In the second such killing since November last year, suspected militants shot dead a Congress sarpanch in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Monday evening.
As all mainstream parties condemned the killing, the Congress said Ajay Pandita Bharti had sought security from the authorities, but had been refused because he did not belong to the BJP.
Rahul Gandhi posted on Twitter: “My condolences to the family and friends of Ajay Pandita, who sacrificed his life for the democratic process in Kashmir. We stand with you in this time of grief. Violence will never win.”
The owner of an orchard in Lukbawan in Anantnag’s Larkipora, Bharti spent most of his time in Jammu, coming to Kashmir in the summer months.
A police officer said, “Preliminary investigation has revealed that Bharti was on way to work at his orchard when he was attacked by militants. He succumbed to injuries while being taken to hospital. Further investigation is on.”
Dr Majid Merab, Medical Superintendent of District Hospital, Anantnag, said Bharti was brought dead to the hospital. “He had firearm injuries near the shoulder and on the face,” he said.
A family friend said they were shocked. “No one knows why he was killed.” Bharti is survived by his parents, two daughters and wife.
His brother Vijay Bharti told The Indian Express over the phone from Jammu that the whole family would go to Kashmir in the summer and that Bharti had never received any threats. “We have no idea why was he attacked.”
In November last year, sarpanch Syed Rafi had been killed along with a government employee, Sheikh Zahoor, in an attack by militants on the government’s back to village programme. The attack had happened in Hakoora village, also in Anantnag district.
JKPCC chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir said Bharti had got 51 votes to win the sarpanch election in 2018. “His cousin and opponent who was a BJP candidate got only 10 votes. Bharti had demanded security at his own level from the authorities. But I guess, since he wasn’t a BJP sarpanch, security wasn’t given to him,” Mir said.
The BJP issued a statement terming the killing “a desperate attempt of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to fail the ongoing peace process in J&K”.
The Peoples Democratic Party tweeted, “Left in lurch by the system & hounded by those revolting against it, such is the dismal state of political workers. What can someone hope to achieve by silencing those actively serving poor & marginalised?”
In a Twitter post, former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said, “I unequivocally condemn this terror attack on a grassroots political worker & pray that his soul rests in peace.”
Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, including the PDP and NC, had boycotted the 2018 panchayat elections, seeking that the Centre first clarify its position on the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party president Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari said, “Violence in any of its manifestations begets violence, and this vicious cycle needs an end so that people of J&K who have suffered a lot live in peace and harmony.”
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