Srinagar: On February 24, 2001, Ghulam Mohammad Mir was sitting at his home along with his family in Litter area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. Brandished with guns, a group of gunmen knocked at the door. After opening the door, they took Mir out of his home and then fired several rounds of bullets at him. Lying in a pool of blood, he was rushed to a Srinagar hospital by his family and neighbours in a critical condition.
After multiple operations, he survived. For nine months, he was hospitalized at Srinagar’s Bone and Joint Hospital.
“Twelve bullets fired by militants hit me. It was a miracle that I survived,” Mir said, who was then Block President of the National Conference party. The scars of bullet wounds are visible on his body. He remained paralysed for months but Mir said no leader of the National Conference visited him or enquired about his health.
“I sold my land and spent that money on my treatment. The party did not help me in any way,” he lamented.
Nineteen years after the attack, he can’t walk properly.
Mir’s political journey
Before joining the National Conference in 2000, he was driving a truck and earning bread and butter. “As my father was also associated with the National Conference, I was also told to join the party and I agreed,” he said. Since then, Mir, 52, says he has lived under constant fear. “I did not shift to another place. Instead, I stayed at a rented accommodation in Pulwama town under security cover,” he said.
The decision of him joining politics led to differences with his first wife and two sons, who wanted him to stay away from politics. “My wife did not want to be with me in rented accommodation. She and two sons lived separately. I then married another woman and we have an eight-year-old son,” he said.
Among two sons of his first wife, one is a professor and another runs a gym centre.
In 2018, he contested the 2018 Panchayat elections as an Independent candidate. After which he also won Block Development Council polls in 2019. Earlier this year, he joined the Bhartiya Janta Party.
Mir’s life as a Sarpanch
“We (Panches, Sarpanches) contested the polls despite fear. We have been lodged in hotels in Srinagar, where two persons have to share one room. I have not seen my wife for the last 18 months. How can I bring her here when two persons have to share one room,” he told The Logical Indian at a hotel in Srinagar, which is situated on the banks of Dal Lake, where many Panchayat representatives have been lodged by the government. Ghulam Mohammad Mir at a hotel in Srinagar.
Mir says he rarely visits his constituency. “We are not able to work on the ground. Who from my constituency will come to Srinagar and enquire about their problems?”, says Mir.
“Is it a sin to contest elections and work for the welfare of people. I have not seen my wife for the last 18 months. We are lodged in hotels as prisoners. If I am not able to work on the ground, who will vote for me in the next elections,” he asked.
After joining the BJP, he said, things did not change for him. “But I have no other option than joining this party.”
Living under constant threat
Gripped under constant fear, hundreds of Panches and Sarpanches like Mir have been put up in Srinagar hotels by the government, who are unable to review the developmental works in their respective constituencies in Kashmir. For these Panchayat members, life revolves around their hotel rooms.
Over 50 Panchayat representatives and workers of political parties especially those affiliated with the BJP have resigned in the last few weeks. This came after gunmen attacked several Panchayat members in the valley.
“We put our lives in risk after contesting polls but nobody is bothered about our security. How can we review developmental works miles away from our constituencies?” he asked. Mir said he should be provided accommodation in Pulwama from where he can review developmental works of his constituency.
In the 2018 Panchayat election, two major political parties of Jammu and Kashmir including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC) did not participate over the issue of special status. The election was largely boycotted in Kashmir and over 12,000 Panchayat seats are still lying vacant.
In Kashmir out of 20093 Panch and Sarpanch seats, only 6162 Panches and 1366 Sarpanches were elected in the polls while 12565 constituencies have remained vacant.
Ever since the Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre has been talking about strengthening grassroots in the new Union Territory.
On August 15, Mir said he sought the permission from the district administration that he wanted to hoist the tricolour in his block.
“I was denied permission. I was ready to die for my nation. If I have no issue then why was I denied permission? If policemen get government salaries then why are they scared of doing their duties and can’t give me protection? Why can’t they sacrifice their lives for the nation? You won’t find a true Indian like me in Kashmir,” he said.
Mir said he won’t resign in the backdrop of recent attacks on Panches and Sarpanches in Kashmir.
“Even if everyone resigns, I won’t resign because of militant threats. Recently we had a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor but nobody listened to us. I will never resign and will die as an Indian,” he says.
He claimed those who attacked him are the enemies of the nation.
“We have so many security forces why can’t they create a secure environment. If Government believes they have been unsuccessful then they should leave Kashmir.”
During the PDP-BJP government, Mir said he approached former minister Abdul Rehman Veeri. “He too did not help me to provide accommodation in Pulwama where I would have remained available for people of my constituency,” he added.
Moulvi Tariq, who heads the Jammu Kashmir Panch Sarpanch Local Bodies Association, said Panchayat representatives should be provided proper security.
“They should be provided proper accommodation, security and vehicles so they could work on the ground,” he said.
Tariq was earlier associated with the BJP. He resigned there in 2019 then joined Peoples Conference led by Sajid Gani Lone. He said the BJP should change its hard stance on Kashmir.
Tariq’s organization works to highlight the problems faced by Panchayat members.
“Polls were conducted so that public representatives could work for the welfare of people and provide basic facilities like roads, water, and electricity to people. It was a power of devolution,” he said.
He, however, claimed that a threat is being created to fail the Panchayat system in the valley. “Some bureaucrats and politicians want to fail this system in Kashmir,” Tariq added. There have been many attacks on Panchayat members in the last few weeks. The Panches, Sarpanches and Councilors live under constant fear and many have fled their homes.
(Story: Mudassir Kuloo | Courtesy: The Logical Indian)