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Panchayat members meet Geelani

An association of village heads in Kashmir met hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to 'clear their stand regarding their political affiliations' in the state.

india Updated: May 16, 2014 00:20 IST
Toufiq Rashid

An association of village heads in Kashmir met hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to 'clear their stand regarding their political affiliations' in the state.

The move came after leader of hardline Hurriyat Conference on Tuesday asked the panchayat members to 'resign en masse to show solidarity with the Kashmiri brethren'.

A local news portal quoting excerpts from a telephonic conversation with Geelani had reported the separatist leader calling panches and sarpanches 'police informers' working in collaboration with police. This was said while he condemned the killings of the village representatives.

The statement is likely to have an adverse effect as the village representatives are becoming soft targets of unknown gunmen in the Valley.

A five-member committee of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Association met Geelani on Wednesday. The association claims to have around 1200 members.

The same group led protests in Srinagar on Monday demanding 'thorough' investigation into the killings of panches and sarpanches in the state since elections to choose the village heads took place. The group had also threatened to resign if the 'killers were not identified' by the administration.

Nine village leaders have been killed since panchayat elections were held in 2011. The elections had witnessed 85% voter turnout.

"A five-member committee met Mr Geelani at his residence today as we wanted to clear our stand that our role is restricted to development of the villages and we don't work with police on any security matters," said Khurshid Malik, general secretary Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Association.

Blaming the mainstream political parties for endangering the lives of the panchayat members, Mallik said the elections were fought on 'non party basis' but the problem started when parties started counting heads.

"The National Conference (NC) is saying that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is behind the killings and the PDP alleges that the NC was doing it. We feel they all are killing us together," said Khurshid.

However another organisation called Geelani's remarks 'objectionable and sad.' The Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat members associations said the remarks further increase threats to their lives.

"If 17,000 village heads in Kashmir are police informers according to Geelani 'Sahab', then this resistance movement would have drowned by now," Ghulam Hassan Sheikh, the spokesman of All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Council, said.

He said village representatives also accept that Kashmir is 'a yet-to-be resolved issue' and the struggle for resolution will not end by 'conducting the village-level polls'. "We believe in democratic set-up of India and we do have ideological differences with Geelani," Sheikh said.

Four people, including two village heads had been killed in the Pulwama assembly segment comprising areas like Tral, Pampore and Rajpora besides Pulwama, in a week before the elections were held.

The killings of panchayat members in Pulwama district cast a shadow on the polling and the turnout was severely hit. Pulwama witnessed only 6.32% turnout, a dip from the 10.49% in 2009.

Posters from Hizbul Mujahideen had appeared in the area threatening people of adverse consequences in case they 'exercise their ballot'.

After the attacks on panchayat members, many representatives from the area had gone into hiding as police had advised panches and sarpanches to shift to safer places and keep in touch with the local security agencies.

Dozens of political activists and panchayat members had apologised through the local masjid's announcement systems.