security.
On Wednesday, a week after three BJP leaders of the same family were executed outside their residence in North Kashmir’s Bandipora, unidentified assailants abducted a BJP member triggering a fresh wave of apprehensions among the party ranks in the region.
Mehrajuddin Malla, a local BJP leader and Vice President of Municipal Committee Watergam, was bundled into a private vehicle in North Kashmir’s Rafiabad area of Baramulla district when he was on his way to attend a friend’s marriage ceremony. Later in the evening, Mehraj returned home safely and was taken for questioning by police for investigation in the incident.
While Malla was abducted, the police and security forces launched a rescue operation to retrieve him from his kidnappers. The operation, according to security officials, was launched across the Valley and an alert for his lookout was sent across the region.
In the meantime, the victim’s family issued an appeal demanding Malla’s return. “I don’t know what happened to my papa. He left home to his attend a friend’s wedding, today was his mehndiraat. If he has been kidnapped, I request that he be allowed to return to his family. We don’t have anybody other than him. He is our only support. I beg you…,” his daughter said in a video message that was widely circulated on social media.
This incident follows soon after a young BJP leader, Wasim Bari, was shot dead by suspected militants along with his father and brother, both affiliated with BJP, outside their Bandipora residence earlier last week.
Of late, members of BJP have been targeted by militants since the party made inroads into Kashmir. The killing of Bari and his family members has renewed fear among cadre of the party, which claims to have members in lakhs in the Valley alone.
Veer Saraf, who is in-charge of BJP’s affairs in South Kashmir, told NewsClick that there was rising concern among party members since the Bandipora incident. “We have not stopped our work but there is a threat. We have advised our workers to take safety measures and not become targets unnecessarily,” he said.
In the wake of a security threat, over 100 party members have been put up in designated facilities, like hotels, especially in South Kashmir. Saraf said even as it was practically not possible to provide security to every BJP member, he was expecting some measures from the government, as the threat was not just being perceived by leaders but grassroots workers, too.
Some of the workers have even resigned from the party since the Bandipora incident. But, BJP’s media in-charge Altaf Thakur told NewsClick that the resignations were few and were not “directly linked” to the threat perception.
“There are some vested interests who wanted to use the party for personal gains and these resignations have come from members who had recently joined BJP to secure some influence in the administration. Our cadre is intact otherwise,” Thakur said.
Bari’s killing is not the first in the region. BJP members have been targeted by militants for decades and many have been killed in the past few years, especially after People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP formed a government in alliance in 2015. Even PDP, a regional party, faced hostility on the ground in the wake of this alliance.
Tika Lal Taploo, a Kashmiri Hindu, was as one of the first victims killed by militants in 1989 when the armed insurgency broke out in the region. In September 1999, BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Anantnag constituency was killed in a landmine blast at Bijbehara area of South Kashmir, back then a major setback to the party that emerged as winners of subsequent elections held after a month.
Even as government forces have stepped up operations in the Valley and almost cornered the militant outfits in South Kashmir with over 150 militant killings so far in the year, for political workers, the battle against hostility, they believe, is more challenging.