Years ago, when Mehbooba Mufti was struggling to build a strong alternative to National Conference in Kashmir, a portly man in his early 30s accompanied her to every part of Shopian, putting his own life on the line to help her build a connection with the people.
That man, Mohammad Ramzan Sheikh, was among the founding workers of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party founded by the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
On Monday evening, three militants stormed into the home of the 52-year-old former sarpanch and father of five, dragged him onto the street in the Imam Sahib area of the volatile Shopian district and killed him.
Nisar Ahmad Wagay, a Peoples Democratic Party worker from Wachi constituency, lives only a few hundred meters from Sheikh’s home. “When there was a commotion, everyone thought it had to do with braid chopping," Wagay said. "But then we heard shots being fired. And we knew something terrible had happened."
"He took a risk when no one was ready to join mainstream politics," Wagay said. "He helped the PDP gain ground in Wachi."
That made Sheikh an important grassroots worker for Mehbooba, who initially struggled to build a strong foundation for her party in south Kashmir.
“He would go campaign door-to-door for local MLAS," one party leader said. "He became a sarpanch but continued to work for the party in the grassroots."
Wachi PDP MLA Ajaz Ahmad Mir said he spoke to Sheikh on the phone only minutes before he was killed. Mir said they discussed the works that were to be carried out in his constituency.
“It is not just a big loss for PDP as a party, but for me as well," Mir told Firstpost, breaking down over the phone. "It feels like I've lost a brother-in-arms."
In the past three decades of insurgency in the Valley, hundreds of political workers have been killed by militants for representing India at the grassroots level. The National Conference, which ruled the state for decades, faced the brunt of these killings. Hundreds of its workers have been killed.
When the Kashmir unrest broke out in 2016 and close to 100 people joined the insurgency, scores of party workers had to flee after militants broke into their homes, beat them with sticks and guns, ordered them to tender public apologies and dissociate themselves from mainstream politics. These 'disavowals' were recorded on mobile phones and spread across south Kashmir on social media. After the unrest, Sheikh was provided a hotel room by the state government.
The killing of a prominent political worker like Sheikh, one belonging to the ruling party, will create even more problems for the politicians who have been trying to reconnect with the masses.
Umer Wani, a youth activist with the youth wing of Peoples Democratic Party, said he remembered Sheikh well. "He often visited our office for addressing the needs of the people in his area," Wani said.
Peoples Democratic Party spokesperson Waheed ur Rehman Para said he knew Sheikh for the past eight years. Para said that despite the fact that Sheikh was an important man and much sought after, he remained humble.
“He gave his life up for democracy. How will his death help anyone’s cause?” Para lamented, speaking to Firstpost from New Delhi. "His killing is a cowardly act."
"He was always there when people needed him, be it in police stations or government offices. He was always helping people," Para added.
Mir said this incident shows how party workers are extremely vulnerable. “We belong to that section of society which is prone to attacks even from the very people we help,” he said. “His death has created a deep void which will take years to fill.”
According to police, after Sheikh and his family were dragged out of their home by the three militants, Sheikh asked the gunmen to spare his life.
Ambarkar Shriram Dinkar, SSP Shopian, said this led to an argument between the militants on whether to kill Sheikh or shoot him in the leg as a warning.
“One of the militants, Showkat Kumar alias Falahi, wanted to shoot Sheikh in the leg. His associates refused, which resulted in a scuffle. Kumar was shot dead by his associates," the SSP told a news agency GNS.
On Tuesday, a mob reportedly attacked Sheikh's home and set it ablaze. Sheikh's family was rescued by the police.
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Updated Date: Oct 17, 2017 18:50:25 IST