Sarpanch killing aftermath: Political parties have put our lives in danger, say Panchayat members

SHABIR AHMAD
Anantnag:  A day after suspected militants shot dead a Sarpanch in Awantipora, Pulwama, a representative body Panchayat members on Saturday accused pro-India political parties of putting their lives at risk by politicizing the institution of Panchayat.
Khursheed Malik, general secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Panch-Sarpanch United Forum (JKPSUF), said that all pro-Indian parties were “equally responsible for putting the lives of Panchayat representatives in danger.”
“Though the Panchayat elections were held in the state on non-party basis, after the elections political parties including Congress, National Conference and PDP started counting our heads. It was due to the politicization of Panchayats that we became the soft targets of unknown gunmen,” Malik said.
He said that he and his associates had decided to contest elections only after the government announced that Panchayat elections will be held on non-party basis.
“We did not contest election on the tickets of any party. Our sole aim was the development of our localities. But I fail to understand why these parties gave us a political tag. It was only after the political parties started counting our heads that we became targets,” Malik said.
On Thursday night, suspected militants gunned down a PDP Sarpanch Mohammad Amin Pandith outside his house at Gulzarpora village in Awantipora. Though no militant outfit has claimed responsibility for the killing, police has blamed Lashker-e-Toiba for it.
Since the Panchayat elections were held, Malik said, at least seven Sarpanchs and father of one Sarpanch fell to the bullets of unknown gunmen.  Malik appealed the Panchayat representatives to announce dissociation from the political parties.
“After putting our lives at risk, the government has failed to provide us security. So I appeal all Panchayat representatives to announce their dissociation from these political parties through local newspapers and public address systems of the local mosques,” Malik said.
District president of JKPSUF, Pulwama, Haji Mohammad Amin also accused political parties of hijacking Panchayat Raj institution for their vested interests.
“The MLAs forced us to have affiliation with their parties. Neither ruling parties nor opposition want us to be empowered as they know if we are empowered we will keep distance from them. They politicized this institution at the cost of our lives,” Amin said.
He said the Panchayat members “support the freedom movement of Kashmir like any other common Kashmiri.”
“I appeal (pro-freedom) leaders and militant organisations to come clear on what they feel about Panchayat representatives. If they feel Panchs and Sarpanchs are harming their cause they should clearly come up with a statement. We promise that all of us will announce resignation,” Amin added.