Election-Eve Attacks In South Kashmir, Political Parties Raise Questions About Government's Militant-Free Claims

The twin attacks come when campaigning is underway for the Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary seat, which votes on May 25

PTI Photo
The twin attacks come when campaigning is underway for the Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary seat, which votes on May 25 PTI Photo

After a former Sarpanch affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was shot dead in South Kashmir’s Shopian district on Saturday and two tourists from Jaipur were wounded in a militant attack in Anantnag later that evening, political parties have raised concerns over the timing of these incidents. 

They say that the attacks occurred shortly after the South Kashmir election was delayed without a clear reason.

Even the National Conference president Dr. Farooq Abdullah has gone further and has called for an international investigation into these killings. He asked Pakistan to cooperate in identifying those responsible for the attacks originating from its territory. “I want an international investigative agency to look into these innocent killings,” Dr. Abdullah said.

The incident 

Police said the militants fired upon BJP former Sarpnach Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh at Heerpora, Shopian along the Mughal Road, which connects Poonch and Shopian districts. He was immediately shifted to a nearby hospital for treatment but the doctors declared him as "brought dead." On Saturday night also a couple from Rajasthan were wounded after militants fired upon them in the Yannar area of Pahalgam in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. 

The twin attacks come when campaigning is underway for the Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary seat, which votes on May 25 in the sixth and second-last phase of the national polls. On April 9, a non-local tourist guide was attacked and wounded by militants in Heerpora.  

On Sunday morning scores of people gathered for the last rites of Aijaz Ahmad. Irfan Ahmad Sheikh, who identified himself as Aijaz’s cousin, while recounting the events of the previous evening, said, “We heard gunshots and didn’t know what had happened. Within minutes, we heard cries from Aijaz’s family, with his mother wailing that her son had been attacked. We rushed him to the hospital, but the doctors declared him dead on arrival,” Irfan said. 

Villagers said Aijaz had been working hard for the development of the village. He is survived by his mother, his wife, and three children-two daughters and one son. 

I love my India

In recent video interviews, which are viral now, Aijaz praised the government’s development initiatives. The former Sarpanch, who once identified himself as a stone pelter earning ₹500 a day for throwing stones at security forces, spoke about his transformation in recent years. He highlighted that everyone is benefiting under the current government. "Modi sees everyone as equal, and we are happy and comfortable in India. I want to say I love my India," he said.

Political parties react

As Aijaz is the first political victim of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir during the current Lok Sabha elections, the political parties are seeking answers from the government. 

Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, the National Conference leader and its candidate from Srinagar constituency said, “The killing of BJP’s former Sarpanch is a highly condemnable act. No one deserves to be killed for his, or her political ideology. These acts should have no place in our society.”

 “I would also want to ask a question which genuinely concerns me. What was the purpose of the Home Minister’s visit a few days ago? The Home Minister’s visit should ensure a better security situation. Why has the situation worsened after his visit?.”  

Political parties are concerned that the recent attack shouldn't be used as a reason to delay the polls in the newly established South Kashmir constituency of Anantnag-Rajouri. Originally set for May 7, the election has now been rescheduled to May 25. On May 2, the Election Commission announced the postponement of the polls for the Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary seat after some political parties requested a delay due to inclement weather, which had disrupted road connectivity within the constituency. 

The parties that petitioned the Election Commission for a rescheduling included the BJP, Peoples Conference, Apni Party, and Democratic Azad Party. The BJP is not participating in the elections. However, the two major contestants, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), opposed the postponement.

The former chief minister and the PDP’s candidate from Anantnag-Rajouri constituency Mehbooba Mufti said "We condemn the attack in Pahalgam today that resulted in injuries to two tourists followed by another attack on a sarpanch in Hirpora, Shopian - the timing of these attacks given that the South election was delayed without any reason is a cause of concern. Especially keeping in mind normalcy claims touted by GOI." 

The National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah said that terrorism continues in Jammu and Kashmir. He said the “targeted killing in Shopian” should be investigated. “It should be looked into whether he was killed by terrorists or our own people,” Dr Abdullah said. “Here you don’t know who the killer is? Before we raise a finger on someone, we should investigate it,” he added. 

He said two tourists have been attacked in Pahalgam. “This is the tragedy. It is affecting our tourism industry. They are targeting our tourism industry. Whosoever is doing it, it must be investigated,” Dr Abdullah said. He said as long as terrorism continues, there should be no talks with Pakistan. He said Pakistan should cooperate in it to identify those who are coming from its soil and carry out such attacks here. “I want an international investigating agency to investigate such innocent killings,” Dr Abdullah said. 


The BJP blames the administration 

The BJP described the attack as a frustration of Pakistan and militants. “It is a frustration of Pakistan and terrorists as they have seen the first time after 2019 people coming in large numbers and voting. There is groundswell for voting and it is expected 60 per cent to 70 per cent voting is going to take place in North Kashmir,” BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur said. The North Kashmir going for polls on May 20.

Thakur, however, held the administration responsible for “the lapses.” “We had written to the administration to provide Aijaz an accommodation. We had written to the Deputy Commissioner of Shopian. But he didn’t take it seriously. I think the DC is also responsible as he ignored the threat perception,” Thakur, said. He said they were going to protest outside the DC to seek accountability.


He also said the attack would not stop people from coming out to vote as Kashmiri believes in democracy. “I don’t think this attack signifies that terrorism has returned to Kashmir,” Thakur added.  

The South Kashmir Anantnag-Rajouri seat is scheduled for polls on May 25, with the main contest between National Conference candidate Mian Altaf and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. The Wachi area of Shopian and Anantnag are part of this newly established South Kashmir constituency.

Of the five Lok Sabha seats in J&K, the two in the Jammu region voted in the first two phases (Udhampur on April 19 and Jammu on April 26). In the Kashmir Valley, Srinagar voted in the fourth phase on May 13, while Baramulla and Anantnag-Rajouri will vote in the fifth and sixth phases, respectively.


PDP leader Iltija Mufti says it is strange that there has been a sudden spurt in attacks across South Kashmir where the Government of India claimed it had removed all traces of militancy suddenly in the run-up to elections. “Begs the question - Why was polling in South Kashmir delayed?” she asks.