Unidentified militants allegedly shot dead a 40-year-old Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Monday evening, said the police. Congress member Ajay Pandita, who was the head of Lukbawan village in Larkipora, was attacked in his orchard around 6 pm.

Pandita was taken to the Government Medical College Anantnag, where doctors declared him dead on arrival. “Pandita had sustained bullet wounds on his left shoulder and face,” an unidentified doctor told Greater Kashmir.

The police and the Army have launched a search operation to trace down the assailants. No outfit has claimed responsibility for the killing so far.

Pandita’s family had migrated from South Kashmir in early 1990s. They returned about two years ago, reported the Hindustan Times. He had contested the panchayat elections in 2018.

Congress demands judicial inquiry

All political parties have condemned the killing. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said violence will never win. “My condolences to the family and friends of Ajay Pandita, who sacrificed his life for the democratic process in Kashmir,” he tweeted. “We stand with you in this time of grief. Violence will never win.”

Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress President Ghulam Ahmad Mir, however, pointed out that Pandita had no security cover. The party has demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah condemned the “terror attack on a grassroots political worker”.

Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija Mufti, who is handling the social media accounts of the Peoples Democratic Party president, offered her condolences to the family but also attacked the government. “Shrinking political space in Kashmir has made party workers all the more vulnerable,” she wrote. “They are stuck between punitive actions of a vindictive government & militants on the other end.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Jammu and Kashmir unit also condemned the killing, reported PTI. “It is a desperate attempt of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to fail ongoing peace process in J&K,” said unit president Ravinder Raina. Union minister and BJP leader Jitendra Singh also called the attack “a desperate attempt by anti-national elements to defeat the process of grassroots democracy”.

Jammu and Kashmir Vishwa Hindu Parishad Working President Rajesh Gupta said just words would not be enough to condemn the killing. “Such actions cannot stop the return of Hindus to Kashmir,” he added.

Several Kashmiri Pandit organisations said the killing was an attempt to “trigger fear psychosis” among the minorities in the Valley, reported PTI. They urged the Centre to provide security to Kashmiri Pandits and other minority community members in Kashmir.

“It is a planned attack by Islamic terrorists to target minority Kashmiri Pandit community in Kashmir valley to trigger fear psychosis among them like they did in 1990s,” All Party Migrant Cooperation Committee chairperson Vinod Pandita said. “We condemn the killing of a Kashmir Pandit.”