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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

First time since August 5 downgrade, crucial political space opens in J&K

The J&K DDC polls have kickstarted politics, dormant and locked down since August 5 last year when the state was split and downgraded and its special status abrogated.

Written by P Vaidyanathan Iyer | New Delhi | Updated: December 23, 2020 7:16:09 am
J&K DDC polls: People stand in queue to cast their votes in Arath area of Budgam district on December 16, 2020. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

The hectic politicking ahead of elections to the District Development Councils (DDCs) – the ‘Gupkar Gang’ jibe of Amit Shah, selective leak of now annulled Roshni Act beneficiaries and arrest of PDP’s youth wing President Waheed Para — did not dent the process, the results underlined Tuesday. As expected, BJP bagged six of the 10 DDCs in Jammu Division but it was the Gupkar Alliance’s win in nine out of 10 DDCs in the Kashmir Division that’s the key takeaway.

More than this outcome, it’s the space that this democratic exercise has opened up in the Union Territory, and particularly in the Valley, which assumes significance. It has kickstarted politics, dormant and locked down since August 5 last year when the state was split and downgraded and its special status abrogated. The Alliance members’ decision to contest has been vindicated by the outcome.

Kashmiris will have representatives people can go to with their day-to-day grievances and institutions whose doors they can knock on. Logon ki sunwai hogi (people will be heard), and funds will reach these Councils based on the size of their population.

That apart, the political message is clear.

The Jammu Division and the Kashmir Division still do not see eye to eye, though Lt Governor Manoj Sinha refers to them as the “two eyes” of the Union Territory. Jammu has voted based on the religious composition of its voters. Predominantly Hindu regions have voted overwhelmingly for the saffron party; in Poonch DDC, it drew a blank, and three each in Rajouri, Ramban and Kishtwar.

The moderate voice of the National Conference seems to have appealed to voters beyond the Valley. It has emerged the single-largest party in three DDCs in the Jammu Division – Rajouri, Ramban and Kishtwar. If Congress enters into a post-poll alliance with NC, the two can gain a majority in all these three. And in Poonch, the NC, PDP and Congress add up to make the half-way mark.

If at all, the five-party alliance of regional parties in the Union Territory has opened up new possibilities too, and presented the BJP with a unique challenge – that of a united Opposition. Of the 20 DDCs, a united Opposition can have its say in as many as 13. This may give ideas to national parties fighting the BJP’s rise in states as well as the Centre.

The flipside of this bonsai democracy is also how a large number of independent candidates can influence the outcome. In Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir, of the 14 seats, independents have won as many as nine. With the Centre-backed J&K Apni Party winning three, and the BJP one, technically, Apni Party-BJP alliance can claim the DDC with support from independents.

The DDC elections have for the first time also given the BJP a toehold in the Valley. For the party to win a seat in Pulwama (south Kashmir), which saw percentage voter turnout in single digits, it is seen as remarkable. In fact, BJP has won a seat in north Kashmir (Bandipore) and Central Kashmir (Srinagar) too. This brings the party in proximity to the Valley’s people, which may have a rub-off effect on its politics as well. Explaining the significance of the DDC elections, L-G Sinha had called it a key vehicle for bringing the politics of representation back in Jammu and Kashmir. Tuesday’s results mark a tentative and important step towards that — how will the establishment manage the new expectations is the next challenge.

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