On September 29, the election authorities made a big announcement. It announced the poll schedule for electing chairpersons of 310 Block Development Boards (BDCs) in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The total number of Blocks in the state is 316. According to the announcement, elections will be held on October 24 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and results will be declared the same day. The Panchayat members, including Panchs and Sarpanchs alone, will be the voters. The elections will be held on a party basis.
The announcement evoked a response from political parties on expected lines. The response of the Kashmir-based National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was highly negative. Both parties ultimately decided to hold aloof from the democratic exercise to be undertaken to strengthen democracy at the grassroots level. Congress did initially indicate that it would take part in the scheduled elections, but finally, it treaded the path the NC and the PDP treaded. On October 9, the Congress announced a boycott of the BDC polls. Earlier, the CPI and the CPI-M, which had its limited support-base confined to Kulgam district of the Kashmir Valley, announced the poll boycott. These Left Parties have no say whatsoever in Jammu and Ladakh. And in Kashmir, the CPI-M acts like the B-team of the NC, the PDP and the Congress. It has no wares of its own to put on the Kashmir’s religio-political market for sale.
How else should one describe the decision of no less than 1,382 panchs and sarpanchs to take the plunge across the State of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh?
The NC, the PDP, the Congress, the CPI and the CPI-M — all Kashmir-based and Kashmir-centric parties — boycotted the crucial polls on the ground that the situation in the State, especially Kashmir Valley, was “very bad”. They advanced three main reasons behind their decision to boycott the polls. One was that there was “complete lockdown” in the state – a factually wrong accusation. Jammu and Ladakh have been peaceful. Kashmir too has not been in turmoil. The Army, the CRPF, the Jammu and Kashmir police have not fired a single bullet after August 4. The other was that the authorities in the state had suspended internet and mobile services. The third argument that they advanced while announcing poll boycott was that most of the leaders of the so-called mainstream parties, including the NC, the PDP and the Congress, had been under detention since August 5, 2019, when the Narendra Modi Government removed Articles 370 and 35A and bifurcated the state into Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. These parties virtually said that to hold the BDC elections in the state would be only to murder democracy — a mind-boggling formulation. The decision of these parties to stay away from the proposed election process was questionable. It’s questionable in the sense that their decision only provided a handle to the enemy nation, Pakistan, to attack India. It’s a different story that the international community doesn’t trust Pakistan — also called the rogue state and epicenter of global terror — and India has been more than successful in convincing the world that whatever it did in and to Jammu and Kashmir was its internal and sovereign matter.
It was expected that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) will welcome the announcement and it happened. The BJP welcomed the decision and announced that it would field 280 candidates for the posts of chairmen of the 280 BDCs and leave the remaining BDCs for the like-minded parties. The BJP didn’t name the like-minded parties. There is hardly any political group in the state which the BJP could call like-minded. As for the JKNPP, it announced that it would field candidates all across the state, which would, on October 31, get bifurcated into the UT of Jammu and Kashmir and UT of Ladakh. Of course, the JKNPP leadership has been consistently tearing into the Jammu and Kashmir Government and accusing it of putting curbs on the political activities of all the non-BJP parties. The JKNPP has also not been missing a single opportunity to take on the BJP and accusing it of “making a mockery of democracy”.
In a democratic polity, the people matter a lot. And, in Jammu and Kashmir, they told the nation that they were for the democratic exercise and elections. They rejected outright the anti-poll stand taken by the NC, the PDP, the Congress, the CPI and the CPI-M and their handful of supporters in New Delhi and elsewhere. They decided to participate in the scheduled electoral exercise in large numbers and with enthusiasm. How else should one describe the decision of no less than 1,382 panchs and sarpanchs to take the plunge across the State of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh?
The highest number of 131 candidates filed the nomination papers for the elections to the BDC chairpersons in the Kupwara district.
The Sarpanchs and Panchs, who alone were eligible for the BDC polls, showed the Kashmir-based parties and their owners their real place by endorsing the electoral exercise. Out of 1,382 candidates, 751 filed papers in Jammu province, 515 in the Kashmir region and 116 in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh. As many as 515 Sarpanchs and Panchs filing nomination papers in Kashmir could be construed as a tight slap on the faces of the Kashmir-based leaders like Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Saif-ud-Din Soz, GA Mir, MY Tarigami, to mention only a few.
The highest number of 131 candidates filed the nomination papers for the elections to the BDC chairpersons in the Kupwara district. Out of 105 candidates, who joined the fray in Jammu district, 79 were Independents, 20 from the BJP and five from the Congress. Ninety-seven candidates filed their nomination papers in Kathua district, 95 in Rajouri district, 94 in Doda district, 92 in Poonch district, 56 in Kishtwar district, 51 in Ramban district, 54 in Reasi district, 66 in Udhampur district and 41 in Samba district. As for the Kashmir Valley, 131 candidates filed nomination papers in Kupwara district, 110 in Baramulla district, 43 in Bandipora district, 37 in Ganderbal district, 08 in Srinagar district, 69 in Budgam district, 18 in Pulwama district, 11 in Shopian district, 23 in Kulgam district and 65 in Anantnag district.
What does all this show? It shows that the political behavior of the Jihad-gripped over pampered Srinagar, Shopian and Pulwama districts in Kashmir was disappointing. But it was not altogether unexpected. It’s indeed inspiring that 19 of 22 districts in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have exposed the Kashmiri leaders and told the international community that they stand for the promotion of democracy and that they have full faith in the Indian political system.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.