Being held for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, the first major electoral exercise, District Development Council (DDC) polls, is going to be a fight between ‘BJP and all other parties’. The first phase of polls commences on Saturday.
The mainstream politics has been going through uneasy times in J&K. Most of the parties with a stronghold in Kashmir province have opposed the August 5 move and their leaders, including three former chief ministers, were detained for months. These parties have decided to fight the DDC polls, unlike boycott of Block Development Council (BDC) polls in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 — jointly to counter the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).
This united front — People’s Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — includes the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the National Conference, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (PC) and the Congress party.
PAGD might appear as the only counter front in J&K to BJP but the party is facing challenges in its bastion, Jammu, from a number of small and newly-made parties, though they have not formed a joint front.
Unlike PAGD, these parties have not only supported the BJP government’s August 5 move but celebrated when the region was stripped of its special status.
Primarily, two new parties are attracting attention in Jammu. These include Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan (DSS), formed by former BJP leader Lal Singh who was also a minister in the last BJP-PDP government in the erstwhile state, and IkkJutt Jammu, which was working as a social organisation and came into limelight in 2018 after campaigning for CBI probe into the Kathua rape case. The group launched a political party earlier this month.
“The Central government has a consistent policy from more than last seventy years to run J&K through Kashmir,” said Ankur Sharma, president of IkkJutt Jammu who believes, “BJP also adopted the same policy. On policy paradigm, it (BJP) is no different than congress.”
These parties, unlike PAGD, are not against the abrogation of Article 370 but they are talking about separate Jammu state and are contesting on the seats of Jammu region alone. “Jammu people have been made scapegoats,” said Choudhary Lal Singh. “The new laws are going to make the people of Jammu homeless.”
In the words of BJP leader and the former deputy chief minister of J&K, Kavinder Gupta, “This election is literally BJP versus all.”
“The BJP has proved to be a total failure,” believes, Harsh Dev Singh, Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, which is also fighting the DDC polls on the seats of Jammu. “We are the people who supported the abrogation of Article 370 with the hope that something good will happen, youth will be empowered and Jammu will be getting an adequate share. All these slogans have proved to be a damp squib,” said Singh.
Even some parties, like Shiv Sena, have boycotted the elections as a mark against the BJP. These parties, BJP leaders feel, are not going to be a big poll challenge but they fear that their campaign for separate Jammu might snowball into a bigger movement.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, people are happy in Jammu but these parties are trying their best to prove people that their identity is in danger,” Gupta told News18.
But leaders of these parties feel that August 5 decision was a ‘half-done job’ which has put the identity of the Jammu ‘Dogras’ at the stake.
“The process of delimitation is going to be held on the basis of 2011 census which was fudged,” believes Sharma adding that it is going to “resurrect Kashmiri hegemony as more seats (in the assembly) will go to Kashmir”
Sharma’s poll plank is that Jammu should be separated from Kashmir and made into a state and then Kashmir should be divided into two union territories, one for Muslim population and other for the Pandits.
One more complaint Sharma has with BJP is that they failed to get a chief minister from Jammu in their tenure. “Three times they got the chance to elevate someone from Jammu to Chief Minister but they chose to get once from Kashmir,” said Sharma, who was also one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court of India against article 35 A.
PAGD is also in alliance in the Jammu region but BJP leaders feel that the Jammu based parties are unlikely to affect voter base of this alliance.
“The alliance (PAGD) is going to get votes in the Muslim-majority area of the Jammu but the Jammu-based parties which are fighting against BJP has a support base in the areas BJP is relying on,” said a BJP leader indicating that it might affect the BJP votes.
These parties, like PAGD, are also raising concerns like locals will lose jobs and people from other states and the corporate sector will be a challenge for the residents. “The people from outside are going to be settled here and once they get their domicile, they will be having jobs. Now we have to compete with outside states,” said Harsh Dev Singh.
Some BJP leaders are worried due to the presence of these parties because in the poll campaign, BJP is not addressing the issues which these parties are raising. “We are not talking about statehood or the issues which these parties are putting up. Like the fear of corporate sector coming in,” said a BJP leader.
BJP’s Gupta said that in elections, they are going to people saying if corporate comes in, it will increase their job opportunities. “We are talking about making Jammu an independent tourist destination,” said Gupta.
The first phase of the election began on Saturday at 7 am. The polling exercise will take place in eight phases and will end on December 19, with results to be declared by December 22.
This is also for the first time that elections in J&K are open to non-state subjects like West Pakistan Refugees (WPR) after the abrogation of state-subject laws with the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A.
The polls are being held on the party basis, aimed at the revival of the Panchayati Raj system.
In October, the Centre approved amendments to The Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, paving the way for 280 directly-elected members in 20 districts and thus enabling the formation of all the three tiers of Panchayati Raj Institutions – Panchayat, Block Development Council (BDC) and DDC, with a five-year term.