Updated: May 27, 2022 6:22:02 pm
In June 2018, speaking from the dais at one of the biggest sport conclaves to be hosted in Srinagar, then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh made special mention of Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, praising the young PDP leader for his efforts in encouraging young people from J&K to take up sports.
Those were different times. Para, then secretary of the state government’s sports council and spokesperson of the PDP – which was then in alliance with the BJP in J&K — often spoke for “debate and democracy” and “restoring dignity to the youth through peaceful means”. His youth engagement efforts won him praise from the state and the Centre during the PDP-BJP coalition government that only lasted half its term.
Para, now 34, has spent the better part of the last few years in various forms of incarceration. On May 25, after 17 months in custody, the J&K High Court granted bail to the PDP leader in a terror-related case.
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First detained as part of the August 5, 2019, clampdown following the abrogation of J&K’s special status, he was released in February 2020 from Srinagar’s MLA hostel, which had been turned into a subsidiary jail, after which he spent another three months in detention at home.
In November 2020, as the Centre announced the first electoral exercise in the newly carved Union Territory in the form of elections to the District Development Councils (DDCs), Para filed his nomination papers to contest from his hometown seat, Pulwama 1. However, five days later, he was called for questioning by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Delhi and subsequently detained in connection with a terror case against former J&K police officer Davinder Singh.
He won the December 2020 DDC polls from his seat, in absentia, for which his family campaigned extensively. Para is yet to take the oath of office for that seat.
A little over a month after he was first arrested, on January 9, 2021, a special NIA court granted Para bail, with judge Sunit Gupta stating that “offences, particularly falling under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), are not prima facie made out against the applicant/accused”. However, that same evening, Para was detained again, this time by the Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK), the anti-militancy intelligence wing of J&K Police’s Criminal Investigation Department, and placed in judicial custody for allegedly “hobnobbing with a member of a terrorist organisation” with a view to further his political ambition. He was taken into custody immediately after his release from the Jammu District Jail.
On May 25, as the High Court granted Para bail, the court termed the evidence produced by the J&K Police “sketchy” and that it cannot be the basis on “which the court can formulate an opinion that the allegations proved during the investigation are prima facie true”.
Born in Pulwama’s Naira, Para studied at local schools in the village before getting his Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the Islamic University of Science and Technology near Srinagar. The second of three siblings, he comes from a land-owning family in Pulwama, South Kashmir.
He joined the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led PDP in 2013 and swiftly rose through the ranks, primarily due to his appeal among the youth and his efforts in bringing them to the polling booth during the 2014 Assembly elections. As one of the more powerful youth voices in the Valley, he was made president of the party’s youth wing. After Mufti Sayeed’s death in 2016, with several senior party leaders leaving the PDP, Para became a close confidant of Mehbooba Mufti as she took over the reins of the party.
Sources in the party say that now, amid talk of elections in J&K, Para could once again play a key role in the party by infusing energy into the cadres, especially in South Kashmir. They cite his affable manner, accessibility and engagement efforts as factors that the PDP can benefit from.
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