Srinagar: When leaders of the Gupkar Alliance meet in Jammu on November 7 as part of their outreach programme, they will have to take a call on the first major challenge that the group, still in its infancy, faces: whether to participate in the polls for the newly-created district development councils (DDCs) or boycott the exercise.
The election will be held over eight phases beginning November 28, after the Centre cleared setting-up 14 DDCs in each district by an amendment to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, on October 17.
During a press conference earlier this week, state election commissioner K.K. Sharma said the delimitation exercise has been concluded and 280 DDCs have been created in the Union Territory whose term will last for five years. The members of the councils will be directly elected by voters.
Besides the DDCs polls, which will be held on party lines, the bypolls for the vacant panchayat seats and urban bodies will also be held concurrently. The entire exercise is scheduled to be completed by December 24.
Will they, won’t they?
Since its formation last month, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration – a conglomerate of several political parties including the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Peoples Conference (PC) – has rejected the August 5, 2019 changes and vowed to fight for the restoration of J&K’s special status.
It now faces the dilemma of whether to participate or not in elections that have come about as a consequence of the Centre’s move to dilute Article 370.
“The Alliance parties will discuss the poll issue during the meeting in Jammu on November 7 and take a call on the way forward,” confirmed CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami, whose party is also a member of the group.
However, the leftist leader said the parties in J&K have never been against any process meant to strengthen democratic institutions and empower the people of the region.
“We saw what was done to Jammu and Kashmir and the environment the government has created. So we will have to take into consideration all the issues before taking a call on the polls,” said Tarigami.
According to Tarigami, there was no doubt that August 5, 2019 was a “disaster” for the entire J&K. “While there can be no second thought about it, but as we continue our struggle, which is long-drawn, many other issues will come up simultaneously and we will have to respond to such issues,” he said.
Many analysts said the poll issue has put the Alliance in a tight spot. “If they take part in the elections, they may be seen as accepting the changes made on August 5. But if they decide to boycott the exercise, that will serve the BJP agenda in Kashmir,” said political analyst Noor Muhammad Baba.
“It is a very tough situation for them, as they will have to pay the price either way,” said Baba.
Ashiq Hussain, another political analyst, said that the mainstream parties “certainly have a role to play” in the situation that Jammu and Kashmir finds itself. He said the government of India has continued with the implementation of its “agenda” since August 5, the latest being the changes to the land laws to allow ‘outsiders’ to buy land anywhere across Jammu and Kashmir.
He argued that the Alliance will have to take a “principled position” in view of the stand taken by them on August 5, the day the Centre unilaterally read down Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and split it into two federally run territories.
“They will need to reach out to the people to make them understand whatever decision they take. But will the people listen to them? There is a trust deficit and it is arguable if the parties even have many communication lines with the people,” said Hussain.
The election announcement has come at a time when the political parties are facing the worst ever credibility crisis among people. At the same time, they have been pushed to the wall by the BJP.
On the other hand, the BJP-led government of India has continued to roll out its policy decisions, from abrogating the J&K Permanent Resident Certificate, to introducing new domicile and land laws. These parties have described the latter two moves as an attempt by the Centre to change the demography of the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions.
While most of the leaders of the Gupkar Alliance have so far ducked the question about their participation in the polls, the PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti told the media last week that she was not personally interested in contesting the polls until the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state flag and constitution are restored.
But, she said, the final call will be taken by the Alliance. “We will discuss it with our workers and then discuss it within the People’s Alliance. Whatever decision we take there will be bound on everyone,” she had told reporters.
“It is a double-edged sword,” a senior PDP leader said when asked for his comment on the predicament regarding the DDC polls. He, however, said the parties were in a dilemma.
“If we decide to participate in the elections, questions will be raised on the stand taken by us against the dilution of Article 370. We will have to face the people’s anger. But if we boycott the exercise, the field will be open for the BJP to make political gains. The Alliance will take a decision keeping in mind the long term goals,” the PDP leader said.
His views were echoed by an NC leader. “In a way, we will be justifying all the wrongs that have been committed with people of Jammu and Kashmir, if the parties decide to participate in the elections,” the NC leader said.
Congress pulls out of Alliance?
Signalling it was no longer part of the Alliance, the Congress has said it will take a call separately on its participation in the polls in the coming few days.
“The elections have been imposed on the people of J&K. We will take a call on the issue in a day or two. Considering the present security situation in Kashmir, it is difficult for political workers to move about among the people,” said the J&K Congress president G.A. Mir, in an apparent reference to the killings of local BJP leaders by militants.
While the Congress attended the first two meetings of the Alliance last month, it distanced itself from the group after Mehbooba told a press conference on October 24 that members of her party would not raise the tricolour unless they are allowed to raise the erstwhile flag of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. “When this flag comes in our hand, we will also raise that (Indian) flag as well,” she had said, pointing towards the erstwhile state flag in front of her.
A senior Congress leader said any “anti-national statement” by the Alliance will have repercussions for the party at the national level. “The party leadership will take the final call on whether to be part of the Alliance,” said the Congress leader.