Prof Hari Om
The process to elect 20 District Development Councils (DDCs) in the UT of J&K is on. It would be an eight-phase exercise. The people of this border region will elect DDCs for the first time. The first phase would witness voting on November 28. The whole process would be completed in the last week of December. This would be the first electoral exercise in J&K post-Article 370 abrogation.Convinced that these elections are politically very important for them, all Kashmiri parties have taken a big U-turn and decided to take the plunge. Earlier, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah and ilk had declared that they would take part in electoral exercises only after Articles 35A and 370 were restored and UT of J&K granted full state status. The Kashmiri parties took the decision to test political waters on November 7 at Farooq Abdullah’s Bathindi residence in Jammu.The BJP has already released three comprehensive lists of candidates both for Jammu province and Kashmir Valley and is in the process of releasing other lists of candidates. BJP high command has taken the ongoing electoral process as a big challenge which could be seen from the fact that it has deputed many central leaders, including Union Ministers, to J&K to help local unpopular BJP leadership perform well and win as many DDCs as possible. They are campaigning both in Kashmir and Jammu provinces. They are leaving no stone unturned to motivate the electorate to vote for the BJP candidates. They are trying their best to convert the ongoing electoral exercise into a fight between the ‘nationalists’ and ‘votaries of Pakistan and China’ and claiming that the BJP would put up a good show in both the regions. They are targeting the Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and Sonia’s Congress, questioning their very credentials and telling the electorate that a vote for the BJP would be a vote for the state’s all round development, peace and prosperity.The PAGD has also not lagged behind. As of now, it has released four lists of candidates. In fact, the PAGD, conglomerate of seven essentially separatist outfits, has divided Kashmir into an equal number of parts and distributed territorial constituencies among themselves. So far, it has fielded 86 candidates in Kashmir. The National Conference (NC) has fielded 39 candidates, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 27, People’s Conference (PC) 9, J&K People’s Movement (JKPM) 3, Awami National Conference (ANC) 3 and CPI-M 2. The PAGD has also set apart three seats for the Sonia’s Congress as far as the second phase of the election is concerned. No Congress candidate found his/her name in the first, third and fourth list of candidates released by the PAGD. Reports emanating from Srinagar suggest that the PAGD may not leave any seat for the Congress both in Jammu province and Kashmir Valley.The fact is that the BJP is putting in all efforts to capture as many DDCs as possible. As for the PAGD operatives, they are raking up such issues as new land laws, Article 35A, Article 370 and the so-called unresolved Kashmir issue. At the same time, they are busy accusing the Narendra Modi Government and powers-that-be in J&K of not providing their candidates the required security cover, thus denying them the opportunity to campaign in the territorial constituencies they have filed their nomination papers for. They are using media, including social media, to draw the attention of the authorities to the problems which their candidates are facing. Of course, Lt Governor Manoj Sinha on November 21 rejected all these allegations and asserted that ‘there is complete freedom to the candidates and political parties for campaigning in the DDC elections’. Significantly, Kashmir has not witnessed either Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti campaigning for their party candidates. Why? They alone could answer.However, the question to be asked is; Is the Congress really in the fray? Why this question? It has not released any list of candidates. There is total confusion because of its ‘yes and no’ approach to the PAGD, notwithstanding the fact that the JKPCC chief GA Mir was a signatory to the Gupkar Declaration 1.0.Initially, senior Congress leaders like P Chidambaram, Saif-ud-Din Soz and GA Mir had given everyone to understand that the JKPCC was part of the PAGD. So much so, AICC president Sonia Gandhi sent AICC secretary to Jammu to discuss seat-sharing formula with the PAGD and he did meet the Jammu-based Gupkaris. But things changed dramatically after HM Amit Shah dismissed the Farooq Abdullah-led Gupkaris as ‘Gupkar Gang’ consisting of pro-China and pro-Pakistan elements. Such was the impact of the HM Shah’s statements that the AICC officially declared that the Congress was not part of the PAGD. No wonder then that the PAGD has almost struck off the Congress’ name.The level of confusion in the Congress could be gauged from the fact that many in J&K have filed their nomination papers as independent candidates. Some of them are sons and nephews of the Congress bigwigs, including Leader of Opposition in RS Ghulam Nabi Azad and former MP Madan Lal Sharma, and JKPCC General Secretary Chowdhary Shahnawaz. The manner, in which the Congress high command and JKPCC leadership, have acted, and continue to act, has only marred the electoral prospects of the Congress candidates, if any. It appears the Congress has lost its way.Interestingly, the story of JK Apni Party (JKAP) is no different from that of the Congress. Its leaders have suddenly gone into hibernation in both the regions. There is hardly any report from Kashmir or Jammu to the effect that the JKAP leadership has fielded how many candidates in Jammu and how many in Kashmir and it has been campaigning for them.All in all, it can be said that the poll outcome will decide the fate of many parties in J&K.
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