More than 50 panchayat members in the Kashmir valley were on Tuesday believed to have resigned in panic after the killing of a colleague, prompting worries about security for the 34,000 village representatives elected last year in the state's first panchayat polls in three decades.
Two days after Muhammad Shafi Teli was shot dead in Baramulla on Sunday, an Urdu daily on Tuesday carried 38 paid advertisements announcing the resignations of panchayat heads and other members in the valley. The widely circulated Urdu daily Kashmir Umza also said it had received 58 such resignations from elected village representatives.
Teli was the fifth elected village representative killed by guerrillas since the elections last year.
As separatist guerrillas 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.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah has now said the question of providing security to village representatives would be discussed during the next meeting of the unified headquarters - the apex security grid in the state comprising the army, paramilitary forces, state police and both central and state intelligence officials.
Abdullah has come under attack from the main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) for hyping the overwhelming participation of people in the panchayat elections
"They have been used as sacrificial animals. The state government took all the credit for the overwhelming participation of the people in the panchayat elections and then delayed devolution of powers to the elected representatives," said senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig.
"The 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 added.
Baig said his party also felt guilty for encouraging people to participate in the panchayat election.
In the last 22 years of separatist violence in Kashmir, scores of mainstream leaders have been provided armed guards to protect them. Families of local pandits who did not migrate out of the valley during the Pandit exodus during early 1990s are also 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. Imagine, if just two armed guards are detailed on the security of each elected village representative that would mean posting 68,000 armed guards on the task," said a senior police officer.
"This is slightly less than the total strength of the constabulary in the state police," he added.