Terror is never far from the surface in Kashmir. And this was proved again with the murder of a sarpanch (elected village representative) on Thursday evening by suspected terrorists in Pulwama district, which will go to polls on April 24. Sarpanches have been in the crosshairs of the terrorists ever since they became the vanguard for grassroots democracy in the state. It was in 2011 that panchayat elections were successfully conducted in the state after three decades. The elected sarpanches, whether affiliated to the ruling National Conference (NC) or the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), then became easy targets for the militants, who had hoped to derail the elections. Sarpanches have on several occasions protested against the killings and have even asked chief minister Omar Abdullah to resign if he could not provide security. The recent attack, which reportedly came after posters threatening people not to take part in the Lok Sabha elections were found pasted in the area, shows that the state government has miserably failed to provide even a modicum of security to the sarpanches. The latest killing could not have come at a worse time for the politically sensitive and volatile state.
As always, instead of condemning the killing and working out solutions to protect the sarpanches, the NC and the PDP are engaged in verbal fisticuffs. While the PDP chief is blaming the NC for killing its sarpanch in Thursday’s attack, Union minister and NC chief Farooq Abdullah blamed the PDP for attacking its youth leader recently. If this was not enough, Mr Abdullah was quoted as saying “I wish I had the authority and power and I had people behind me. I would have carried (out) 100 attacks on them (PDP).” It is quite possible that like our other politicians, he may claim that he was misquoted by a mischievous media. At a time when three of five phases of the elections in the state are still not yet over, Mr Abdullah’s comments have vitiated the atmosphere and made things difficult for son Omar Abdullah to maintain law and order, not to mention political decorum.
If we want democracy to be strengthened in the state, the government needs to provide security to the people who are the faces of grassroots institutions — the very entry point to the democratic process. The latest killing is a warning shot from the terrorists. More could follow and this necessitates better security measures.