Political workers in J-K face fear, uncertainty following sarpanch's murder

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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary and in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, Ram Madhav on Wednesday said the killing of Ajay Pandita alias Bharti, a Kashmiri Pandit Sarpanch in South Kashmir on Monday is an attempt by terrorists to create divisions between communities in the Valley.

Political workers across party lines, however, renewed their demand that the Union government should meet its assurance of providing panchayat members in Jammu and Kashmir security and insurance.

Madhav blamed Pakistan for Bharti’s murder.

“This is a heinous crime by the perpetrators of terror who out of their frustration are targeting innocent civilians. Unfortunately, every time they cannot face the law and order machinery, they turn to the minorities. This is the real face of Pakistan; in their own country they have gone after Hindus in Punjab and now are employing similar tactics in Kashmir as well,” he said.

There has been widespread anger among political workers in Kashmir over the killing of Bharti, the sarpanch of Lukbawan village in south Kashmir’s Larkipora area who was shot dead by unidentified terrorists. Local media reports suggest he had been seeking security in the wake of threats.

While many political workers from across parties said the government has not met their demand for security, Madhav said, the state administration has provided security facilities for the local body representatives who are about 40,000 in number. “They are given safe accommodation in Srinagar, but despite that, such incidents have occurred,” he said.

Nazir Ahmad Laway, a member of the Rajya Sabha said, while sitting MPs and ministers are provided security cover, former MPs, ministers and political workers find themselves in vulnerable situations as they become “easy targets” for terror groups. “They cannot even move freely in their own area,” Laway said.

In September last year, during a meeting with panchayat members from the erstwhile state, Union home minister Amit Shah had said every panch and sarpanch in Jammu and Kashmir will be given police security and insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh, which would later be revised.

He had also assured the delegation that the demand for increasing their honorarium will be considered and internet and telecommunication networks will be strengthened.

“Since the year 2012 when the targeted killing of sarpanches began, we have been petitioning the Centre and the state governments to provide security and safe accommodation. In all these years starting with the Congress-led UPA government and now the BJP-led NDA government at the centre our demands have not been met. The administration has reduced us to fodder, giving us no respect and no share in power,” complained Shafiq Mir, president of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference.

Mir said in the absence of security, 19 sarpanches have lost their lives since 2012.

He also pointed out that in the absence of political representatives, since the J&K assembly has been dissolved, it is the panchyats that are the bridge between the people and the government.

Demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention, Mir said, “It was on his assurance that we participated in the panchayat elections in 2018. At that time the mainstream political parties in the (then) state had refused to be part of the political process. On December 19, 2018 we met the PM as a 48-member delegation. We later met the home minister too to push for our demands”.

Mir Junaid, president of the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Workers Party who was part of the delegation that met Shah in September after the bifurcation of the state into two union territories said the panchayat workers have been questioning the government’s delay.

“They are also asking questions about why the government expects people to be part of the democratic process if they still have not fulfilled their promises,” Junaid said.

He said the panchayat members were assured that Rs 3,500 crore will be transferred directly into the accounts of gram panchayats, provided safe accommodation at district headquarters and offered insurance between Rs 2-4 lakh per head.

“Since Monday, we have not even heard of any compensation offered to Bharti’s family,” Junaid said.

Jammu and Kashmir administration officials did not respond to questions on why the insurance scheme has not been implemented yet.

Sushobha Barve, executive secretary of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation said the political ecosystem of Kashmir which has deteriorated since August 5, 2019 when Article 370 scrapped, has made the Sarpanches and Panchayat members soft targets.

“There is a lot of concern in Kashmir that while the political economic system has not improved and in the middle of a pandemic, the government is focusing on planning the Amarnath Yatra,” she said.

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