The killing of a sarpanch by unknown gunmen earlier this week has sparked a series of resignations by grassroots level public representatives in north Kashmir, taking the number of those who resigned since the 2011 polls beyond 350.
"The killing of the sarpanch in Palhalan (on Monday) has triggered panic among sarpanchs and panchs in the area. Three sarpanches and 12 panches have resigned so far. We fear more might follow the suit," said Shahnawaz Sultan, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Movement.
Ghulam Mohammad Yatoo, a sarpanch in north Kashmir's Raipora village, was shot dead outside a mosque on Monday evening.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a panch, who resigned on Tuesday in Palhalan, said, "The state government is making us scapegoats for its political interests."
His pessimism is shared by Sultan, a sarpanch from central Kashmir's Chadoora area.
"The entire exercise of Panchayat polls has been turned into a mockery. No elections have been held for second and third tier positions, even though a year has passed since elections. Panchayats continue to be powerless," said Sultan.
There is a tussle on between the local MLAs and sarpanches over power sharing mechanism.
"The killings of panches and sarpanches are also mysterious as no militant outfit has taken any responsibility," said Sultan.
Seven sarpanches and panches have been killed ever since 43,000 grassroots level representatives were elected in the 2011 polls, held after a gap of 30 years.
While south Kashmir districts witnessed highest number of killings at five, central Kashmir and north Kashmir registered one killing each.
"The threat from unknown gunmen has forced more than 350 public representatives to resign so far," said Sultan.
Since April this year, posters purportedly pasted by militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen have come up in south and north Kashmir asking sarpanches and panches to resign publicly from their posts.
Palhalan, where the sarpanch was killed, witnessed similar posts in May this year.
"We appeal to these gunmen to stop such killings of innocent and unarmed civilians. We also want to clear that we do not represent any political party as the elections were held on the non-party basis. We are there just for development," said Sultan.
Meanwhile, the police have failed to establish the identity of those who were behind the Palhalan sarpanch's killing.
"We are investigating the matter," said DIG north Kashmir Rajesh Kumar.
These representatives have been demanding security in the wake of the spate of attacks. The government, however, failed to do so saying it will involve a huge number of personnel.