Chief minister Omar Abdullah faced his first challenge post-successful ongoing panchayat polls in Kashmir on Tuesday where he had to choose between a bureaucrat and a recently-elected sarpanch. The J-K chief minister decided to throw his weight behind the public representative rather than an administrator.
A sarpanch, Tariq Ahmad (26), from north Kashmir’s Handwara district, exchanged blows with Kashmir Administrative Service-selected assistant commissioner Farooq Ahmad Mir.
“I approached him with a public grievance that students from Mawar area do not have a bus service up to their college in Handwara. It’s my right. Instead of addressing the complaint, he (Mir) said ‘he was not supposed to address such issues’” alleged Ahmad, who was elected as sarpanch from halqa Sheikhpora-Haril, Handwara, 65 km north of Srinagar, on May 4.
The administrator and the elected representative entered into an argument, which fast turned into the exchange of fists in public glare. The news sparked off a protest with all newly-elected panches and sarpanches gathering outside the administrative officer’s office in Handwara. It was the intervention of deputy commissioner Handwara Muhammad Shafi Rather that helped cool tempers of panches and sarpanches, threatening hunger strike and sit-in. “I assured them action” said Rather.
In Srinagar, chief minister Abdullah was quick to act. “I've asked the MoS (minister of state) for Home to look into this personally and take immediate corrective action,” said Abdullah.
Throwing his weight behind the elected representative, Abdullah issued an order against the administrator: “I have asked for orders to be issued for the attachment of the SDM (pending an enquiry into the matter”.
Jammu and Kashmir, witnessing panchayat elections after three decades, will elect 29,719 sarpanchs in 16-phase polls --- of which 11 phases are over already. Around 3,000 seats are reserved for women. Unprecedented 80 per cent voters have cast their ballot so far.