Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, regardless of the level at which they are being held, have a tendency of heating up the political environment. All parties bare their claws and go to each other throats with the worst form of name calling and trading of barbs/insults. In the melee, important issues are skirted as attention remains focused on mundane matters that are high on emotion.
The aforementioned scenario is being witnessed in full measure as the elections for the District Development Council (DDC) approach. The DDC is a new unit of governance introduced on 17 October 2020 by the Government of India by amending the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 and J&K Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996. It aims to strengthen grassroot democracy and the Panchayati Raj system by replacing the bureaucratic District Planning and Development Boards (DDBs) with the DDCs. In the new dispensation the planning process will be handled directly by the elected representatives of the people. While the DDBs functioned under a cabinet minister, the DDC will be headed by the local Member of Parliament as chairman and other locally elected representatives as members. The Councils will oversee the functions of the Panchayats and of the Block Development Councils as well.
As expected, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was vociferous in its criticism of the progressive amendment and termed it as a mere tokenism. ‘The aim is to sub-divide, overlap, create layer after layer, so that nobody would know who is in charge. In such a scenario, the ultimate arbiter would be the bureaucrats and the security set-up’, said a spokesperson of the PDP. The other political parties of Kashmir also did not shy away from criticising the move of the government.
These parties, now in alliance as the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and comprising of the National Conference (NC), PDP, People’s Conference (PC), Communist Party (CPI-M), Awami National Conference (ANC) have taken on the separatist mantle with consistent calls for disruption and divisiveness by demanding restoration of Article 370. They have not taken long to comprehend the political isolation that they would face by not participating in the DDC polls. Hence, they have decided to fight the election together.
The adage, “politics makes strange bedfellows” most aptly denotes the PAGD. It’s constituents are bitter political enemies who have been at each other’s throats for decades; now they are coming together for a small grassroot election. Furthermore, most constituents had sworn publically that they would not fight any election till Article 370 is not restored and have now retracted. This is a reprehensible show of political opportunism. One has to agree with the definition of ‘Unholy Gathbandan (Alliance)’ given to this set up by Home Minister Amit Shah.
The Congress party, unsure of favourable result in the DDC elections has joined the PAGD bandwagon deftly sidelining the fact that it also rooted for the abrogation of Article 370 but could not garner the will to revoke it. Now it is associating with elements that seek restoration of the Article! India and the whole world are watching this double-faced opportunism of the Congress which is bound to negatively impact the party’s already diminishing reputation. However, the Congress seems to have realised the blunder and is attempting to make amends. The state level leadership gave a clarification that it “may pursue a state level electoral alliance” but would not be signatories of the proclamations. The central Congress leadership claimed that there was no alliance at all. It is very unfortunate to see a national party of the stature of the Congress stooping to such low levels.
PAGD is set to fight the DDC election on the platform of “restoration of Article 370.” How will it fulfil this dream through victory in a grassroot poll? Quite obviously, they are contesting on a flawed agenda. In any case, the fissures in the ‘unholy Gathbandan’ are already visible with most constituents expressing dissatisfaction over the seat sharing formula made by the National Conference. How can these people be relied upon to work for the welfare of the people?
There are some who wish to create an impression that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will come under pressure and stress by this ‘Gathbandan’ coming into play. This, experts feel, is a faulty argument. The BJP will definitely fight the election but its main interest is to ensure free and fair polls and smooth political movement to pave the way for state level elections. The PAGD has, in fact, played into the hands of the BJP by agreeing to fight the election and giving an indication that its anti-polls rhetoric was a fallacy. The NDA Government has, thus, moved a step nearer to its assurance to the people that assembly polls in the Union Territory will be held soon.
A point for concern is the manner in which the PAGD constituents are looking for support from across the border for their political survival. The PAGD chairman, Farooq Abdullah has led the alliance in seeking support from both China and Pakistan. This policy has grave security consequences. Pakistan has already taken cognizance of the statements and drastically increased its nefarious activity along the Line of Control (LOC). The recent exchange of fire all along the LOC and the killing of terrorists being transported from Jammu to Kashmir are indicators of the enhanced activity by Pakistan. The response by the Indian Army and other security forces has been strong and decisive, but that does not condone the anti-national bias of the PAGD constituents.
The new age separatists want the DDC election to become their political playground for their battle on the issue of Article 370. The stark reality is that abrogation of Article 370 is complete and irrevocable. India and the entire world have accepted it. Politics in the Union Territory have to be conducted within the ambit of this reality. Also, the existing set of politicians and their agendas are outdated and as such a new leadership needs to be given a chance by the people. (