The recent Panchayat election was a major milestone in the history of Jammu and Kashmir - a state ruptured by years of violence. The newly-elected panchs and sarpanchs were infusing fresh lease of life in Jammu and Kashmir, rebuilding social structure that was shattered because of 2 decades of militancy, mingling with the common people, mingling with the common people, listening to their problems and focussing on local governance.
But militancy is once again threatening the very existence of this institution.
More than 400 panchayat members in south Kashmir have resigned in the last three weeks after militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, through posters, told Panchs and Sarpanchs to do so and publish their resignations in newspapers. Their warning: "Those who don't listen to our diktats will do so at their own peril."
"In these posters they have asked them to resign in a week's time. They have been asked to publish their resignation in newspapers and carry those newspapers with them," said Ghulam Ahmad Wani, village elder, Shopian.
The threats had an immediate effect - paid advertisements on resignations appeared in several newspapers in Srinagar.
The posters appear in the wake of heightened militant activity in south Kashmir. In the past couple of months, militants have attacked three police pickets and taken away arms and ammunition from policemen.
Police say security forces have increased vigil to instil confidence among the people; they are also investigating if the poster threat is some foul play under the grab of militancy.
"We need to get to the bottom of it to know why it is happening... there's possibly more to it than meets the eye," said SM Sahai, IGP, Kashmir.
The government says though they have not officially received any resignation, they have taken steps to ensure the security of Panchayat members following the threats.
"Some four people have been arrested who are suspected to have issued threats and they have attacked one Sarpanch who is admitted in the hospital. This (panchayat) has a massive mandate from public, they (militants) can't go against the sentiment of people," said Ali Mohammad Sagar, Minister for Law & Panchayat Raj.
Last year, Panchayat elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir after a gap of more than three decades. And despite boycott calls and threats issued by militants, the polls saw a record turnout of over 80 per cent.
Over the last one year, panchayats in J&K have been struggling for their rights, demanding more powers for local governance. But after recent militant threats it's a struggle for survival for panchayat members in parts of south Kashmir. Ironically, even after overwhelming participation by the people in Panchayat elections just a year ago, the grassroots democracy is once again at crossroads in Kashmir.