Jammu Bar Association president B.S. Slathia, who was behind the bandh demanding a CBI probe into the Asifa rape-murder case, is an old Congress hand.
New Delhi: The brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua has not just brought to the fore the divide between Hindus and Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, but its aftermath has also exposed the faultlines within the leadership of the opposition Congress party in the state.
Protests demanding justice for Asifa have been overshadowed by demonstrations in support of the accused by a previously-unknown group called the Hindu Ekta Manch, which is seeking a CBI probe.
The Congress, critics say, has not spoken in one voice on the issue, but the role of its state leaders needs little proof: One of the leading lights of the protest in favour of a CBI probe is senior Congress leader B.S. Slathia, the president of the Jammu Bar Association. Slathia spearheaded Wednesday’s Jammu bandh.
While state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir has officially criticised the protestors as well as Kathua lawyers who impeded the filing of the chargesheet against the accused, several Jammu-based Congress leaders told ThePrint that unless they supported the ‘struggle’, the party faced the prospect of leaving the field open for the BJP.
Slathia is very close to Congress veteran and Rajya Sabha leader of the opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who hails from Doda in the Jammu region. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election in the Udhampur-Doda constituency, Slathia, a senior lawyer in the J&K High Court, was Azad’s chief election agent. Azad lost by about 60,000 votes to BJP’s Jitendra Singh, now minister of state in the PMO.
“Slathia is close to Azad sahib. That is no secret. But, what he is doing now (leading the protests) is part of his job as president of the Jammu Bar Association, which has always been at the forefront of struggle for the rights of the Jammu region,” said a senior Congress leader who didn’t wish to be named.
The same leader also pointed to the fact that Slathia was at the forefront of the 2008 agitation on the Amarnath Yatra land issue. He also headed the bar association back then.