Muslims campaign for Hindu candidate in JK panchayat polls

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Jammu and Kashmir
Pulwama (JK), May 24: Sitting in his house in Tahab, a village in South Kashmir's Pulwama district, Makhan Lal Zutshi, a Kashmiri Pandit, looks confident of winning the panchayat polls while his Muslim neighbours campaign for him.

Zutshi, a retired engineer, is contesting for the post of Sarpanch in the ongoing Jammu and Kashmir panchayat elections.

The Kashmiri Pandit, who preferred to stay back in his native village rather than joining his community during the mass exodus in the 1990s, says he was not interested in politics but his neighbours insisted that he enter the fray.

"I retired from service in 2000 and engaged myself in social service. The local populace felt that I would be in a better position to serve them if I were elected as Panch or Sarpanch," Zutshi says.

Only seven Kashmiri Pandit families live in Tahab village as 43 other families left the valley in 1990.

"I was working in a department (Power development) where I had lot of public dealing. The support of my Muslim brethren did not even allow the thought of migrating come to my mind," Zutshi said, adding that he was not scared of death threats by militants as "death is something in the hands of Almighty. It cannot be changed.

So confident were his Muslim neighbours of Zutshi's victory that they asked him to file papers for the posts of both Panch and Sarpanch.

Zutshi was elected unopposed as Panch but two Muslim candidates went against the consensus decision of the block for the post of Sarpanch and have filed papers against him.

"We were sure that nobody will go against the collective decision of fielding Zutshiji for Sarpanch. Since there are two more candidates, we will ensure that the candidate of majority opinion (Zutshi) is elected," Ghulam Ahmad, an elderly villager, says.

The polling in Tahab village will take place tomorrow and Zuthsi camp is very confident of the victory.

If emerged victorious, Zuthshi will become the second Kashmiri Pandit to be elected as panch and will become the first from the minority community in the Valley to be elected as Sarpanch in 33 years.

52-year-old Aasha Jee, a Kashmiri Pandit woman, was voted as a panch by a predominantly Muslim village in north Kashmir's Tangmarg block earlier this month.

Urging Kashmiri Pandit migrants to return to the Valley, Zutshi says, "The Valley has returned to the situation of 1980s. The Muslims brothers want them to return. They will be welcomed."

An estimated two lakh Kashmiri Pandits fled the Valley after outbreak of militancy in late 1980s.

PTI

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