SHOPIAN: Just two weeks after a sarpanch was killed in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, another panchayat representative has been shot dead in South Kashmir’s Shopian district.

Shopian is considered to the hub of militancy as post floods in Kashmir a large number of youth are reported to have joined militant outfits, according to state police sources. There is of course no way of independently confirming this claim.

Sarpanch Muhammad Sultan Bhat (38) was killed by alleged militants on Sunday late evening. Bhat was killed by unidentified gunmen when he was in his vehicle heading towards home after attending an election related meeting along with Kulley and other workers at Keegam. Police sources also said that soon after leaving the meeting hall, Bhat who was driving his Santro car was intercepted by unknown gunmen and was shot dead.

Bhat’s blood ridden body was found just few yards away from his residence, they said.

This has terrified the villagers before the polling.

The sarpanch is survived by his wife and five children including four daughters. “Why should I vote when I know voting means inviting death,” says Sajad Ahmed a neighbor.

Nazeenpora village in Shopian is one of the most sensitive areas with a high presence of police and paramilitary forces.

“The Army was present in the village at that time. Despite that he was murdered in cold blood,” lamented Bhat’s brother.

Kulgam district, neighbouring Shopian, is polling in this second phase and the fear after the killing was palpable there as well.

Locals have different versions about the killing but all are agreed that the poor panchayat representatives are paying for their posts with their lives. And that protection for them is non-existent.

Locals said that shortly before the incident, Army Jawans from nearby 44 RR camp had also appeared in the area asking inhabitants to stay indoors.

“At 8:30 on Sunday evening, Army appeared in the village asking people to stay indoors. Army even checked identity cards of people. At 9:06 PM, we heard five to six gun shots. At 9:15 people came on the roads and found the body of the Sarpanch lying in a private vehicle with one of its door open,” the locals said.

According to sources, the slain sarpanch was affiliated to the ruling National Conference (NC), but had parted ways from NC and shifted his allegiance in favour of former NC leader Shabir Kulley. Kulley is contesting from Shopian as an independent candidate after NC did not give him a ticket.

A few days ago Bhat had invited Kulley to his village and had reportedly organised a massive rally in his support. Kulley blames National Conference and PDP for the killing saying these parties want to enforce a boycott in the area. “The slain Sarpanch was my colleague and we both had quit NC. Political parties especially NC was frustrated the way we garnered the support of people in the Constituency and it eliminated him,” Kullay said.