Srinagar: In a significant development, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration on Saturday decided to contest the upcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections.
The Alliance, which took shape last month, has vowed to fight for the restoration of J&K’s special status, which was read down by the Centre on August 5 last year, the day J&K state was also split into two Union Territories.
The DDC polls will be the first electoral exercise to take place in the J&K Union Territory under the new order post-August 5, which the Alliance has repeatedly rejected.
The Alliance leaders were on a day-long visit to Jammu as part of their programme to reach out to people from different regions of the erstwhile J&K state and garner support for their demand.
Following their meeting at the residence of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, who is heading the Alliance, its spokesperson Sajad Lone said the leadership has decided to contest the upcoming polls in J&K unitedly.
Lone, who was flanked by other Alliance leaders, said that all modalities and new administrative rules will be looked into and the coalition president, Abdullah, will declare the names of contestants on his own after modalities for fielding “common candidates” were worked out. Lone, who heads the Peoples Conference, said the list of candidates will be released by Abdullah himself.
‘Gupkar Alliance versus BJP’
Justifying the move by the Alliance which could raise many eyebrows, Lone said despite the “abruptness of the elections in terms of timing, it is important that this scared space in democracy is not allowed to be invaded and marauded by divisive forces.”
On November 6, The Wire had reported that the DDC poll issue will be on the agenda for the Alliance meeting in Jammu.
The first-ever DDC elections will be held over eight phases beginning November 28, after the Centre cleared the setting up of 14 councils in each district by an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, last month.
Under the recently held delimitation exercise, at least 280 DDCs have been created across J&K Union Territory, whose term will last for five years. The members of the councils will be directly elected by voters. The last phase of polling is scheduled to take place on December 19.
Besides elections to the DDCs, polls will also be held concurrently to 228 vacant seats in urban local bodies and 13,241 panch and sarpanch seats which were left vacant when the panchayat elections were held in 2018 elections amid a boycott by the National Conference and PDP.
Led by Abdullah, the Alliance also has the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Conference, CPI (M), Awami National Conference and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (J&KPM).
All the leaders of the Alliance including Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah, leftist leader M.Y. Tarigami and J&KPM’s Javaid Mustafa Mir and Lone attended the meeting in Jammu.
The Alliance leaders had maintained complete silence on the issue of participation in the elections after the Centre had cleared the amendments to the J&K Panchayat Act on October 17.
A senior Alliance leader who did not want to be named said the parties were “quite aware” that the decision to participate in the DDC polls will invoke criticisms, particularly in Kashmir, where political parties have always been accused of “serving the agenda of the government of India”.
“It was a difficult choice to make. We know that participating in the elections will lead to criticism. There will be accusations and people will also ask questions about our political grandstanding. But, we couldn’t have afforded to leave the field open for the BJP to further its divisive agenda,” the leader said.
Senior PDP leader Name Akhtar termed the poll-related announcement by Alliance as a “very good decision.” “A landslide win for the combination will be an appropriate response to @BJP4India about the disapproval of its August 5 robbery by the only stakeholders, the people of J&K,” tweeted Akhtar. “We have to rise above partisan feelings unlike the @BJP4India.”
‘Alliance to contest all DDCs’
Talking with The Wire, Tarigami said the decision of the Alliance was on the expected lines. “We never said that we won’t be taking part in any democratic process that would help us unite the people against the divisive forces,” said Tarigami.
But, he hurried to add that participation in elections would in no way mean that the Alliance will give up its core agenda to fight for the restoration of J&K’s special status which was “unconstitutionally and illegally scrapped last year.”
He revealed that the Alliance would contest all the DDC seats across Jammu and Kashmir. “The leadership will discuss and finalise the candidates for each of the Alliance parties,” he said.
This was the maiden visit of the Alliance leaders to Jammu which was marked by protests by some right-wing parties. The Alliance leaders also held a series of meetings with representatives of different groups including Sikhs, Gaddis, Sippis, Kashmiri Pandits, Gujjars, Bakerwals, Scheduled Caste members and Other Backward Class (OBC) communities. “We assured them all that the Alliance will fight for the restoration of special status to J&K,” said Tarigami.
Others in the contest
Besides the Gupkar Alliance, other parties which are in the fray for the polls include the BJP and the Congress. The Apni Party is also set to make its electoral debut.
Announcing the party’s decision to go alone in the polls, J&K Congress chief G.A. Mir said the Congress decided to contest the DDC elections to “stop communal’ forces.”
“BJP is trying to finish our identity. People should come forward and take part in the elections and take account of the wrong policies of the BJP through their vote. We will try its best to stop communal forces and we hope that the people understand the situation,” said Mir. “We will not give a free field to BJP in the DDC polls.”
A senior Congress leader said the party was yet to take a final call on whether to field candidates on all the DDC seats. The Apni Party led by former finance minister Altaf Bukhari has also not announced its decision on the number of seats it will be contesting.