Srinagar, Jan. 13: Fresh militant attacks on panchayat members in north Kashmir have prompted scores to flee their homes, announce their resignations and seek the extremists’ mercy through the media.
Suspected militants killed a 70-year-old sarpanch, Habib Ullah Mir, on Friday and critically injured a woman member, Zoona Begum, on Saturday in Sopore, leaving thousands of panchayat members worried about their fate.
Around two dozen panchayat members and heads from two Sopore villages surfaced in Srinagar today, announcing their resignations through media outlets and begging the militants for a pardon.
Manzoor Ahmad said he was too afraid to return home. “My wife too has come with me. I apologise for contesting the elections and want the militants to pardon me,” he said.
Around half the 364 panchayat members in Sopore’s Zainageer belt have fled their homes, said Bashir Ahmad Malik, Valley secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, the apex body of rural body representatives.
“They have gone to live with their relatives in other places or districts. The fear is spreading to other places,” Malik said.
“I have been receiving calls from our members from various parts of the Valley, saying they are scared. Many of us are planning a rally in Srinagar to publicly announce our resignations.”
Asadullah, a sarpanch from Sopore, said he too had gone into hiding. “All the promises the government had made on our safety have proved hollow,” he said.
The state government’s failure to protect and empower panchayat members had created a rift between friends Rahul Gandhi and chief minister Omar Abdullah last year. Omar claims the 2011 panchayat polls — the first full-fledged rural body election in the state in three decades —are the biggest achievement of his four-year-old rule.
Panchayat conference chairman Shafiq Mir said Omar should resign as he had failed to protect the rural body representatives’ lives.
“He (Omar) is buying time when he claims to review our security, as he did last time. We have made so many presentations before the government stressing our vulnerability and demanding security, but nobody is listening,” Mir said.
Officials said Omar chaired a high-level meeting this evening to review law and order, especially the security of panchayat members.