Terror victim ‘abandoned’
He lost his father and two brothers to the militants’ bullets. He and his family have faced half-a-dozen rebel attacks during a decades-long association with the pro-India camp.
But none of this entitles Mohammad Ashraf Bhat, 69, to security cover in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new Kashmir.
The National Conference leader is among the unlikeliest victims of the Centre’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. The move seemed to turn Kashmir’s pro-India brigade into “anti-nationals” of sorts in the government’s eyes overnight, and many of them lost their security cover.
As the security forces locked the Valley down on August 5, Bhat went into hiding, moving from one relative’s house to another.
His family — among them his wife Wazeera and the widow of a brother killed by militants and her two children — have since been living in perpetual fear of militant attacks. The family is seen as having “stood by India” in their native Tral, home to slain commanders from Burhan Wani to Zakir Musa. Bhat’s children are settled abroad.
“We had a security detail of 25 (paramilitary) men but they deserted us when we needed them the most. We can’t tell you where Bhat sahib is, but he regrets that he and his family had ever been in politics,” a family member said.
Senior superintendent of police Imtiyaz Hussain denied that the family’s security had been withdrawn, claiming they may have “dispensed with it on their own”. He even claimed that no political leader from any party had lost their security.
Police sources admitted that several pro-India politicians had had their security withdrawn or downgraded, adding that 18 little-known BJP functionaries had been accorded official security.
Bhat’s family feels the government has “abandoned” them. They said Bhat’s personal security was withdrawn on August 4 and, around 10pm that day, the CRPF personnel started dismantling the five bunkers around his home.
“Bhat sahib was not home that night. We were stunned at what was unfolding. This had never happened in the 30 years since we were accorded security,” a member said.
“There was already a lot of fear as everybody knew something wrong was being done with Kashmir. We did not sleep that night.”
The Bhats’ neighbours have assured all help but the National Conference leader still does not feel safe at home, the family said. Wife Wazeera said Bhat might never return to politics again.
Bhat shares his sprawling house with the family of his slain brother Fayaz, who too have lost their security shield.
Bhat’s tale of sacrifices began with the rise of militancy in the Valley in 1989. The rebels blew up his house. The family luckily survived, but this was just the beginning.
Militants killed Bhat’s father Mohammad Subhan Bhat, a former National Conference MLA, two years later. Brother Showkat Ahmad fell to alleged militant bullets in the late 1990s.
Fayaz, a government official, was killed with his security officer in 2002. Bhat’s home soon turned into a fortress, with additional security guards posted.
Bhat contested the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections unsuccessfully. The last time the militants attacked him was in April this year, when they lobbed a grenade at his home while an election meeting was under way there.
The fear of militants and pro-independence mobs had kept large swathes of the Valley free of any election rallies ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. But Bhat had offered his house to party workers to garner support for the National Conference’s Anantnag candidate, Hasnain Masoodi, who later defeated Mehbooba Mufti.