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Dec 24, 2020

DDC Poll Results Prove BJP's Claim of Ending NC-PDP Rule in Kashmir Wrong

Before the voting, several leaders from regional parties had alleged that only BJP candidates were being allowed to campaign.
J&K DDC election in-charge Anurag Thakur along with BJP J&K state president Ravinder Raina and others address a press conference at the party office on December 23, 2020. Photo: PTI

Srinagar: On August 5, 2019, when the Central government revoked the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir in parliament, home minister Amit Shah made a statement criticising regional political parties. According to him, this move would end “khandani raj (family rule)” in Kashmir, and accused political parties of having cheated the people of J&K.

Almost 14 months later, the results are quite surprising in the slippery political turf of J&K. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), headed by former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, has come up with a big victory in the District Development Council (DDC) elections in the Valley.

“We can’t forget those days. BJP lost no opportunity to tell the world that the National Conference (NC) didn’t exist anymore. But let me tell them that NC has faced every storm and fought against every conspiracy. We are a party that faced grenades and bullets but kept the party flag high,” former chief minister and NC leader Omar Abdullah said while addressing party workers at Srinagar.

These are the first elections in the region after the erstwhile state lost its special status and was downgraded to a union territory. The PAGD has won or is leading in 110 seats of the total 280 in the DDCs. Though the counting of votes is still underway, the BJP is emerging as the single largest party with wins and leads in 75 DDC seats. It has won support in Hindu-dominated districts like Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua and Samba, and is leading in 49 out of the 56 DDC seats in these districts.

Also read: ‘DDC Polls Are for Development; Nothing to Do With Kashmir Conflict’: Budgam Candidate

NC vice-president and former chief minister of J&K Omar Abdullah on Wednesday targeted the Centre and said that New Delhi should listen to the people’s voice against the dilution of Article 370, since it has itself termed the DDC polls as a victory of democracy.

“If you really say that democracy has won, then you will have to listen to the voices of the people, and the people of J&K have said it with a huge majority that they do not accept (the decisions of) August 5, 2019,” said Omar.

So far, the poll results hint that the BJP has managed to control at least six DDCs in Jammu, and none in Kashmir. The PAGD has a majority in nine DDCs – all in the Valley. But no clear-cut majority has been finalised in the five councils..

Independent candidates are leading in over 50 seats across the Valley.

A person gets his finger inked in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Photo: Kaisar Andrabi

The results clearly show that it was a good idea for regional parties – who were once rivals – to join hands against the BJP.

A victory with mild campaigning

After the announcement of the DDC polls in J&K were made by the Election Commission of India, the alliance parties were not allowed to mobilise people to vote. In many instances, the top leadership of the alliance alleged that their candidates have been barred from holding public rallies, while the BJP’s senior leaders were able to campaign to the fullest. Some senior leaders even stayed back till the election ended.

Noted political commentator professor Dr Gul Mohammad Wani believes that contextual factors were not favourable to the Gupkar alliance, considering the August 5 and subsequent decisions taken by the Indian state. There are some lessons here for all political actors. “First, communalisation can further fracture the state polity and hence there is a need for caution. The election has created space for dialogue across state, region and religion,” he said.

He further explained that people’s faith in “democratic and non-violent politics will get strengthened”. While the BJP has much to be happy about, the Gupkar alliance has strong chances to expand its appeal and approach.

The poll percentage in the DDC elections, particularly in the Valley, made it clear that there was not much enthusiasm for these elections. This was visible on the ground, even among the parties except the BJP. The low morale has been linked with the August 5 decision – when people who had supported the idea of mainstream politics for years lost faith in it.

Also read: DDC Polls: In Central Kashmir, Some Villages Have Lost Faith in Elected Representatives

After the decision, local regional parties faced a difficult choice. Given the difficult circumstances people were living in, it was a hard task to ask them to vote.

Notably, the BJP’s tall claims about strong and wide support from the people in the Valley fell flat. Even some of the party’s grassroots leaders who were very active on ground, like Sufi Yousuf and Mohammad Altaf Thakur, lost their seats.

Also read: J&K DDC Polls: Gupkar Alliance Wins 110 Seats, BJP Emerges as Single Largest Party With 74 Seats

In south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, the PDP has bagged seven seats and emerged as the single largest party in the district, which saw very low voter turnout. Of the district’s 14 constituencies, NC won two seats while the BJP won its maiden seat in the district, Kakapora-II. Independent candidates won four seats.

PDP leader Waheed Ur Rehman Para won in Pulwama-I constituency by 1,002 votes against Sajad Ahmad Raina of the BJP. Para was contesting elections for the first time, even as he is under arrest. Five days after he filed his nomination papers, he was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in New Delhi on November 25.

The authorities in Kupwara district have stopped counting votes of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir resident Somiya Sadaf, who is contesting DDC elections in the Drugmulla constituency.

Talking to The Wire, Sadaf said that she has no idea why counting of votes was stopped only for her, while votes of other candidates are being counted. Sadaf is fighting as an independent candidate from Drugmulla constituency, where a total eleven contestants are in the fray. Her election icon is a laptop computer.

Also read: ‘In J&K, Authorities Don’t Address People’s Hardships’: DDC Candidate of Pakistani Origin

“Today, I visited the Deputy Commissioner’s office and they told me that you have issues with citizenship. I was asked to contact the State Election Commissioner for further queries,” she told The Wire. “I guess this is because I am Pakistani.”

The overall voting percentage in all eight phases across the union territory was 51.42%. Meanwhile, Amit Shah on Wednesday congratulated the people of J&K for turning up at the polling stations during the recently conducted maiden DDC elections.

Shah, in a series of tweets stated that the BJP headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will continue to work towards the prosperity and development of J&K.

“PM Modi is doing everything possible to restore democracy at grassroots level and maiden DDC polls are testimony of the same.”

Arrests before results

A day ahead of the DDC results, on December 21, two People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leaders, including the maternal uncle of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, were detained by the authorities.

Soon after their detention, Mehbooba denounced the authorities’ actions on Twitter, calling it “gunda raj”.

After the arrest of two PDP leaders, Sartaj Madni and Peer Mansoor Hussain, J&K authorities on Tuesday evening detained senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar from his house in Srinagar.

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

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