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Rahul to visit Kashmir amid panchayat panic

Wednesday October 03, 2012 10:40:00 PM, IANS

Srinagar: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will visit Jammu and Kashmir Thursday and Friday amid mass resignations by panchayat members in the wake of death threats from militants.

A strong votary of more powers to panchayats, Gandhi is to meet panchayat members at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre here Friday, according to a statement.

Gandhi will address a public rally Thursday in Leh, followed by another in Kargil district.

On Thursday afternoon, he will attend the foundation stone laying ceremony of Z-Morh Tunnel in Sonamarg district.

He will also meet members of the National Students Union of India and Indian Youth Congress.

On Friday, Gandhi will attend a panel discussion at Kashmir University in Srinagar and later address panchayat members elsewhere in the city.

The mass resignations by village council members were sparked by the Sep 23 murder of Muhammad Shafi Teli, the sarpanch (village council chief) of Keeri village in Baramulla district.

Since the panchayat elections of 2011, held in the state after a gap of 30 years, five village heads have been killed in the Kashmir Valley.

Most of the 150 resignations of panchayat chiefs have been published in newspapers in Srinagar in the form of advertisements.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah maintains his government has received only 50 such resignations and none has been accepted.

A high-level meeting Monday chaired by Abdullah decided to provide more security to panchayat members.

There are around 34,000 elected village heads in the Kashmir Valley. Despite official concerns, providing individual security to everyone is an administrative impossibility.

"If just two guards are provided to each village head, it will involve 68,000 guards. This is not practically possible," a senior official told IANS. He did not want to be named.

Rumours of a tussle between Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah over the resignation of village council members have been denied by both Congress and National Conference leaders including Abdullah himself.

The two parties run a coalition government in the state.

Rahul Gandhi is a strong votary for the extension of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments to the state which seek to empower village heads across India to devolve democracy to the grassroots level.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has ruled out such an extension, asserting that the state's constitution has enough provisions to empower village heads.

Jammu and Kashmir has a constitution of its own which runs concomitantly with the Indian constitution.

"We are definitely expecting some important announcement from Rahulji," said a sarpanch who did not want to be identified.

Road Transport, Highways and Railways Minister C.P. Joshi is scheduled to lay the foundation stone of a tunnel through the Zojilla Pass in Sonamarg in Rahul Gandhi's presence.





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