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Nov 26, 2020

J&K DDC Polls: Despite Gupkar Alliance, Parties Are Fielding Proxy Candidates

In a sign of growing mistrust over seat-sharing, the National Conference, People’s Conference and People’s Democratic Party have all ‘consented’ to their party workers standing for the elections as independent candidates.
Jammu and Kashmir National Conference president Farooq Abdullah addresses a press conference along with his son Omar Abdullah, People's Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, People's Conference president Sajjad Gani Lone and others after meeting of signatories to the Gupkar declaration, at his residence in Srinagar, Thursday, October 15, 2020. Photo: PTI

Baramulla: The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), composed of seven parties in Jammu and Kashmir that joined hands last month to fight the BJP in the District Development Council (DDC) elections scheduled for November 28, appears to be falling apart due to mistrust among the partners over seat-sharing. Individual parties, it appears, are fielding proxy candidates from among their workers to stand as independent contestants in the same elections.

For instance, in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, though the PAGD gave its mandate to National Conference’s Shabir Ahmad Lone for the Ruhama constituency, Khursheed Ahmad Khan, who is affiliated to the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (PC) led by former sheep and husbandry minister Sajad Lone, has filed his papers as an independent candidate.

Khan denies that he is standing as a proxy for his party. “I am fighting for my own people,” he told The Wire. “I have no trust in this alliance, especially in the National Conference (NC). They have been betraying us for decades and have now unleashed lies about restoring autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir as well as the special position that had been revoked.”

Also Read: J&K: Are ‘Security Restrictions’ Being Used to Give BJP DDC Candidates an Upper Hand?

Khan had voluntarily retired as a deputy superintendent of police with the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2013 to join politics. In 2014, he had fought the assembly elections as an independent candidate, but after he lost to the NC candidate, he joined the People’s Conference (PC) party.

For the DDC elections this year, Khan had hoped to contest the Ruhama constituency as a PC candidate. “I tried hard to reach Sajad Lone (PC chairman and spokesperson of PAGD), but he didn’t respond. So I decided to fight independently,” said Khan.

Khan believes that Sajad Lone has allied with “merciless” people and has no idea that the PAGD “only benefits and strengthens the NC”.

“In every district in North Kashmir, there are proxy candidates,” Khan alleged. “The NC and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have not objected to their candidates fighting independently where they assume that their candidate could win the seat despite the mandate of the PAGD.”

The fact that workers from the parties that formed the alliance are now standing as independent candidates shows that the PAGD’s mandate decisions were taken without considering the aspirations of the workers of the individual political parties.

Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah

Politics for the people

After J&K lost its special status in August 2019, the erstwhile state’s political parties swore to avoid all election processes until, to use the words of former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, “what has been snatched would be given back”. The mainstream political process in the state went quiet and there was a sense of ‘betrayal’ among the foot soldiers of the different regional political parties.

Almost 14 months later, the announcement of the DDC polls ignited a spark in J&K’s political parties, who are back in action with campaigns and public meetings. However, the announcement of the PAGD caused rifts within each individual party in the alliance after mandates were given for the various seats.

In the Beerwah constituency, the alliance has given its mandate to the NC’s Mohammad Ashraf Lone, a veteran party worker. But the PDP’s Beerwah district president, Nazir Ahmad Khan, is also fighting the election with the PDP’s ‘consent’.

Also Read: Let the Elections To District Development Councils in Jammu & Kashmir Be Free and Fair

“I received a proper mandate and authorisation letter from PDP president Mehbooba Mufti for the Beerwah constituency after she consulted Farooq Abdullah of the PAGD,” said Khan. “But later, Omar Abdullah opposed my mandate and forced the PAGD to give a separate mandate to the NC candidate.”

Khan believes that the decision to give the seat to the NC candidate is based on an old rivalry between Omar Abdullah and himself. He sees himself as more powerful than the NC’s Lone.

On November 24, PAGD chairman and the NC party president Farooq Abdullah appealed to the people of J&K to vote for the PAGD candidates in the DDC polls. In a video released by the PAGD, Abdullah, who has been self-isolating since a member of his household staff tested positive for COVID-19, urged the people to ensure the victory of the alliance candidates by huge margins so that it succeeds in its aim to restore the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Farooq Abdullah addresses a party meeting. Photo: PTI

In Kupwara’s Sugam constituency, the PAGD has given its mandate to Nasir Ahmad Lone, the brother of the NC’s Kaisar Jamsheed Lone, a former member of the legislative assembly. However, the PC’s oldest worker, Habibullah Bhat, who has been with the party since 2002, is also standing as an independent contestant.

For Lone, Bhat is an opponent, not an ally. “To be honest, it is easier for the top leaders of parties to come together for pre-poll alliances or coalitions than it is for on-ground workers and senior party members,” explained Lone, a social worker and a former journalist. He is aware that workers of different political parties have always confronted each other, making it difficult for them to suddenly support each other instead due to an alliance.

“Also, the decision to fight the elections as a single alliance was taken in a very short time. So the party leaders could not ask the workers for their opinions or explain to them the need for the alliance,” Lone explained.

Bhat, who will submit his nomination papers on Friday, has a different reason for defying the alliance’s mandate. He does not object to the alliance or the fact that the mandate was given to the NC, he said. But the nepotism involved in allotting the seat to the former MLA’s brother is unacceptable to him.

“There are so many other NC workers who deserve a mandate, but he [Kaisar Jamsheed Lone] called his brother from New Delhi,” Bhat told The Wire. “We are with PAGD, but not in support of nepotism.”

In the Zadi Chowkibal seat, the PAGD has given its mandate to the PC’s Habibulla Beigh. But Javaid Ahmad Mir, a senior leader of the NC, is also fighting as an independent.

“PAGD decided to choose PC’s candidate here. But a lot of people told me to fight. I chose to fulfil their wish because I have been working for them for years,” said Mir.

When he filed his nomination papers, Mir was asked by his party to clear his stand. Later, he quit the NC.

The Wire tried to reach PAGD spokesperson Sajad Lone for his views, but he has not yet responded. This story will be updated when he does.

Kaisar Andrabi is an independent journalist from Kashmir and tweets at @KAndrabi.

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