Militants Murder Sarpanch In Kashmir Valley, 58 Panchayat Members Resign In Panic

Militants Murder Sarpanch In Kashmir Valley, 58 Panchayat Members Resign In Panic

25 September 2012
The Economic Times


Srinagar: Fifty-eight panchayat members in the Kashmir valley reportedly resigned in panic after a colleague was murdered by terrorists on Sunday night. The incident has left the state government and Centre worried over the security of 34,000 village representatives elected last year in the state's first panchayat polls in three decades. Terrorists barged into the house of Congress leader and Kreeri village sarpanch, Muhammad Shafi Teli, in Baramulla on Sunday, and fired indiscriminately at him before fleeing. 'The injured sarpanch was taken to an hospital in nearby Pattan town, where despite best efforts of the doctors, he succumbed to his injuries,' a senior police officer said. Teli was the eighth elected village representative to be killed by terrorists since the panchayat elections. Two days after Teli was shot dead, an Urdu daily carried 38 advertisements announcing the resignations of panchayat heads and other members in the valley. The daily said it had received 58 'resignations' from elected village representatives. As terrorists continue targeting village representatives, the Jammu and Kashmir government is grappling with the problem of providing security cover to 34,000 of them, elected last year in an exercise believed to have revived democracy at the grassroots level in the state after 30 years. 'We are concerned over the developments,' panchayat raj minister Ali Sagar said. 'The chief minister is taking the issue to the Unified Headquarters and till then the security forces have been asked to strengthen the night domination, increase checking and patrolling especially in the areas where there is militant movement.' Sagar said only a thorough probe will actually offer the real identity of the killers. The police have already arrested three persons in one case of assassination. 'They (panchayat members) are soft targets and we are reviewing the overall security and there is a possibility in certain cases where threat perception is high they may even get personal security.' Chief minister Omar Abdullah said the question of providing security to village representatives would be discussed during the next meeting of the Unified Headquarters - the apex security grid comprising the Army, paramilitary forces, state police and central and state intelligence officials. The main opposition, People's Democratic Party, however, used the occasion to attack Abdullah. 'The panchayat members have been used as sacrificial animals. The state government took all the credit for the overwhelming participation of people in the panchayat elections and then delayed devolution of powers to elected representatives,' said senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig. Militants are targeting them as sitting ducks since the people who elected them are disenchanted with the process. They feel the elected persons have no powers to redress their grievances,' he said. Baig said his party also felt guilty for encouraging people to participate in the panchayat election. In the last 23 years of terrorist violence in the state, scores of mainstream leaders have been provided armed guards for protection. Families of local pandits who did not migrate out of the valley during the Pandit exodus of the early 1990s have also been provided security. 'But the question of providing individual security to around 34,000 elected village panches and sarpanches is something that is practically not possible. If just two armed guards are detailed on the security of each village representative that would mean posting 68,000 armed guards on the task,' said a senior police officer. 'This is almost the total strength of the constabulary in the state police,' he added. The chief minister said establishment of a powerful and functional panchayati raj in the state is his government's commitment. The crisis was discussed at the Congress Working Committee in New Delhi too. General secretary Rahul Gandhi reportedly got in touch with Abdullah too.