DDC Polls: Electoral scene in J&K

BJP and the rest of the separatist outfits are all set for DDC Polls in UT of J&K, which would be an eight-phase exercise

BJP and the rest of the separatist outfits are all set for DDC Polls in UT of J&K, which would be an eight-phase exercise
BJP and the rest of the separatist outfits are all set for DDC Polls in UT of J&K, which would be an eight-phase exercise

BJP is putting in all efforts to capture as many DDCs as possible

The process to elect 20 District Development Councils (DDCs) in the UT of J&K is on. It would be an eight-phase exercise. The people of this border region will elect DDCs for the first time. The first phase would witness voting on November 28 and the last phase on December 19. The whole process would be completed in the last week of December. This would be the first electoral exercise in J&K post-Article 370 abrogation.

Convinced that these elections are politically very important for them, all the Kashmiri parties have taken a big U-turn and decided to take the plunge. Earlier, NC Vice-President Omar Abdullah and ilk had declared that they would take part in electoral exercises only after Articles 35A and 370 were restored and UT of J&K granted full state status. The seven Kashmiri parties –National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), People’s Conference (PC), J&K People’s Movement (JKPM), CPI-M, CPI, and Awami National Conference (ANC) – took the decision to test political waters on November 7 at the Farooq Abdullah’s Bathindi residence in Jammu.

Reports emanating from Srinagar suggest that the PAGD may not leave any seat for the Congress both in Jammu province and Kashmir Valley.

The BJP has already released three comprehensive lists of candidates both for Jammu province and Kashmir Valley and is in the process of releasing other lists of candidates. That the BJP high command has taken the ongoing electoral process as a big challenge could be seen from the fact that it has deputed many central leaders, including Union Ministers, to J&K to help local “unpopular” BJP leadership perform well and win as many DDCs as possible. They are campaigning both in Kashmir and Jammu province. They are leaving no stone unturned to motivate the electorate to vote for the BJP candidates. They are trying their best to convert the ongoing electoral exercise into a fight between the “nationalists” and “votaries of Pakistan and China” and claiming that the BJP would put up a good show in both regions. They are targeting the Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and the Sonia Gandhi‘s Congress, questioning their very credentials and telling the electorate that a vote for the BJP would be a vote for the state’s all-round development, peace, and prosperity.

The J&K BJP is at the receiving end even in Jammu province because of its several acts of omission and commission. The J&K BJP as a party and the BJP ministers in the Mufti-led coalition government had repeatedly betrayed their core constituency, Jammu province, and caused immense socio-cultural, religious, and politico-economic losses to the people of Jammu province to keep the Muftis in good humour.

The PAGD has also not lagged behind. As of now, it has released five lists of candidates. In fact, the PAGD, a conglomerate of seven essentially separatist outfits, has divided Kashmir into an equal number of sub-regions and distributed territorial constituencies among themselves. So far, it has fielded 102 candidates in Kashmir valley. The National Conference (NC) has fielded 47 candidates, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 32 candidates, the People’s Conference (PC) 11 candidates, J&K People’s Movement (JKPM) 4 candidates, Awami National Conference (ANC) 3 candidates and CPI-M 2 candidates. The PAGD has also set apart three seats for Sonia Gandhi’s Congress as far as the second phase of the election is concerned. No Congress candidate found his/her name in the first, third, and fourth list of candidates released by the PAGD. Reports emanating from Srinagar suggest that the PAGD may not leave any seat for the Congress both in Jammu province and Kashmir Valley.

The fact is that the BJP is putting in all efforts to capture as many DDCs as possible. As for the PAGD operatives, they are raking up such emotive issues as new land laws, Article 35A, Article 370, and the so-called unresolved Kashmir issue. To be more precise, separatism is its main poll plank. At the same time, they are busy accusing the Narendra Modi Government and powers-that-be in J&K of not providing their candidates the required security cover, thus denying them the opportunity to campaign in the territorial constituencies they have filed their nomination papers from. They are using media, including social media, to draw the attention of the authorities to the “problems their candidates are facing”. Of course, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha on November 21 rejected all these allegations and asserted that “there is complete freedom to the candidates and political parties for campaigning in the DDC elections.”

In Jammu province, the Ikkjutt Jammu, which turned political only on November 13 and offered itself to ignored, neglected and marginalized people of Jammu province as a credible alternative to the J&K BJP, has also fielded a number of candidates in Jammu province.

Significantly, Kashmir has not witnessed either Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti campaigning for their party candidates. The same is true of them in Jammu province. Not just this, no one knows how many candidates the PAGD has fielded in Jammu province. Why? Because they alone could answer.

At the same time, the question to be asked is: Is Congress really in the fray? Why this question? It has not released any list of candidates. There is total confusion because of its yes and no approach to the PAGD, notwithstanding the fact that the JKPCC chief G A Mir was a signatory to the Gupkar Declaration 1.0.

Initially, senior Congress leaders like P Chidambaram, Saif-ud-Din Soz, and G A Mir had given every one to understand that the JKPCC was part of the PAGD. So much so, AICC President Sonia Gandhi sent an AICC secretary to Jammu to discuss the seat-sharing formula with the PAGD and he did meet the Jammu-based supporters of the Gupkaris. But things changed dramatically after HM Amit Shah dismissed the Farooq Abdullah-led Gupkaris as “Gupkar Gang” consisting of pro-China and pro-Pakistan elements. Such was the impact of the HM Shah’s statements that the AICC officially declared that the Congress was not part of the PAGD. No wonder then that the PAGD has almost struck off the Congress’ name.

The level of confusion in Congress could be gauged from the fact that many in J&K have filed their nomination papers as independent candidates. Some of them are sons and nephews of the Congress bigwigs, including Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and former Minister and MP Madan Lal Sharma, and JKPCC General Secretary Chowdhary Shahnawaz. The manner in which the Congress high command and JKPCC leadership have acted, and continue to act, has only marred the electoral prospects of the Congress candidates if there were any. It appears the Congress is out of the fray.

Interestingly, the story of the JK Apni Party (JKAP) of Kashmiri and former minister and PDP ideologue, Altaf Bukhari, is no different from that of the Congress. Its leaders have suddenly gone into hibernation in both the regions. There is hardly any report from Kashmir or Jammu to the effect that the JKAP leadership has fielded how many candidates in Jammu province and how many in Kashmir and it has been campaigning for them.

In Jammu province, the Ikkjutt Jammu, which turned political only on November 13 and offered itself to ignored, neglected and marginalized people of Jammu province as a credible alternative to the J&K BJP, has also fielded a number of candidates in Jammu province. Its poll planks are four: Separate Jammu State, promotion of national interest in this strategic region by defeating what it calls “Zameen Jihadis” and secessionist Gupkaris, ensure minority rights to non-Muslim minorities, and deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis. It has been accusing the J&K BJP of bartering even the general socio-economic and political rights and interests of the people of Jammu province and becoming a party to the destroy-Jammu and change-Jammu-demography decisions taken by former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti.

All in all, it can be said that in J&K, it’s BJP Vs the rest.

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Hari Om is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu.
Hari Om

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