JAMMU: An idealist, a maverick, an intellectual, a rustic, a journalist, a writer, a lawyer, Bhim Singh was many things packed into one. After his death in May 2022, it was difficult to guess which way things would go for his Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party. The party had witnessed exit of three tall leaders including two former ministers and two party presidents in two months before Bhim’s death. The speculations were rife on the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the leaders were switching parties like anything. Things were not going to be easy for Bhim’s beloved party in this storm, but not many thought that the Panthers would find itself in shambles that it does, nine months later.
However, as the party approaches its first Foundation Day after Bhim’s demise, developments are taking place aplenty within Panthers. There are now two presidents of the party, both of them claiming to be real successors of Bhim, and dismissing the other’s claims. Bhim’s wife, has made first public appearance after his demise, alleging conspiracies behind her husband’s death and appealing LG Manoj Sinha to expedite the probe into Bhim’s ‘mysterious death’. Bhim’s son, living in United Kingdom for many years now, has appointed himself as the chief patron of the JKNPP, and his mother as the Chief Executive Officer of the party. Bhim’s nephew has also returned from his 8 months stint in Aam Aadmi Party and vowed to revive the Panthers in Jammu and Kashmir; all of this happening in last two weeks.
Rise & Fall of Panthers
Born on 17 August 1941 in Bhugterian village in Ramnagar Tehsil of Udhampur, Prof Bhim Singh was a student activist during his school and college days. He completed his LLB from Aligarh Muslim University in 1967 and LLM and Bar-at-Law from London University in 1972. Soon after completing his education, he joined active politics again in 1973 when he was appointed as president of Youth Congress of J&K by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Later he was appointed as General Secretary of All India Congress Committee.
Due to political difference with Congress, Bhim along with his wife Jay Mala founded Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party on March 23, 1982. He was twice elected as Member of Legislative Assembly.
In 2002, Bhim’s Panthers won four Assembly seats with his nephew Harsh Dev Singh serving as Education Minister. In 2007, he withdrew support to the Congress Party led coalition, citing differences with the People’s Democratic Party, another member of the PDP-Congress coalition government. Bhim Singh was Panthers Party chairman for 30 years, until 2012 when he nominated his nephew Harsh Dev Singh in place.
In 2021, Bhim Singh made a return to active leadership aged 79, when he was elected president of Panthers Party due to some alleged differences with Harsh, who, however, blamed Bhim of decimating his own party.
As Bhim’s health started deteriorating in the year 2022, the party witnessed exit of three of its tall leaders. Former legislator and former party president Balwant Singh Mankotia, former minister Yash Pal Kundal along with over 700 sarpanches, panches, BDC chairmen besides DDC members joined Aam Admi Party in April 2022.
Harsh followed the suit days before Bhim breathed his last on May 31, 2022.
Death of Bhim & infighting within Panthers
On June 19, 2022, the JKNPP announced senior advocate Vilakshan Singh as its new President, after a meeting of the party leaders and members of the working committee chaired by Jay Mala, Bhim’s wife and the founder member of the party. Vilakshan said that he would act as interim president till the post was filled up by regular election to be held on March 23, the foundation day of the party.
However, days before that, P K Ganju, a close associate of Late Bhim Singh, claimed that he was declared as Working President of JKNPP after Bhim’s demise in an emergent meeting held on 2nd June 2022.
Vilakshan has access to party’s email and social media handles through which he regularly sends out press notes to the media and expresses party’s opinion on different issues. Supported by Jay Mala, this faction has also given space to a number of other party members, further consolidating his claim over Panthers.
Panthers return to limelight
Harsh Dev Singh on February 16 announced his exit from the Aam Aadmi Party and said that he will revive the Panthers Party founded by his uncle Bhim in 1982.
“We have held consultations and arrived at a decision to revive the Panthers Party. Our ancestors have given sacrifices for the party. The people of Jammu and Kashmir need a strong, regional voice to represent their interests, and the revived Panthers Party will become their voice,” Harsh, a three-time legislator from Ramnagar seat, said in a video clip released that evening.
Vilakshan Singh was quick to welcome Harsh back into the party fold, calling it Harsh’s ‘Ghar Wapsi’ which would give new boost to party, even as he appealed other leaders of the party who had left the party to rejoin Panthers in order to realize the dreams of Bhim Singh.
On Februrary 20, the administration sealed Panther’s office at 30- B Gandhi Nagar Jammu which was being used as residence of Jay Mala after the death of Bhim, prompting Vilakshan to address media that evening. Vilakshan alleged that the move has come at the behest of BJP, which is under tremendous pressure after Harsh Dev Singh announced to rejoin Panthers Party.
The e-mails from London
Living 7000 miles away from India, Ankit Love, Bhim’s son, is trying to get good press in Jammu and Kashmir for a while now, particularly after his father’s death. While these attempts, through press releases, have been very few, Love has reached out to the media in Jammu and Kashmir thrice in less than two weeks this month.
On February 17, Love said that he was unanimously elected as Chief Patron of Jammu and Kashmir National Panther Party, by an extraordinary meeting of the working committee, held at the party headquarters in Jammu a day earlier.
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In a press release sent out to media, Love said the decision to install him as the chief patron, a post previously held by Bhim, was supported by Jay Mala, the chairperson of the Panthers Party working committee.
Interestingly, Love said that it was imperative to make him the chief patron of the party, to ensure the best possible management of $500 billion dollars worth of lithium minerals discovered in Jammu.
“There is more Lithium in Jammu, than oil in Dubai! Almost half a trillion US dollars worth of it. So we must make sure our people will now be the richest in the world,” he said.
On February 26, Love reached out to media yet again, asserting that he as the Chief Patron of Panther Party, wants present day Jammu division to be recognised as the 29th state of the Republic of India, to be known as Dograstan.
“It is time to split up Jammu and Kashmir, so we the people of India may truly appreciate the land of temples, Dograstan…How has every successive government of India, for over 75 years of independence failed to recognise these extremely important facts of Indian heritage already appropriately? Now there must be no more excuses nor failures, it is a complete scandal that Dograstan has not already been recognised as the 29th state of India!
Otherwise, what is really going on in India,” said Love in the handout.
A couple of days later, Love said that he has nominated Jay Mala as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Panthers Party.
“With Jay Mala as Panthers party CEO, we would surly win all Jammu, Kashmir and India and beyond. Jay Mala is the most gifted, and pure hearted leader in the history of India, a completely self-made brave woman that ran-away from home at age 14 to escape an arranged marriage. She is a role model for all who fight for freedom,” said Love in the note released on Tuesday.
The ‘Other’ President
Waking from a long, deep slumber, P K Ganju, a close associate of Late Bhim Singh, who claims to be the president of the party, appeared in public on February 25, hours after chairing a meeting of JKNPP’s ‘working committee’ for reviewing the preparations for celebration of JKNPP foundation day on March 23.
Ganju claimed that he, being the senior most office bearer and working committee member and founder member of party, was declared as Working President of JKNPP after Bhim’s demise in an emergent meeting held on 2nd June 2022.
Coming down heavily at Bhim’s son, Ankit Love, Ganju said that there is no post of Patron, Chairman in the registered constitution of the party.
“Panthers Party further reject farfetched statement purportedly appointed ABC as Chief patron, who is roaming somewhere in foreign country with reportedly a foreign passport as such this so-called chief patron has no constitutional or legal authority to appoint any one as the chairman of JKNPP,” he said.
Ganju also hit out at the other faction being led by Vilakshan Singh, and supported by Bhim’s wife Jay Mala.
“JKNPP has vehemently rejected the artificial, day dreaming rumours of any other face, of the panthers party founded by Bhim Singh Ji, nor the recognised JKNPP has resorted to any protest outside the old residential Quarter 30-B Gandhinagar Jammu used by late Bhim Singh Ji as residence cum office,” said a handout issued by Ganju after addressing a press conference on February 25.
Jay Mala’s Public Appearance
Appearing for the first time on camera, Jay Mala, wife of Bhim on Tuesday appealed to the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to ensure expeditious probe into the death of her husband.
Reading from a piece of paper, Mala said that not only was her husband found dead in mysterious circumstances but the post-mortem on his body was also not conducted.
“Bhim Singh’s body was taken away by one Anita Thakur without informing any of his close relations and siblings. Why did Anita Thakur bring the dead body of Bhim Singh from the hospital without conducting a post-mortem is a question which still agitates the minds of all our family members. And where have the sale proceeds of the assets held by Bhim Singh gone needs a thorough probe. And how did these people withdraw money from Bhim’s account after his death are serious matters which need the attention of investigating officers,” said Mala.
Touching upon the ongoing developments within the party, Mala said that the conspirators who were behind Bhim Singh’s death were now trying to break the Panthers Party.
“These vested interests were now plotting to destroy Panthers Party at the behest of political parties inimical to NPP especially the BJP,” she said.
A day earlier, a delegation of Panthers led by Vilakshan Singh had visited Police Post Sainik Colony to inquire about the status of inquiry being conducted into the ‘mysterious death of Bhim’.
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Vilakshan said that Bansi Lal Sharma, the chief advisor of JKNPP had filed a complaint before the police demanding registration of FIR against Anita Thakur after Bhim’s death. The inquiry in the matter has been pending for a considerable time and is required to be brought to a logical end at the earliest so that guilty may be punished under law, he said.
The Foundation Day
All eyes are now set on the Foundation Day program of the Panthers to be held on 23 March. Both the party factions led by Vilakshan and Ganju are preparing for the foundation day and have called upon their workers from all across the region to ensure the celebrations are held in all parts of Jammu and Kashmir. If all goes well, we will get to see the election to the post of party president in three weeks from now, ending the nine months of utter confusion and chaos within the Panthers.