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Gunmen in India's state of Jammu and Kashmir kill Hindu leader

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By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Unknown gunmen burst into a hospital in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir and killed a regional leader of a Hindu group linked to the ruling party, police said on Tuesday, days before general elections at which security is a major concern.

Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in the town of Kishtwar, bordering the contested Muslim-majority region of Kashmir claimed by both India and Pakistan, after the killing of Chandrakant Sharma, 48, and a bodyguard.

Sharma was a leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the influential parent organisation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Sharma’s personal security officer died on the spot and he was critically injured,” a senior police officer, Kishtwar Angrez Singh Rana, told Reuters.

He was flown to a hospital at the Government Medical College in Jammu, but succumbed to his injuries, Rana added.

An indefinite curfew was imposed in the town, with more troops deployed to the area to deter sectarian violence, Rana added.

“He was the centre of hope and trust for a patriotic society that is against terrorism,” said Manmohan Vaidya, general secretary of the RSS. “His sudden demise is an irreparable loss for the Hindu community.”

The killing is the second of a Hindu leader in the town since November, when a BJP leader, Anil Parihar, 52, and his brother, Ajeet, 55, were killed. Sharma was a close associate of Parihar.

India begins general elections on Thursday at which the issue of Kashmir looms large after a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troopers was claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan, provoking hostilities between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Voting in south Kashmir, bordering the area where Sharma was killed, will happen in phases, to protect against a heightened risk of attack by armed militants battling for independence from India.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari; Additional reporting by Krishna Das; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Clarence Fernandez)

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