Security will be provided to around 1,000 sarpanches and panches in 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir, following security assessments that concluded they have a threat to life, sources said. The newly crafted Union Territory administration has hired hotels, hostels and private residences to provide to security to these grassroot leaders. The new Lieutenant General of the Union Territory, Manoj Sinha, who took over last week, has also decided that these leaders would also get security when they visit their constituency.
Data shows the most of the people who will get security are from South Kashmir. A majority of them are from the BJP.
After Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated, the BJP has been pushing for a "grassroot democracy" that would involve a strong panchayat system, sources said. The need for security came as terrorists, lacking access to men and material during lockdown, decided to target individuals instead of going for largescale attacks. More than six political workers were attacked since the countrywide lockdown was declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March.
"Militants now do not have either the caliber to carry out an attack nor do they have weapons. In such a scenario, political activists become an easy prey. That's why these grassroot workers are being targeted," Ghulam Hassan Mir of Jammu Kashmir Apni Party told NDTV.
According to him, the recent killings clearly show that Pakistan does not want political process to start in the Kashmir valley. "The BJP workers and those who are affiliated with Centre are the clear targets," he added.
Recently three political killings - workers and grassroot leaders associated with BJP - have taken place in Kashmir Valley, after which many have submitted their resignations.
Panchayat members who do not belong to the BJP say they also need to feel safe. "We have nothing to do with the BJP but people consider us political leaders," said a sarpanch from Anantnag district, where a Congress sarpanch was killed.
"We are ordinary people. We acknowledge that the police can't provide security to all but they should think of an arrangement for us also," he added.
A senior official in the UT administration said the security arrangements were there earlier too, but recently, the numbers have gone up after threat assessments.
"Mostly these grassroot leaders are being provided a room. In some cases, a family member is also being allowed to stay with them," said an official in charge of providing security.
According to him in some cases private accommodations are also being rented by security forces. "In some cases after threat assessments if it is noted that there is threat to entire family then we are lodging them in private accommodations," he added.