J&K: Congress demands security for all sarpanches and panchayat members

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Srinagar: The Congress party has demanded security for all sarpanches and panchayat members in Jammu and Kashmir, saying they are vulnerable to attacks by militants.

The demand came days after the Congress sarpanch from Lukbhawan in south Kashmir, Ajay Pandita, was killed by militants on Monday afternoon. Pandita was the second Congress sarpanch to be killed by militants in the region in the past two years.

The Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress president, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, said the party has been demanding for the past few months that the government should provide security to vulnerable panchayat members. “But nobody bothers,” he said.

“After the killing of Ajay Pandita, we have been demanding security for panches and sarpanches on a daily basis, but still nothing has been done,” he said, adding Pandita had himself made requests for security to the government several times.

“Many panchayat members and other political leaders are facing threats but they still haven’t been given security. We will be writing to the Central government after a meeting,” Mir said.

After the Central government scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5 last year, many mainstream political leaders were arrested and the security of several leaders, especially those from the Congress, was downgraded, he said.

“Though I’m a former minister and legislator and also Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee president, my security was downgraded. In Jammu, I don’t have any security and the same is the case with other leaders of the Congress and other mainstream political parties,” he added.

The BJP too demanded security for panchayat members soon after Pandita’s killing.

“We have been demanding security for panchayat members from a long time, but nothing happened,” said BJP spokesman and sarpanch Altaf Thakur.

Director general of police Dilbag Singh has blamed the Hizbul Mujahideen for the killing of Pandita and said the militants responsible for the attack had been identified.

However, the Jammu and Kashmir government hasn’t said whether security will be provided to panchayat members. Panchayat elections were held in the region in 2018 and the two prominent mainstream political parties – the National Conference and Congress – had boycotted the polls. Many panchayats are still vacant as no politician had filed nominations for these posts.

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