The killing of two National Conference (NC) activists, Nazir Ahmad Bhat and Mushtaq Ahmad Wani in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen in Karfali Mohalla, a congested neighbourhood in Srinagar interior on Friday, came two days ahead of the first phase of the urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to police officials and eyewitnesses, a motorcycle carrying two young men slowed down beside a butcher’s shop. The pillion rider took out his AK-47 rifle and fired upon the two local NC workers. Both were declared dead upon arrival at the nearby SMHS Hospital. The mutton-seller Shakeel Ahmad Zangoo, with a gunshot in his arm, was declared stable.
As usual, the police and security forces seem to be groping in the dark with regard to the identification of the killers who performed the election season’s first political assassination(s) at a crowded place — unprecedented in the summer capital in the last several years.
Nobody in the NC remembers when the party had laid down the last sacrifice in the summer capital, or elsewhere in the Valley.
4,000 NC Workers Killed in 29 Years
“4,000 of our workers and leaders have been shot dead in the last 29 years of militancy in Kashmir. But right now I don’t remember who was killed the last time. I’m sure nobody was killed in the last many years,” said Abdul Rehman Kawa, an old NC activist in Khanyar. “It appears to be linked to the municipal elections but we fail to understand why someone should target our workers as we have boycotted these elections,” he told The Quint.
Many of the NC leaders said that Friday’s twin assassination was in a way reminiscent of the first political killing by militants to spread a wave of terror in the entire Valley, particularly in Srinagar.
NC’s area President Mohammad Yousuf Halwai was shot dead in his neighbourhood of Kalashpora, in downtown Srinagar on 21 August 1989.
An MLA from Habbakadal and senior NC leader Shameema Firdaus said that one of the slain workers was also her personal assistant. “He told me over the phone at 10:36 AM that he would come to the office after the Friday prayers. At 11:25 AM someone informed me that both Nazir and Mushtaq had been shot dead.”
MLA Blames BJP, not Militants
Ms Firdaus claimed there were no takers for the police claims that the two NC workers had been killed by militants. In a conversation with The Quint, she squarely blamed the BJP and Governor’s administration for allowing her men to be killed.
“I can tell you with full responsibility that these two workers of our party were killed by the BJP with the help of renegades (counter-insurgents). Why should militants kill our men when we have boycotted these elections? They would have instead killed some of these renegades or BJP workers who are contesting the elections. We have been told that one of the BJP candidates in Tankipora area had threatened that his party would teach the NC supporters a lesson,” Ms Firdaus said.
She implored Governor Satya Paul Malik to order a high-level investigation into the shootout and find out why those contesting the elections had been spared, and those boycotting the same had been attacked.
“These renegades and BJP and RSS workers brought in from Nagur, fear that the NC followers could vote for some candidates to defeat the BJP. They have imported some migrants and roped in renegades to ensure the victory of their candidates. We are watching it like mute spectators as none of us is participating in the current elections, either directly or by proxy. Still, they have apprehensions. These killings are clearly a signal to our workers to stay indoors,” Ms Firdaus said.
Yet another NC leader referred to the BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav’s press conference in Jammu on 28 September. In response to questions, the senior BJP leader had alleged that NC and PDP workers were “sabotaging the municipal elections like terrorists”. He too had said that the people would teach NC and PDP workers a lesson for their decision to boycott the elections.
An independent woman candidate in Ward 4 (Dalgate) in Srinagar was the first contestant who announced her withdrawal of nomination after the bloodshed in Karfali Mohalla. In fact, militants had restricted their attacks mainly to SPOs and police and security personnel in the last two years. Notwithstanding continual threats, few had apprehended political killings after NC’s and PDP’s boycott of the elections.
No Poll Enthusiasm in the Valley
With the fear of the gun looming large coupled with the NC’s and PDP’s boycott, nobody has filed nomination papers in a large number of wards across the Valley. Polling is being held in just around 200 wards as most of the BJP and Congress candidates have been declared ‘elected unopposed’. With 74 wards, Srinagar Municipal Corporation is going to polls in 3 wards on 8 October, 20 wards on 10 October, 26 wards on 13 October and 25 wards on 16 October.
“It’s a totally farce. Nobody knows who are the candidates, who are the Returning Officers and who are the voters. They are keeping everything close to their chest with the excuse of security reasons,” said high school teacher Mushtaq Ahmad Wani.
A senior police official on condition of anonymity, maintained that militants had been planning to sabotage the polling in a big way on all the four days.
“We are placing 40,000 additional paramilitary troops on duty. We are sure that the violence, which left 13 persons dead on the day of polling for Lok Sabha elections in Central Kashmir on 9 April 2017, would not be repeated. We have made the best possible arrangements and left nothing to chance,” he said.
Srinagar District Election Officer and Deputy Commissioner Dr Syed Abid Rashid refused to take questions even as Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra did not respond to phone calls. However, two senior police officers claimed that the NC MLA’s allegation against BJP was “unfounded and preposterous”. They claimed off-the-record that the NC activists had been killed by the militants associated with the Meraj Bangroo module of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Police Working On 3 Theories
Well-placed sources in the Jammu and Kashmir Police revealed to The Quint that they were clueless about the assassins. “Based on some inputs, we are working on three theories. But, as of now, we haven’t been able to lay our hands on a clue,” said a police officer. According to him, the first suspect was one Mohammad Tehseen Gojri alias Junaid alias Gabbar of Zaindar Mohalla Tankipora, who had disappeared after an encounter in his area in which three Hizbul Mujahideen militants escaped while killing a police constable two months ago.
According to police sources, Junaid had worked with some local contractors and he knew a number of the mainstream political workers in his area.
After he disappeared, he was believed to have joined a Hizbul Mujahideen module in Kulgam. Recently he had been deployed in Srinagar to strengthen the network of his outfit’s over-ground workers.
The second suspects are LeT militant Meraj-ud-din Bangroo of Fatehkadal and his associate Fahad Mushtaq Waza of Khanyar. According to police sources, both of them were well-acquainted with Karfali Mohalla locality and they knew many of the mainstream political workers. They were also under pressure from LeT leadership to do “something big” in Srinagar.
The third suspect for the police is the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Sabzar Bashir Sofi of Bijbehara who had been reportedly given a mission for the summer capital.
In April this year, suspected militants had shot dead a former activist of PDP and Congress, Ghulam Nabi Patel. As he was virtually disowned by both the parties, NC’s Vice President Omar Abdullah had tweeted that he should be counted as a worker of his party. In August, suspected militants kidnapped and shot dead BJP’s Pulwama leader Shabir Ahmad Bhat.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)