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Gupkar Alliance's Decision to Contest Local Body Polls May Thwart BJP's Valley Plans, Revive Party Cadres

Members of People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and others during a press conference after their meeting, at Bathindi in Jammu, Saturday. (PTI)

Members of People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and others during a press conference after their meeting, at Bathindi in Jammu, Saturday. (PTI)

For the alliance to take part in the grassroots democracy after Article 370 was abrogated was not an easy decision to arrive at considering the public mood in the valley.

Mufti Islah

Ending the suspense over its participation in the upcoming District Development Council elections, the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) on Saturday said it would contest the polls unitedly “to disallow democratic space to be invaded by divisive forces.”

The alliance’s spokesperson, Sajad Lone, wrote on his Twitter handle, “PAGD has unanimously decided to contest DDC elections unitedly. Despite the abruptness of the DDC elections in terms of timing it is important that the sacred space in democracy is not allowed to be invaded or marauded by divisive forces.”

For the alliance to take part in the grassroots democracy after Article 370 was abrogated was not an easy decision to arrive at considering the public mood in the valley.

Critics believe that participation in any electoral exercise by the Valley mainstream parties would be construed as providing legitimacy to the Centre's August 5, 2019 move to do away with the special status of the erstwhile state.

They say it also belies the stand taken by the former state chief minsters Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti who vowed not to stand up for any elections unless the special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir is restored.

The forum members had boycotted the local body elections in 2018 and 2019 in anticipation of the BJP-led central government’s plans to scrap state’s special status. The BJP, which was trying to find a toehold in Kashmir, took advantage of their absence and won a number seats, either uncontested or with minimal voter participation.

The alliance has belied expectations of many in Jammu & Kashmir who were expecting them to take a more hardline position on elections until Article 370 was restored. Some even expected them to follow into the footsteps of the Hurriyat by completely boycotting all elections.

“But that would be self-defeating and handing over the ground to the BJP to capture all the space for electoral politics in Jammu and Kashmir at a time when our supporters are being denied a level-playing field,” said a leader who was part of Saturday’s PAGD meeting.

A political commentator termed the alliance’s decision as "playing smart" in the given circumstances and point of time.

One, the participation will not give a walkover to the BJP and its allies who are out to limit the influence of the regional parties. Secondly, the National Conference (NC), People's Democratic Party (PDP), People's Conference and Communist Party will be able to rejuvenate its cadres on the ground. Their supporters had become dormant in the last 14 months and needed an impulse to get back into action.

The boycott of electoral exercise, they say, would not help the alliance sustain pressure on New Delhi but further push them to the margins.

“The alliance can emerge stronger if it defeats the BJP and its allies. In a way it would be an endorsement for the restoration of the special status for which it stands,” one of them said.

“A smarter move would have been to field proxies and support them covertly or through whisper campaign but then the alliance is not Hurriyat. It should come out openly and campaign for what they stand for - and that is to restore Article 370,” he added.

Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing its maiden DDC polls from November 28. In October, the central government amended the Jammu and Kashmir’s Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, to establish DDCs in all its 20 districts. Every district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies with elections covering 280 constituencies.

The Congress too has decided to take part in the BDC polls to stymie the BJP’s desire for a free run.

The participation is likely to deal a major blow to the BJP’s plans to make inroads in Kashmir belts of the newly carved Union Territory. Muslims form nearly 70 percent of the population and many believe the abrogation of Article 370 is aimed at changing the Muslim majority character of the region.

“Our participation does not in any way prove that we have diluted our stand for the restoration of the state’s special status. We do not want to give BJP a free run and help its propaganda that its win is an approval of what it did on August 5 last year,” a source said.

Meanwhile, Jammu’s senior politician Prof Bhim Singh became the latest victim of the Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and its aftermath on Saturday after his party expelled him for meeting leaders of the Valley-based seven party alliance fighting for the restoration of state’s special status.

The Valley leaders are camping in Jammu for the last two days to garner support for the restoration of the special status.

Both NC president Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are holding meetings to tap voices in support of Article 370. Many leaders in Jammu and a sizeable section have opposed the government's move to scrap the contentious article that clipped safeguards for jobs and land for locals.

Founder of the Panther's Party, Prof Singh was among local leaders and activists who met the visiting leaders. The party holds sway in parts of Jammu.

Hours after the meeting, the party’s chairman and Singh’s nephew Harsh Dev Singh said he had removed him from the post of party patron.

Panthers Party has fiercely opposed the recent land laws that allowed outsiders to buy land in the Union Territory but it is equally opposed to any alliance with Valley-based parties. The party plays a Jammu card and is seeking more rights for the region.

“He had gone there (to meet alliance leaders) on his own, in individual capacity. The party has nothing to do with it. He has grown old and often he does not know what his actions or statements (are meant to be). Perhaps he has no control over them,” Dev told reporters, adding the party will have no truck with “anti-national” forces, an apparent reference to leaders of the new alliance.

PDP spokesperson Najmu Saqib said delegations comprising Sikh groups, Gaddi and Sippi (Dogras) leaders, Kashmiri Pandits, Gujjar and Bakerwal leaders,as well as Scheduled Caste and OBC functionaries met the alliance leadership.

“During the discussions, they assured that they would fight for the identity and dignity of people of Jammu & Kashmir. The delegations said they would fight with PAGD for the restoration of special status of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Earlier, the alliance leaders got a massive response in Kargil on their call for restoration of Article 370.


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