SHADIMARG, PULWAMA: About 45 kms from capital city of Srinagar, a small group of male and female mourners have gathered in two separate makeshift tents erected in as many enclosures to offer condolences to the Mir family in Dangerpora Shadimarg hamlet in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

The Mir family is mourning the assassination of Ghulam Nabi Mir alias ‘Patel Sahab’ who gave nearly four decades of his life to pro-India politics in Kashmir’s thorny political landscape.

And yet, Ghulam Nabi Patel dies a political ‘orphan’.

After flirting with various pro-India political parties for nearly 40 years, Patel was disowned by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and also the Congress party.

Much to the surprise of the Mir family, the Bharatiya Janata Party owned Patel.

On April 25, Patel was shot dead by unidentified assailants in a Scorpio SUV vehicle he was travelling in along with his couple of personal security guards at Rajpora chowk Pulwama, his hometown.

The place he was attacked at is not far from Rajpora police station and a paramilitary camp situated nearby, making many raise an eyebrow about the motive behind his killing.

Pulwama has also emerged as a hotbed of Kashmir’s renewed armed rebellion post-2010 summer agitation, though.

Police suspected the recently slain rebel commander of Hizb Sameer alias Sameer Tiger as the main man behind Patel’s killing, but the mourners assembled at Patel’s funeral refused to buy this version.

No militant outfit claimed responsibility for his killing either.

Mir Sartaj, slain Patel’s youngest son in his early twenties, told The Citizen that his father was “used when alive and humiliated after his death by the PDP”.

“I recall taking my Papa (Patel) to Rajpora after Drabu Sahab (former finance minister) made a personal call to him during 2014 Assembly elections. I was driving the car myself. Mufti Sahab (former chief minister) hugged him,” said Sartaj with a deep sigh, adding “after my father was garlanded in public view, Mufti Sahab then told a gathering that Patel Sahab has returned home (come back to the PDP)”.

“Ye oas ne dramut, ye oas rooshmut, Patel saeb aaw ghare wapas” (He had not deserted us, he was crossed with us, and has now returned home,” Sartaj recalled late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s words spoken at a public rally held in Rajpora in 2014.

Alluding to various close-up photographs of his father with all the senior PDP leaders from late Mufti Sayeed to Naeem Akhtar, Altaf Bukhari and Haseeb Drabu etc, Patel’s son said “I feel sad about the fact that my father was disowned. What has shocked our family more is the manner in which the PDP has distanced itself and refused to own my father as one of its own.”

What made Patel die a political orphan?

Gull Wani, professor of political science and director at UGC-Human Resource Development Institute, University of Kashmir, argued that “space for pro-India mainstream parties in Kashmir is shrinking, and lives of political workers at the grassroots level are becoming more and more vulnerable than before.”

This drift, he warned, can have “serious and dangerous ramifications”.

Wani further said that late Patel may have been disowned by the PDP and Congress “because of his certain political trajectory over the years, giving rise to the confusion to where he actually belonged.”

The moment the BJP kind of owned him the matter became more complicated.

“The BJP’s brand of politics lacks social approval in Kashmir,” he said, adding that “the mainstream pro-India parties in Kashmir have abdicated their responsibilities, they do not visit their own constituencies, and can’t organise a public rally.”

“Electoral politics in Kashmir had gained some amount of legitimacy and credibility post-2002. But now the usual attacks on pro-India political workers expose extreme vulnerability of mainstream politicians and a type of social stigma attached to pro-India politics in Kashmir, particularly in south,” he said.

He described this trend as a “terrible setback” and concluded that “it took lot of time for the Indian state to gain ground in Kashmir, but now things are back to square one.”

Why was Patel owned by the BJP, not by the PDP or Congress?

“I have no clue why the BJP did it. My father was never associated with the BJP,” said Sartaj.

A mourner who identified himself as Bashir Ahmad Khanday interjected to say “The manner in which Patel Sahab was disowned by pro-India parties, especially by the PDP, is a matter of serious introspection for all of us.”

He suggested two options as future course of action.

“One, all of us should socially ostracise PDP, NC and Congress etc. Or, may be pick up the gun to teach them a lesson,” he said in anger.

Another mourner chipped in to say that “politics in Kashmir is a curse. The only solution to the Kashmir dispute is negotiations between India and Pakistan, or, a full-fledged Indo-Pak war. The daily killings should stop somehow.”

This is how the political parties espousing pro-India political ideology in Jammu and Kashmir played politics over Patel’s killing.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti called G N Patel a “senior Congress leader” while the Congress party representatives described him a “PDP leader”.

On April 25, Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “Heartfelt condolences to the family of senior Congress leader, G. N. Patel who was killed by militants today in Rajpora. Such cowardly acts achieve nothing but leave one more family devastated.”

Soon after Mehbooba Mufti’s own media consultant Rishi Suri contradicted her by describing late Patel a “great PDP sympathiser”: “On the unnecessary politicisation of G. N. Patel’s death by @OmarAbdullah, here are the facts: Ghulam sahab was a senior leader who was groomed by Mufti sahab when he was congress president. He was a great pdp sympathiser & also helped in last elections in Rajpura constituency.”

Suri’s tweet confirmed Sartaj’s account that the latter’s father indeed helped Haseeb Drabu winning assembly segment in Rajpora, Pulwama.

Government spokesperson and senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar told The Citizen on phone from Delhi: “Everybody who falls to a bullet is a Kashmiri for us. We mourn every death and are battling hard to achieve durable peace in Kashmir.”

Seeing me and a journalist colleague off, Sartaj asked, “I fail to understand why the PDP leaders do not own my father?”

“Pictures don’t lie,” he said while bidding a final goodbye.

​(​All pictures were shared by Sartaj, Patel's youngest son.)