The Security Tool

Rakesh Pandita’s killing has prompted police to bar the movement of the politicians and the protected persons without security clearance. Political parties see the measure as an attempt to interrupt their reach out to people, reports Yawar Hussain

Rakesh Pandita, a member of the Municipal Council Tral was killed by unknown gunmen in Tral on June 2, 2021.

The killing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) councillor Rakesh Pandita in Tral led to a war of words between the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) and the BJP leaders. Subsequently, the police banned the travelling of the protected persons without security clearance. This has upset the mainstream parties barring the BJP who accuse the police of keeping their movement under check.

Debate Trigger

The debate started when the BJP termed the killing a “security lapse”. Police responded saying Pandita had travelled to Tral without his two personal security officers and without informing the police.

Ashok Koul, however, questioned how militants were roaming freely in the area where Pandita was killed. He said the killing was political and should not be linked with the return of Kashmiri Pandits.

“Rakesh Pandita killing is a security lapse,” Koul said while questioning as to why the security agencies were unaware that three unidentified militants were freely roaming in the area. “We agree with the fact that our leader had not taken PSOs with him,” he said, adding that government should admit the lapse on its part.

The police quickly rebutted the allegations of laxity and issued a rider on the travelling of protected persons.  “No protectee (sic) should go anywhere without PSOs.  Visits are allowed only after ground assessment of local threat is done,” Kashmir Police Chief, Vijay Kumar said in an advisory. He asked them not to violate SOPs and risk their lives.

Unhappy Mainstream

Peoples Conference Chairman Sajad Gani Lone alleged that “security was being used as a “tool” by the police to bar their movement. “So much about security, you talk after someone dies. We know how you use security as a tool. I am supposed to be Z-plus category. Have bought a private vehicle, bullet-proofed it. Is lying at the factory in Chandigarh,” Lone said.

Sajad Lone and Imran Raza Ansari in a press conference in Srinagar.

“Because clearance not given. For 3 months the ADG security has not put his signature on an approval. This is with someone who has Z-plus. What would you do with lesser mortals with lesser levels of security?” Lone asked, adding, “Problem is not all yours. Post-August 5 there is a perception that the political class in J&K are thieves, thugs etc. And the officer class including the police have begun to believe in it. Politicians are supposed to be dispensable – politically, socially and now physically.”

Lone was seconded by National Conference Vice President and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He wrote on his Twitter handle: “Agree 100 per cent. We also wanted to order two bulletproof vehicles for our senior Kashmir based office bearers who are being denied proper protection out of spite. The permission request is collecting dust on some desk in the administration.”

These statements came days after Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “In J&K besides security Covid-19 has become another excuse to prevent me from reaching out to people in distress. GOI wants to obfuscate the truth & brush such tragedies under the rug (sic).”

National Conference Provincial President Kashmir and former minister Nasir Aslam Wani said the security should never have been mixed with politics but post-August 5 it has been done. “Our programmes aren’t given clearance citing security concerns but some political parties are allowed to freely go wherever they want with adequate security in place,” Wani said. “When we were in power, we provided everyone security across the political divide. Many times there were political pressures to not provide security to certain people but we overlooked all of them.”

CPI (M) leader and Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) spokesperson Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said the police personnel deployed around the politicians aren’t for their “security” but to prevent them from travelling. “This isn’t our security. This is the government’s security. They confine us through them,” he said. “The government in the name of security is preventing us from reaching out to people because they know that there is a problem that has been created on the ground by them on August 5.”

Mehbooba’s Case

Mehbooba Mufti has been vocal about her alleged detention since her release in 2020. In November last, she alleged that she was detained by Jammu and Kashmir Police, and prevented from visiting Pulwama district to meet the family of Waheed Parra. A day later, she alleged she was not allowed to address a presser at her residence at Gupkar. “BJP ministers and their puppets are allowed to move around in every corner of Kashmir but security is a problem only in my case,” she alleged.

Peoples Democratic Party President (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti arrives at the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office in connection with an alleged money laundering case, at Rajbagh in Srinagar, Thursday, March 25, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Police denied her house arrest allegation but admitted she was asked to postpone her visit for “security reasons”.

In December 2020, she again alleged detention when she had plans to visit Budgam “where hundreds of families were evicted from their homes.”

The allegation resurfaced last week when she was allegedly prevented from visiting the home of a Pulwama teacher whose son committed suicide in protest against the government withholding his salary for 30 months. The government said the Covid19 protocols were the reason.

“Covid and security are just excuses. The government doesn’t want anyone to see what injustices are being perpetrated on people here,” Mufti tweeted. “When the Lt Governor can himself travel to all parts, why am I being not allowed? Security arrangements are made for him.”

Confined To Hotel Rooms

For showcasing democracy, the District Development Council (DDC) were elected even without a constitutional mandate. Even before being elected, most of them are allegedly confined to hotel rooms in Srinagar.

A DDC member from Anantnag wishing anonymity alleged that he has been stationed in Srinagar since he filed his nomination papers for the election. “I won the election but the police has been citing that I cannot travel to my constituency because there is a security threat. I don’t understand how officers are safe in Anantnag and I am not,” he said, adding that the government made them fight elections just for politics and not for development. “People have been asking where the DDC members are. As per the government, we are all confined to hotel rooms for our security in Srinagar.”

The DDC member said: “The officers are having a great time. They don’t want people to ask questions.”

PAGD leaders coming out from an open air meeting at Mehbooba Mufti’s residence on June 9, 2021. The meeting shows PAGD 2.0 without Sajjad Gani Lone of Peoples Conference who left the alliance soon after the DDC polls. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Last month Budgam DDC members across political affiliations threatened to resign because the government didn’t let them travel home. “We were promised that we are going to be allowed to work for our people but the administration on the pretext of so-called intelligence inputs has confined us to hotel rooms,” DDC member Khag segment Maulvi Nisar said. “Kashmir is a place where these inputs have been around for the past three decades. The district administration doesn’t want the elected representatives of any party to be involved in development plans because they want no one to hold them accountable.”

Molvi said barring two, 12 other DDC’s have been kept in Srinagar with occasional guided tours to their constituencies. “Our families have been ruined. We have lost our earlier livelihoods. The government hasn’t even paid our salaries,” Nisar lamented.

BDCs In Backseat

The Block Development Council (BDC) members, who form the second tier of the much-hyped Panchayati Raj system share almost the DDC fate.

In April this year, a video from Srinagar surfaced in which a group of BDC members from various districts were seen clashing with police who weren’t allowing them to travel to their homes ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.

A BDC member was seen asking the police officer as to why he had detained him. “Am I a terrorist or a criminal? Why have you kept me here against my will?”

DDC Members of Budgam with Deputy Commissioner during the oath ceremony.

Talking to Kashmir Life, a BDC member from Budgam said that he has been kept in a hotel room for over a year now. “My family is devastated. I have resigned but they haven’t accepted that also. They don’t let us go home. Once in a month, a bulletproof car takes me to my home and I meet my family,” he said, adding that vehicles are available for those who want to go to Tulip garden for having fun. “We are elected by people. They are asking us why we don’t work for them in our areas.”

In certain cases, a PDP BDC member alleged: “all others are roaming free but our party members are in virtual detention.”

Even Panchs and Sarpanchs

Even Panchs and Sarpanchs allege they are being held against their wishes. A Panchayat member from Pulwama said that he is working as a labourer in Srinagar after he ran away from his village when police had summoned him.

“Many members have been taken to accommodations in Srinagar. I informed the Station House Officer on the phone that I am in Jammu. He has asked me to visit the Police Station before going to the village,” he said. He said he now travels to his village only when there are meetings.

“The police say that we are under threat.”

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