In a second attack within 48 hours, suspected militants shot a sarpanch in south Kashmir’s Qazigund on Thursday morning. Sajad Ahmad Khanday, who was associated with the BJP, was killed outside his house at Vessu in Kulgam, becoming the third sarpanch in South Kashmir to succumb to militant attacks since November last year. The last attack, on Tuesday, was also in the same area, on BJP sarpanch Arif Ahmad. He remains critical. A senior police officer said Sarpanch shot in Kashmir, police move several to secure camp Khanday, 45, stayed in a camp under security with several other sarpanchs. “Today morning, he left the camp for his home. The militants hit when he was just 20 metres from his house.” Khanday died before reaching hospital.
On Thursday evening, the police shifted panchs and sarpanchs from vulnerable areas of south Kashmir to the secure accommodation at Vessu. A police officer said the panchs would stay there till August 15.
At least six BJP members in south Kashmir have publicly announced their resignation from the party since the attack on Ahmad — three on Wednesday and three on Thursday.
With a second sarpanch associated with it coming under attack within two days, the BJP called for immediate security cover for the representatives. “The killing of Sajad is very unfortunate. He was our constituency president for Vessu,” BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur said. “The police should work out a security cover model for sarpanchs and panchs of the BJP and other parties across Kashmir, who are vulnerable to attacks.”
The attacks come amidst the state administration and Centre projecting the panchs and sarpanchs as the new and emerging leaders of Kashmir, and as symbols of the Valley’s acceptance of democracy. The elections to panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies had been held in October and December 2018, with the second-tier polls being conducted in October last year amidst trying circumstances.
Thursday’s attack came ahead of a high-profile event planned in Srinagar on August 10 for representatives of panchayats and urban bodies.
The BJP members who have announced their resignations include Shabir Ahmad Khan, Reyaz Ahmad Rather, Ab Khaliq Sheikh (all residents of Watnard in Kokernag), BJP vice-president for Devsar constituency Sabzar Ahmad Paddar, its Kund constituency president Nisar Ahmad Wani and Ashiq Hussain Palla.
While a section of the panchs and sarpanchs have been housed by the administration in fortified accommodations, a large number stay at home without any security. They have been demanding security, but officials say it is difficult for them to provide this for all, with close to 8,000 of them in the Valley alone. Recently, the government announced an insurance cover of Rs 25 lakh each for members of panchayats and municipal bodies.
Tuesday’s attack, on BJP sarpanch Arif Ahmad, had happened at Akhran village in Qazigund. In June this year, a Congress sarpanch, Ajay Pandita, had been shot by militants in his native Larkipora village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
In November last year, just a month after the elections, a sarpanch had been killed as militants had struck officials on tour as part of the government’s ‘Back to Village’ programme, at Hakoora village in South Kashmir.
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