An advocate, a former journalist, a businessman, and a career politician are among the candidates for the upcoming District Development Council polls. The first-ever elections to the DDCs are set to begin on November 28 and will be conducted in eight phases through December 19.
On one side is a seven-party alliance — the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which includes mainstream Kashmir parties National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party — while on the other are candidates fielded by the BJP, the Altaf Bukhari-led J&K Apni Party, as well as some Independents.
In the backdrop of the political vacuum in J&K over the last 14 months, candidates say voters are keen to have representatives in place to address everyday bijli-paani issues as much as the big questions surrounding the scrapping of J&K’s special status, the introduction of the domicile clause and recent changes to land laws.
The Indian Express spoke to some of the candidates in Kashmir:
Suhail Bukhari (PDP), Sangrama
The 37-year-old PDP spokesperson is contesting his first election. Before joining the Mehbooba Mufti government as media advisor in 2016, he was a journalist for 14 years, working largely for television media.
For him, this election is about the larger questions surrounding J&K’s politics as well as the issue of governance. “DDCs are going to be a whole new system of governance in J&K and would have a key role in future policy formation. That said, we do not want this space to be taken away by the BJP or its proxies and we will do our best to counter their divisive agenda,” he said.
Dr Aneesa Gull (BJP), Chadoora
A doctorate in sociology, Gull comes from the backward Chopan community of Central Kashmir. A senior leader of the BJP’s OBC Morcha in Kashmir and an executive member of its Mahila Morcha, Gull started her political career with the Congress before switching sides to BJP in 2014. Her father Ghulam Mohammad Chopan was the BJP candidate for the 2014 Assembly polls while her sister-in-law is a BJP sarpanch. “My aim is to uplift the people of my community,” she says.
Ulfat Mushtaq (People’s Conference) Ramhal
The 29-year-old advocate from North Kashmir, who is fighting her debut election, is standing from the reserved seat of Ramhal in Kupwara. A lawyer, she says that while fighting for people’s rights legally, she realised that she could contribute further by becoming part of the legislative process. “As a lawyer, one comes in contact with a lot of people who are incapable of fighting for themselves. This election gives me the opportunity to do so on their behalf.”
Nasir Lone (National Conference), Sogam
The 33-year-old represents the young political leadership within the party. His brother, Kaiser Jamsheed Lone, is an ex-legislator from Lola in Kupwara district.
“The bureaucracy is not heeding to the people. They are not accessible and it is important to fill that void.”
A pro-election voice within the party, Lone says that “while the fight is bigger, democratic institutions cannot be left vacant”.
Abdul Gani Bhat (National Conference), Naidkhai
A veteran member of the NC cadre, the 70-year-old says he has been associated with the party since Sheikh Abdullah’s times. Despite past instances of sarpanches and other public representatives being targeted by militants, he says he is not afraid of stepping out because “it is the people of this area who have forced me to contest. As long as I am among them, I have nothing to fear.”
Abid Khan (BJP), Devsar
District president of the BJP for Kulgam, Abid Khan worked as a contractual lecturer before joining politics. The 34-year-old Kulgam resident, who started his political career in 2010 as a member of the CPI(M), joined the BJP in 2014. A Master’s in Physics, Khan is also a panch from Bonigam village of Kulgam.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines