Purported Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) posters, asking sarpanches and panches to resign within one week, has sent a shock wave in Kashmir.
Hundreds of them on Monday appealed to New Delhi to desist from drawing parallels between the Kashmir problem and participation of people in panchayat polls, held in April-June last year.
Around 30 villages in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district is witnessing a constant campaign through purported LeT posters pasted on electric poles, mosques’ walls and houses of the panches and sarpanches.
“For the past one week I have stopped going to my house. My other colleagues do not venture after the sunset. Our families are worried for our lives and stay awake all night, fearing attack. Over a dozen panches has received such letters,” said Ghulam Hassan Malik, a sarpanch from Panznean village in Pulwama district.
The purported LeT poster reads: “The militant leadership asks all elected panches and sarpanches to resign without wasting time by issuing advertisements in local newspapers within a week.
“The government is using you as pawns and you will be forced to abide by anti-people activities…People have made huge sacrifices for the resolution of Kashmir dispute and nobody should forget this fact.”
The threats fallout was evident on Monday when around 350 sarpanches met in Srinagar for an emergency conference.
“New Delhi is beating up drums that people’s participation in the panchayat polls was a vote for India. We appeal to New Delhi to stop misguiding the international community. Kashmir is a dispute and the panchayat polls were to address local governance issues and nothing else,” said Shafiq Mir, a sarpanch from Jammu division’s Rajouri district.
Most sarpanch speakers, during the conference, said they “condemn and contest the attempt being made to relate the participation in polls with the Kashmir problem”.
While seven panches and sarpanches were killed since last year, around 100 have already resigned, giving in to different pressures.
“The government never showed seriousness in these cases. There is no assurance of security,” said Shahnawaz, a sarpanch from Budgam district.
The police, however, down play the threat perception. “We do not suspect LeT’s hand behind the posters. Those who are opposed to the idea of empowerment of sarpanches might be resorting to these mischievous campaigns to put pressure put on them to resign and, in the process, wrest the power,” said Pulwama senior superintendent of police Amit Kumar.
United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin had last year distanced from the polls saying “it’s meant for local issues.”
Around 35,000 panches and sarpanches were elected last year’s polls, held after a gap of 30 years. But the process remains incomplete because the state government is yet to implement three- tier Panchayati Raj system, sparking anxiety among the representatives.
“We give the government 15 days ultimatum to implement the J-K Panchayati Raj Act by issuing election dates for block and district councils,” said Mir.
The sarpanches are accusing the state MLAs of acting as a stumbling block. “All MLAs, including legislators of ruling National Conference, coalition partner Congress and opposition Peoples Democratic Party, oppose empowerment of sarpanches and panches. They are not ready to share their power with us. They are our enemy,” said Mir.
With MLAs pitted against panches, the state government is sitting on sarpanches’ demands like bringing 73rd amendment as per Central Panchayati Raj Act, remuneration, and bigger role in implementation of central schemes at village level.