Officers probing the killing of J&K councillor Rakesh Pandita by suspected militants in his hometown of Tral last week are also investigating the circumstances of his “movement” in the neighbourhood where he had gone to visit a friend.
Pandita, a BJP leader, was shot dead at the friend’s home around 6.30 pm last Wednesday. When contacted by The Indian Express, IGP (Kashmir zone) Vijay Kumar said: “Investigations are in progress and I cannot share details.’’
At the time of the attack, a senior police officer said, a woman in her mid-20s and her mother were present at the residence while her father had gone to the mosque and her brother was at their uncle’s house nearby. The woman sustained a bullet injury in the attack, the officer said.
The officer said Pandita had returned to Tral last Monday from Jammu, where he had gone on May 18 following his father’s death there. He stayed at a designated hotel in Srinagar Monday, and moved to the friend’s house Tuesday, the officer said.
“The militants killed Pandita on the spot, and the woman sustained a bullet injury and has been hospitalised,” said the officer. Police are set to question the woman’s brother.
BJP spokesperson Anil Gupta said the “omissions” that led to the killing should be investigated. “Such killings will hamper any move by Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley. Why didn’t Pandita’s PSOs inform the police control room when he left without them? Isn’t it part of the SOP?” he said.
Family members and relatives of Pandita, who was president of the Tral Municipal Committee in Pulwama district, said he returned after just 12 days in Jammu “because of his passion to serve people in his constituency”.
“A number of elected urban and rural local body members in Kashmir are from the Kashmiri Pandit community who have settled in Jammu. They keep shuttling between Jammu and Kashmir,” said another police officer.
“Whenever they start their journey to Kashmir from Jammu, they inform the police control room and accordingly a police party comes to the Jawahar tunnel to accompany them to their safe accommodation. Even the PSOs left behind by them in Kashmir remain in touch with them to know their travel plans,” the officer said.
“The deceased was allotted secure accommodation at Sun Rise Hotel in Srinagar city and provided with two PSOs by the district police as Tral is militancy-infested. On Monday evening, the PSOs deployed with him in Kashmir had called him on the phone to enquire about his travel plans. However, the deceased told them he was still in Jammu and would contact them when he decides to return,” the officer said.
“On Tuesday morning, he visited the local municipal committee building in Tral and spent nearly two hours at his office there. But he did not contact the PSOs or inform the Police Control Room or the local SHO about his arrival,” police sources said.
Paying tributes to Pandita, J&K BJP general secretary (Organisation) Ashok Koul said he took the risk and stayed in Kashmir as he wanted to serve his constituency. “Did the government machinery and police not know that terrorists were present in Tral? I believe that it is the failure of the government and police…People with guns are openly moving around in the Valley,” Koul said.