The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on the defensive in Jammu and Kashmir since the arrest of a top Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander Talib Hussain Shah, as the party is accused of having made him in charge of its social media cell on May 9 this year.
On July 3, J&K Police arrested the LeT militant after he was captured by villagers in Jammu’s Reasi district, along with his associate Faisal Ahmad Dar. Dar hails from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, while Talib belongs to Rajouri district of Jammu.
The villagers of Tukson Dhok in the Reasi district of Jammu captured the two after they reached the area to take shelter. Two AK rifles, seven grenades, a pistol and a huge quantity of ammunition were recovered from their possession.
“In the recent past, it has been observed that LeT and their commanders staying across (the LoC) have continuously tried to revive terrorist activities in the Chenab Valley and the Rajouri-Poonch regions (of Jammu). As a result, they have managed to revive some over-ground workers,” Jammu police chief ADGP Mukesh Singh told media persons in Jammu soon after Shah’s arrest.
He said the police and other security agencies were after Talib Hussain Shah for some time as the main accused in the Rajouri blast case.
He added, “We were able to push him (Shah) down to the remotest area of the Pir Panjals, as a result of which the local villagers helped us nab these two terrorists.”
Police said Shah was involved in a series of “sticky bomb” explosions in Rajouri. They said he was part of efforts being made by LeT handlers in Pakistan to revive terrorism in Rajouri, Poonch, Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Reasi and other parts of Jammu.
Rajouri district’s Kotranka town was rocked by twin blasts on March 26, right after a blast each on April 19 and 24. Two people were wounded in each of these blasts.
As pictures of Talib Hussain with BJP leaders, including J&K party president Ravinder Raina, started going viral, Congress accused the BJP of harbouring and sheltering militants. Speaking to the media in Reasi’s Mahore area, Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbag Singh said Shah was briefly associated with a political party and had also posed as a media person, without naming any party.
Singh said such elements would continue to make attempts to take cover anywhere, to carry forward their anti-national activities, and that the police were duty-bound to nab them. The police are questioning him about his motives behind joining the political party, he added.
On May 9, BJP’s Minority Morcha president Sheikh Bashir appointed Shah in the party’s IT and social media cell for Jammu. “Mr. Talib Hussain Shah, at Draj Kotranka, Budhan, district Rajouri, shall be the new IT & Social Media In-charge of BJP Minority Mocha, Jammu province, with immediate effect,” read the order issued by the BJP Minority Morcha (J&K).
BJP says Shah was neither a primary nor basic member of the party.
“Yes, he has frequently met our party president Ravinder Raina as a journalist. But when we heard that he was arrested, we realised his basic intention was to do a reconnaissance of the BJP office and keep a tab on activities of BJP leaders and their movement, and share the details with Pakistan and militants,” says BJP spokesman and former Jammu Bar Association president Abhinav Sharma.
He adds, “His (Shah’s) frequent visits to the BJP office were part of a conspiracy. BJP president Ravinder Raina, who speaks against Pakistan and militants, has already received threats on social media and WhatsApp, as well as threat letters. We see Shah’s visit to the BJP as a conspiracy to keep a tab on the movement of Ravinder Raina and forward the same to Pakistan and militants.
“It is being said that Shah was given charge of the social media cell of BJP. This is being investigated. We’re also enquiring into his claim that he had been appointed the BJP IT Cell chief.
“Shah belonged to a militant organisation. According to the latter’s plan, he sought entry into the BJP office as a media person. Later, the frequency of his visits increased. Subsequently, he would pose for snaps with top BJP leaders. That doesn’t mean he was with the BJP. It is an alarming situation that a terrorist has entered the BJP office posing as a journalist.”
About his pictures with BJP leaders, Sharma says Shah was a frequent visitor as a journalist at the party office. “During these visits, he got acquainted with the IT Cell in-charge, who might have given him some responsibility. But no such appointment officially made by the BJP,” Sharma claims.
Sharma said it will be investigated if Sheikh Bashir had appointed Shah the IT Cell in-charge without consulting other BJP leaders.
Since Shah’s arrest, BJP leaders have appeared in several press conferences as the Congress has gone on the offensive, highlighting the issue daily and uploading pictures of Shah with BJP leaders.
State BJP president Ravinder Raina says, “Talib Hussain Shah and his associates would visit the BJP office to cover press conferences. He (Shah) would in fact also come to cover our political rallies.
“Security agencies have got pictures and videos from Shah’s phone that shows his reconnaissance of the BJP office in Jammu. He has also sent those pictures and videos across the LoC to the LeT chief.”
He adds, “Security agencies are investigating the case. Terrorists want to target big leaders, especially from the BJP. I have myself got threats over phone and video from Pakistani terrorists in PoK. Luckily, police and security forces have so far foiled all terrorist conspiracies. This includes Shah’s visits to the BJP office. Whenever I would visit far-off areas impacted by terrorism, Shah would forward details of my movement to his handlers in PoK. It shows that terrorists have changed tack.”
He also made an appeal to the J&K Lt. Governor to ensure that Shah’s case is investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to find out who all were on his target list.
Raina says, “Whenever I toured Rajouri, Poonch or Kashmir, Shah would monitor it himself, revealing he was coming up with a terrorist plot. Some videos have been found in Shah’s phone that are of far serious nature. I won’t discuss these any further because of their security implication. His arrest has busted a huge terror plot.”
Congress and other Opposition parties are unimpressed with BJP’s defence. J&K Pradesh Congress spokesman Ravinder Sharma says Shah was holding an important position within the BJP in the Jammu division and the party doesn’t deny it either.
“He was involved in blasts and killings. Such people are holding high ranks within the BJP. This is a very serious situation,” Sharma tells Outlook. In an official press release, the Congress says it has taken a strong exception to the presence of “dreaded terrorists in the ranks of BJP and asked the ruling party to explain to the nation how these dreaded terrorists have been enjoying its patronage by getting important assignments in the party”.
The statement also questions the BJP for not only giving entry to such anti-national and anti-social elements, but also assigning them important positions in the party.
It says, “The party owes an explanation to the nation for such an irresponsible conduct, especially as the ruling party with easy access to intelligence inputs about credentials of such anti-national elements.
“A dreaded LeT terrorist is a prominent leader of the IT Cell of BJP in J&K, who was spotted in a photograph with even the Union home minister. How can a simple denial by BJP without a fair probe into his links be sufficient? The Indian National Congress does not believe in playing politics over serious national issues like terrorism. However, multiple revelations of close links between the BJP and individuals caught in terror activities force us to ask some straight questions of a ruling party that loses no opportunity to preach to Indians about nationalism.
“Former BJP leader and ex-sarpanch Tariq Ahmad Mir was arrested in 2020 in connection with procuring weapons for Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Naveed Babu, who had previously been arrested with DSP Davinder Singh and accused of supplying weapons to terrorists. The NIA has confirmed that Mir is Davinder Singh’s associate. The truth would have come out, had the Davinder Singh inquiry been carried out to its conclusion. But it was halted midway.”
It also raised questions about BJP’s dubious distinction of having released dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar in 1999 during the Kandahar hijacking. Azhar went on to lay the foundation of Jaish-e-Muhammad terror group that was responsible for the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attacks that caused hundreds of deaths.
“JeM also masterminded the 2019 Pulwama attack in which 44 CRPF personnel died after 200 kg of high explosives, including RDX, somehow made it past multiple security checkpoints. Why an inquiry into Pulwama has not been held remains a mystery,” Congress asks.
“There are pictures of terrorist Shah receiving an award from the J&K BJP chief. I am exhausted of busting BJP lies, but the problem is BJP never gets tired of lying,” says Congress leader Salman Nizami.