Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference is seeking votes for the pen and inkpot, the election symbol of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The National Conference and the PDP, meanwhile, are seeking votes for Independents and campaigning against their original candidate. The repoll in two District Development Council (DDC) seats in Kashmir, two years after being declared void, is an indicator of the shifting nature of political alliances in the Valley — and of the confusion it can throw up.
The Drugmulla seat in Kupwara and Hajin in Bandipore are going to polls on Monday. Polling for the seats had been declared “null and void” as two of the candidates — Somia Sadaf and Shazia Aslam, both Independents — hailed originally from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The State Election Commission, in July 2021, ordered repolling for both seats.
Sadaf and Aslam are married to Kashmiri men, who had crossed over to Pakistan for arms training and returned to the Valley under the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s rehabilitation policy. While their nomination papers were accepted and polling was held, the counting was stopped owing to complaints about their candidature.
When the elections for the DDC were held in December 2020, Lone’s People’s Conference was part of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which contested the polls as an alliance. In Drugmulla, the PAGD had fielded Shabnum Lone, a relative of Fayaz Ahmad Mir, then a PDP leader and Parliamentarian. Shabnum, who was from PDP, was allotted the party’s symbol of pen and inkpot.
“The whole confusion was created by the order of repolling instead of fresh elections,” says PDP’s Tahir Sayeed. “Over time, the candidates have changed their affiliations but they can’t change their election symbols.”
The DDC elections that were conducted for the first time in 2020 tested the strength of the PAGD. While the top parties of Kashmir contested under the PAGD banner, the polls sowed the first seeds of discord. There were disagreements between its constituents over candidates. The People’s Conference left, accusing its partners of fielding proxies against the joint candidates. This essentially limited the alliance to the National Conference and PDP. All is not well in the alliance and differences between the two parties have surfaced.
After the elections, Lone parted ways with the PAGD and Mir and his relative Shabnum moved to the People’s Conference. But since it is only a repoll, her election symbol continues to be the pen and inkpot. “It has made the campaigning a little easy for me,” says Mir. “I don’t have to explain to the people about my changing party. When there were elections last time, I asked them to vote for pen and inkpot. This time, I am telling them the same.”
But what if the voters are confused and ask questions? “I tell them, we have supported this candidate in the past, we should support them in this election again. It makes it a bit easy for me.” Mir laughs.
The repoll has caused problems for the PDP and the National Conference as their joint candidate is now a rival. “She (Shabnum) is no longer one of us,” says Sayeed. “We couldn’t have fielded a new candidate and we had no option but to ask people not to vote for the pen and inkpot, our own symbol. We are now supporting an independent candidate. The National Conference is also supporting an independent candidate.”
It is a similar situation in Hajin. In 2020, the PAGD had fielded a joint candidate from the People’s Conference. The three parties — PDP, NC and People’s Conference — campaigned for the joint candidate then. But this time, NC and PDP are supporting independent candidates and campaigning against their 2020 joint candidate.