NEW DELHI: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi singled out one Salman Nizami at one of his election rallies in Gujarat he had reporters, and even Congress leaders, scrambling to find out who this person was. No one had heard of him, and except for a few Kashmiri leaders of the Congress no one knew of him.

The Congress thus denied having anything to do with Nizami who the PM had accused of questioning his parentage in a tweet, and calling the Indian Army ‘rapists’. But Nizami is a member of the Congress party, having joined it three years ago, and is close to former Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Once this was confirmed, and journalists found that Nizami was indeed bona fide, but too junior to even attract his state leaders attention the discussion turned to: why did PM Modi single out the Kashmiri man and speak of him at some length at an election rally? And the answers came tumbling out, falling into the following three categories:

- He is nervous about the election results as the Congress is doing well;

- Salman Nizami is a Kashmiri Muslim and hence it will help in the polarisation of votes;

- PM Modi was actually angry about a Kashmiri campaigning against him in Gujarat

The state Congress leader discussion arises from the difficulty to comprehend that the Prime Minister of India would actually single out, and attack, an individual who is just a functionary for the Congress party who has been doing little more than campaigning against the BJP and of course---as campaigns go--against its leaders. PM Modi actually ripped into Nizami at a public meeting, a sort of green signal for abuse and threats to start pouring in, to a point where Twitter stepped in to protect the account directly.

Nizami has always ranged himself against the separatists in the state. He is in fact, seen as a ‘nationalist’ ---not necessarily a compliment in Jammu and Kashmir, by the Kashmiris and remains very much on the fringe of local state politics. He has often described himself as an “Indian” and one of the increasingly few left in Kashmir to identify more with New Delhi than Srinagar.

The Citizen had received a few photographs from him of his campaign in Gujarat, and comments clearly thrilled with the response and even more with the acceptance as a leader. He was campaigning for Congress candidates in the state along with other party workers in what is becoming a close and hence tense election, and hence stood opposed to the BJP and of course its main face in Gujarat PM Modi.

Nizami was excited about Indian democracy, and the freedom of a democratic campaign. He had always distanced himself from Kashmiri hardline politics, and preferred instead to link himself to New Delhi. As a Congress person he would attack the BJP, but unlike the ordinary Kashmiri he would take the political positions on issues as articulated by the Congress party. His Gujarat campaign was part of the same. He has now written an open letter to the PM that has been published in sections of the media countering the charges.

Until PM Modi ripped into him as part of his larger campaign raising the issue of a Kashmiri Muslim campaigner in Gujarat. The volley of abuse made hashtag Salman Nizami trend on twitter. He was called a traitor, linked to Rahul Gandhi with another hashtag Rahul Gandhi ka Yaar Gaddar used for more threats and abuse.

Nizami joined the Congress about three years ago and comes from essentially a Congress family, having lost relatives to militants as he says. He is a junior member, barely significant in the party hierarchy and certainly too insignificant for the Prime Minister of India to rip into from the ramparts of a public rally in Gujarat. As Nizami has said in his letter “Dear PM today you have succeeded in ‘killing; a Kashmiri nationalist” ending with a “Jaihind”.