IN A SUDDEN but significant decision, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration said its constituents including National Conference and People’s Democratic Party would jointly contest the upcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
The first-ever elections to the newly-conceived DDCs are scheduled to be held over eight phases beginning November 28. Each DDC will comprise elected members from 14 territorial constituencies which are being delimited.
The decision of mainstream parties to contest DDC polls is likely to open up political space after almost 15 months since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and downgrading of the state into two Union Territories last August.
“Despite the abruptness of timing and the suddenness to complete everything within one month, we have unanimously decided to contest these elections unitedly,” said PAGD spokesperson Sajad Lone, who is also the Chairman of People’s Conference.
“This is the most sacred space in democracy and we will not allow it to be murdered or molested,” Lone said in support of the decision of the PAGD alliance members to contest the DDC elections. “We will discuss the modalities, administrative rules, etc tomorrow. Dr Sahib (PAGD chairperson and NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah) will release every single name with his own hands,” he said on the way forward.
This is also for the first time in J&K’s electoral politics that the major mainstream parties including arch rivals National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party have buried the hatchet to “prevent the BJP from invading the mainstream political space”.
“This (decision) was necessary,” senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar told The Indian Express. “It is already being said that we have no representative character. We expect a landslide victory and we would like to send a message to the world that what was done on August 5 last year was done without any consultation with us, without any endorsement, and we disapprove of it. That is the purpose and that is why we have joined forces,” he said.
While the National Conference and PDP had stayed away from the municipal and panchayat polls under the Governor’s rule in 2018, the decision to jointly contest the DDC polls has sprung a surprise, both within the political leadership of the parties and the people.
Sources said the decision to contest DDC elections was unanimous and one of the main reasons was “not to leave” the mainstream political space open to the BJP and to allow it to “gain hold of the power structure” in Jammu and Kashmir.
“The aim of these elections was to replace the existing mainstream political parties with a new set of people and to create institutions and use them to their advantage,” a senior leader, privy to the consultations, told The Indian Express. “We want to send a message that the mainstream is not going anywhere, we are here to stay. Also it is not participation in the elections but blocking the road for BJP,” the leader said.
Lone said the decision was taken after ascertaining the views of their ground level workers in Jammu and earlier in Kashmir. “All the delegations meeting us here in Jammu expressed sentiments similar to the people in Kashmir. All are facing grave problems, economic and administrative. People in both Jammu and Kashmir are unhappy and hurt over the decisions of August 5,” he said.
Leaders, however, acknowledge it would be a hard task for the political parties to convince their ground workers of the Alliance’s decision to fight jointly. “Of course, there would be problems at the cadre level. It is not an easy task to convince a ground worker to vote or campaign for someone, who was his rival just a year ago. And then every worker has ambitions. But sometimes, you have to take decisions for the collective good of the people and get above party lines and party politics,” a leader said.
But PDP’s Naeem Akhtar has a contrary view. “We have taken the decision, but the feedback has come from the ground, from our workers. It is the sentiment on the ground (that is reflected) in our decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress party, which also said it would participate in the DDC elections, said it will contest on its own. “We have decided to contest the coming elections,” Pradesh Congress Committee President G A Mir said. “To avoid division of votes to the advantage of communal forces, our district units will decide on adjustment on candidate-to-candidate basis given the situation on the ground,” he said.