Srinagar: The buzzing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in the busy Jawahar Nagar area daily used to be a hot-spot of political happenings in Kashmir is presently recovering from grief. The single party flag inside the compound is flowing half-mast. Amid a pall of gloom, the BJP cadres are sitting in a small yard overcoming the high state of emotions.
Among the band of mourners, BJP’s J&K spokesperson Altaf Thakur initiates the talk and expresses his grief by calling Rakesh Pandita, “A strong BJP voice that scared militants.”
Pandita, party’s district secretary for Pulwama and a councillor from Tral Bala-C and was shot at and injured by three militants outside the house of his friend Mushtaq Ahmed in Tral Payeen on Wednesday night. Ahmed’s daughter Asifa also sustained injuries in the firing and is battling with life at a hospital here.
According to his party colleagues, on Tuesday noon, Pandita asked his two government provided PSO’s to stay back at his temporary residence in Srinagar---The Sunshine Hotel---where few other BJP leaders are currently staying under the protection of J&K Police. He then drifted towards Tral in a private vehicle where his close friend and childhood neighbour, Mushtaq Ahmed was excitedly waiting for his arrival.
“He went to Tral without informing the headquarters, his colleagues and the two PSO’s that were placed for his protection.” Thakur told Kashmir Observer.
“As the trip had made him tired, he cancelled his plan of visiting the Municipality office that day and asked Mushtaq that he should accompany him the next day,” he added.
Another close confidante told Kashmir Observer that Pandit spent the whole day in the Municipality office where he took cognizance of the relief stock that the office bearers had packed for the families that were going through financial crisis and then after completing the official paper-work, he went back to Mushtaq’s house.
“After spending two days at Mushtaq’s residence, it was time for him to travel back to Srinagar, the next day. But by 10:00 pm, the three gun-wielding men barged into Mushtaq’s residence and fired until Rakesh’s body was a skeleton of bullets,” he said.
Pandita’s death has turned mood sombre inside the Saffron party’s headquarters. The party members are venting their anger against the police.
BJP leader Anwar Khan who was attacked in a separate incident in April told Kashmir Observer that a few days back, another municipal Councillor Manzoor Khan went to his native village from Srinagar but within two hours he was dropped back at the party headquarters by the police citing intelligence reports of a militant attack on him.
“But, what was the Intelligence wing doing when militants were roaming freely in Tral, planning Pandit’s killing?” he asked.
However, police maintain that there were no security lapses and the unfortunate incident took place because the SOP’s mentioned to the political leader were not followed.
“The deceased was a protected person and two PSOs were deployed for his security and secured accommodation was also provided to him at Srinagar. However, at the time of incident he was without any security as he defied the SOPs and went to his native village without PSOs,” a police spokesperson had said Wednesday.
Police sources told Kashmir Observer that they were trying to crack the case which is being monitored at the highest level.
“The eye-raising point in this case is why had he travelled to Tral without any security even after police has continuously issued advisories for political leaders, mainly BJP leaders, to not travel anywhere without the given security,” they said.
In 2018, when National Conference and People’s Democratic Party boycotted the local Municipality elections, Rakesh Pandita submitted his mandate and won the elections with a few votes and later on became the chairman of the Municipality.
“He was a favourite among the locals of Tral.” Thakur said stressing that his death is a loss for Tral.
“He was tirelessly working on a development project for his native people and for the same he would spend around 5 days in Tral.” He further said that his killers have also massacred the dreams of hundreds of innocent civilians.
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