He wears many hats: social activist, politician, lawyer and engineer. But Kathua’s Ankur Sharma is mainly in news as the pro-rapist outfit Hindu Ekta Manch’s ‘force multiplier’. He picks holes in Crime Branch probe, decries demographic dangers in Jammu, lobbies with the outfit demanding bifurcation of Kashmir and compares chief minister Mehbooba Mufti with ‘Jehadi John’.
Crime Branch sleuths describe it a bolt from the blue moment when the elusive mastermind suddenly came out of his hiding, and walked inside their barrack to offer himself. It happened on March 20, a day after the cops arrested his son—who had earlier driven home from Meerut to “satisfy his lust”.
By then, Sanji Ram, the ringleader of Kathua rape-murder case, known for his ‘terrorist image’ in nomad Muslim community, had gathered sizeable communal support for the rapists — his relatives and acquaintances— in the Kathua belt.
But that day, Ram, who had thrown open the temple space for the culprits to gang-rape the girl child, hadn’t walked alone to surrender before the Jammu Crime Branch. He was flanked by someone, who is now behaving like a vocal minority in the silent majority — Ankur Sharma.
What was Ram doing with Sharma, a right-wing lawyer-activist known for fanning “conspiracy theories” about Jammu’s demography change, perhaps speaks of the larger motivation behind the crime.
Sharma’s detractors see him as an extremist-xenophobic activist, who keeps lobbying with the Hindutva forces in the region.
“The moment Crime Branch began arresting the accused in the heinous rape-murder crime, the likes of Ankur Sharma along with former RSS man and now BJP leader Vijay Sharma intensified the pro-rapist outfit called Hindu Ekta Manch’s campaign,” says a senior scribe, keeping a close tab on the events in Kathua.
While seeking the release of the accused, the Manch’s first rally on February 14 was marked with the unfurling of the Indian national flag. Behind the massive mobilisation, many say, was Sharma’s sway over the region.
A year ago, on April 1, 2017, he was given a rousing reception at various places, from Jammu to Kathua. He was coming home after securing an order from the Supreme Court in favour of Hindus of Jammu region. The cheerleading crowd welcomed his cavalcade by garlanding him and openly endorsing his campaign.
“It was a grand show,” says Satish Kaul, a Jammu-based trader. “He was taken in processions through markets, as if he had just returned home as conqueror from the battlefield.”
In his native Kathua, people gathered at Kalibari Chowk, where Sharma was received amidst drumbeats of Dhols and bands. He spoke about the ‘minority rights’ and the significance of the case in Supreme Court that day.
Earlier in 2016, he had filed a plea in Indian apex court, questioning the minority status of the Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslims and sought directions for constitution of a minority commission in Jammu and Kashmir and extension of the National Minorities Commission Act to the state.
Sharma had argued that Hindus, who are a minority in Jammu and Kashmir as a whole, are unable to get benefit from central and state welfare schemes for minorities.
“Benefits accruing to minorities are being taken away by Muslims who are in a majority in Jammu and Kashmir,” he pleaded. “Rights of religious and linguistic minorities in the state are being siphoned off illegally and arbitrarily due to extension of benefits to unqualified sections of the population.”
Many dismissed his plea as another attempt by the Hindutva forces to use courts to tinker with J&K’s Muslim majority status.
“They have been trying to change the demographic numbers in J&K through their proxies like Sharma from day one after assuming power,” says Er Rasheed, an independent MLA from Langate.
Currently the attempts, the lawmaker says, are underway to change the census. At the centre-stage of this campaign, Rasheed says, is Kashmir valley’s 96.4 percent Muslim population and J&K’s 68.3 percent Muslim population, as per 2011 Census.
Sharma’s PIL opposes the central scholarship being awarded to Muslims, declared national minorities under List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
The state government in an affidavit has contended that it would consider constitution of a minority commission if it is needed.
But after the Sangh Parivar patted Sharma’s back, the larger designs behind the petition got unveiled.
“Economic and social data shows that the districts which fare worst on any social indices are Muslim majority districts of Jammu (and even Kargil),” says Gautam Navlakha, a prominent rights activist. “These Muslim districts are far worse off than the Hindu majority districts of Jammu or Buddhist dominated Leh.”
In no other state where a national minority constitutes a majority is there a demand for setting up a minority commission for state level minorities, he says. “The demand in Nagaland for instance is for setting up a minority commission to ensure welfare of national minorities. This demand to identify minorities at state level and set up a minority commission rears its head only where J&K is concerned.”
In this game of one-upmanship, Navlakha continues, what is missed out is “the absence of any solution of the unresolved dispute and continued military suppression, which contributes and causes economic hardships faced by all sections of people in J&K”.
But in Jammu’s polarised political landscape, such activism is now seen as an assured ticket to power corridors. Sharma is trying to live up to that image only.
His anti-Kashmir rant and venom apart, the Supreme Court lawyer sees Article 35A “a blot on democracy” and calls the Art 370 as “temporary” provisions of Indian Constitution — despite Indian apex court lately rubbishing such claims.
These days, as Jammu’s Prime Time face, he regularly shows up in TV studios to articulate the need for the CBI probe into the Kathua rape-murder case.
“They are implicating people using force,” he picks holes in the CB probe. “This is being done on the instruction of their Kashmir-based political masters who are separatists. The chief minister has chosen to spearhead a bigoted, communal and Islamo-fascist campaign of demographic change in Jammu province and is instrumental in inflicting open injuries to the Hindu-Sikh/Dogra sentiments in the state.”
This rabble-rousing ability, says a Muslim PDP leader from Jammu, makes Ankur Sharma as the darling of the Hindutva forces in the region.
But his small screen advocacy has already come under scathing attack from the legal experts, arguing that Sharma being a Supreme Court lawyer is behaving like a “jingoistic fanatic”—who doesn’t appreciate the fact the J&K High Court monitored the entire Crime Branch investigation proceedings.
That, however, hardly stops the man, whose fringe politics apparently creates a threat perception in the Muslims in Jammu.
“This breed of communal politics where cold criminals like Ram hatch the gut-wrenching crime plot by subjecting a minor to an unspeakable pain, only to drive out the Muslim nomads from Rasana is the ultra-nationalist form of politics,” says Surindra Singh, a Jammu-based lecturer. “In style of White Supremacy, these elements are now campaigning for the Hindu Supremacy in the region. That’s why they ‘killed a chicken to scare the monkey’.”
Even in his write-ups, Sharma blatantly campaigns against Muslim settlements in Jammu and endorses bullet for Kashmir for slaughtering cows on the streets.
“These 15 to 25% radicals are hell bent upon destroying Hindu Civilisation as their literature clearly exhorts that India is an unfinished Chapter of Islamic History,” he writes in his blog. “We learn from history that the so called Moderate Majority is irrelevant. Majority of the Germans were moderates. The Nazis drove the agenda and killed 60 Million people. The majority stood irrelevant.”
The same politics motivated him earlier to try scuttle the CB investigations on grounds that one of the probing officers had faced similar charges.
He was talking about Irfan Wani, who as in charge of the Karara police post, was arrested in 2007 for the murder of a boy and alleged rape of a girl during illegal custody. But the Crime Branch investigation team leader, SSP Ramesh Jalla pricked the accusatory balloon shortly, saying that Wani had been acquitted in 2011 after facing trial in a murder case, and had no involvement in the rape case.
But Sharma and the other Manch leaders maintained their posturing and kept fuelling the pro-rapist campaign, now being justified as the CBI probe demand in the case. The Kathua Bar’s charge-sheet blocking attempt and subsequent Jammu Bandh call on April 11 was justified on similar lines. Sharma hailed the twin bids, even as the bandh drew a mixed response, apparently to sharpen the communal divides.
Behind the Jammu bandh call, there were the other two anti-Muslim sentiment demands: ouster of Rohingyas and opposition of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s ‘order’ to not evict nomads without consulting the Tribal Affairs department.
The ‘order’ came on February 14 when the CB sleuths were cracking the whip on the rapists and accomplices at Kathua. Days later, amid ebbed Hindu Ekta Manch protests, Sharma addressed a press conference, in a bid to disclose the “secret document”.
From the word go, Sharma accused the chief minister for facilitating Islamic Jihadist agenda in Jammu.
“You have heard of the ISIS Jihadi John, but here we have Jihadi Mehbooba,” he said.
“She has through this order [not to disturb tribals in forest] said that if you belong to a certain religion you can illegally occupy the land in the Hindu dominated Jammu region.”
For any well-meaning person, Sharma was merely making a mountain out of a molehill by resorting to cherry-pick ‘order’ line propaganda.
He conveniently skipped to mention in his presser that as landless people, majority of Gujjars and Bakerwals keep migrating with their livestock without settling at one place.
It was after his ilk started accusing these tribals of running cartels and faced subsequent attacks that Mehbooba Mufti had to direct the authorities to maintain a traditional status-quo in Jammu forests.
Sharma’s political posturing, however, defies his professional qualifications. He has an Engineering degree from Pune University and Law degree from Delhi University. Besides known for his political activities, he has been involved in lecturing civil services aspirants in History, Public Administration and Polity. He is equally known for his socialisation with who’s who in town.
He frequents Panun Kashmir (PK) camp, the outfit of exiled Pandits, who often blame “the Jehadi forces for trying to convert Jammu into another Islamist Lebanon”.
On May 21, 2017, Sharma was one of the panellists at a PK seminar on Betrayal of Jammu. That day, he rubbed shoulders with ex-DGP MM Khajooria, Bar Association Jammu President B S Salathia, Ex-Minister and MLA Pawan Gupta, PK chairman Dr. Ajay Chrungoo, its convenor Dr. Agnishekhar and the programme coordinator Shailender Aima.
The panellists were meeting at “a critical juncture in the history”, where they raked the issues, including Pakistan, Tribal invasion, Jihad, Wahhabism, Pan-Islamism and even, Zia Ul Haq. Syed Ali Geelani was perhaps the much-spoken name in the seminar for his ability to “fan trouble in Jammu” from his caged official address.
In his keynote address, Sharma described the “demographic invasion of Jammu as a warlike situation” and urged the citizens of Jammu to rise up and get ready for any sacrifice to protect their land, culture and heritage.
“The demographic change of Jammu is being brought about by a multi-pronged strategy which includes well funded campaign of purchase of land, fraudulent allotments of the forest and state land through the Roshni Act, settlement of Illegal Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims, induced Muslim Migration from Kashmir and fraudulent census operations,” Sharma said.
It is this very mindset, many say, which was manifested in the brutal actions of Sanji Ram and his accomplices at Kathua. And now, as the justice campaign for the Muslim minor girl is growing, most of the Hindu Ekta Manch leaders and supporters of Jammu Bandh are finding themselves on a sticky wicket.
But the old loyalties are still coming into play as some in PK’s rank and file are openly throwing their weight behind Sharma, now facing studio bashing for his campaign.
“The entire case of Rasana is a frame up,” the outfit’s vice chairman Shailendra Aima, backing Sharma’s campaign, lately wrote on social media. “Truth will come up once an impartial enquiry is conducted. Jammu’s border residents are being harassed by the State Crime Branch and Jehadi Mehbooba and her Islamist Police, who are hell bent to settle foreigner Muslims from Myanmar called Rohingyas and Bangladesh and Nomads from Kashmir in the strategic border areas and change the demographic profile of Jammu and to Islamize it the way they successfully did in Kashmir. Jammu will definitely rise to the occasion and defeat Jehad being waged on Jammu.”
Despite spewing venom against the elected leader of the state, Sharma and his PK tribe go scot-free. Amid all this, 2019 is approaching fast and Jammu’s deepening communal setup is throwing new characters, and discarding some older ones.
“Ankur Sharma is the next Lal Singh,” says a senior congress leader from Jammu. “Maybe, a notch higher than Singh, given his dogged Hindutva campaign in the region.”