Will DDC polls throw up new leaders?
In Jammu and Kashmir, new parties have been coming up with old faces. It is for the first time that parties may be old but faces are new.
A significant number of new representatives are about to emerge in the mainstream political scenario across Jammu and Kashmir, as the first-ever District Development Council (DDC) poll results will be out on Tuesday. It is believed that some number of these newcomers may succeed to establish themselves as leaders of the future. Pertinently, as many as 280 candidates, 140 each from Valley and Jammu, will be declared as winning representatives to form the twenty DDCs in the UT.
Until 2002, there were only two mainstream political parties dominating the politics of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir – National Conference and Congress, with BJP having some symbolic presence in Jammu region. In 2002, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) floated by Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, surfaced with a bang and in coalition with Congress formed the government.
The party was new but most of the leaders were the faces which people were acquainted with. Following the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir State into two Union Territories, another political party – Apni Party – was launched. Again, the party is new, faces are the same old ones.
However, as for as DDC elections are concerned, parties may be old ones, faces undoubtedly are fresh and that makes the difference. As put by a contesting candidate from south Kashmir, “The new faces among the winners cannot replace traditional mainstream leaders but many of them, undoubtedly, may be able to establish themselves as popular leaders in the future. Most of the winning candidates will also fight the assembly elections (whenever these are held).”
The forthcoming DDCs will be powerful bodies in terms of their authority on the planning and execution of work in the areas of finance, development, public works, health & education, and welfare for the next five years.
Clearly, any political party lacking representation or sparsely represented in these DDCs will be virtually out of power in J&K, that too, at a time when the central government does not seem to have any intention of holding assembly elections here, in the near future.
Analysts believe that the DDC poll results may throw up a fractured mandate because the major contestants —People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), BJP, Congress and Apni Party had a tough competition in these elections. While many say that since the PAGD constituents fought these elections under a seat-sharing arrangement and that enhances their chance of victory, but some believe that the unity at the top failed to percolate down on the ground.
It is pertinent to mention that New Delhi amended Jammu Kashmir’s Panchayati Raj rules to pave the way for holding the first-ever DDC polls, in October this year, barely a few weeks after the leaders of regional political parties had been released from months long detention and the political activities were frozen across Jammu and Kashmir. At that time, many senior leaders from the parties like National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alleged BJP of trying to ‘disempowering the traditional mainstream parties’ in J&K by setting up the DDCs. Initially, the PAGD allies were unsure of participating in the elections. However, after deliberations, they hesitantly decided to participate.
“The constituent parties of PAGD fought these elections, despite an unfavourable environment because they knew being out of the first-ever DDCs would mean to be out of power in J&K. Now there will be a representation of the PAGD constituents in the forthcoming DDCs but there will be others from the BJP and Anpi Party, besides the independents as well,” says Tahir Mohidin, poltical analyst and editor Chattan.
The parties, except the Congress, in PAGD, claim that the main purpose of the alliance is to fight for the restoration of special status and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the alliance was criticized by many for its decision, with the crucial question of how the PAGD could participate in an election process, that was the offshoot of the J&K Reorganization Act, 2019, that these parties had earlier called ‘unconstitutional and undemocratic.’
During the eight phased DDC polls, the parties in the PAGD have been accusing the BJP of obstructing their campaign and other poll preparations. On November 21, a week before the first phase of the election, NC leader and MP Farooq Abdullah wrote a letter to the election commissioner alleging that PAGD candidates were ‘not being allowed to campaign.’
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti also blamed BJP for creating ‘an atmosphere’ where there was ‘no place for democracy’. She said that the government wanted to ‘ban’ PDP for raising the matter of Article 370. On November 30, in a press conference, Mufti accused BJP of trying to ‘install’ its ‘puppets’ in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pertinently, National Investigative Agency (NIA), arrested PDP’s youth president Waheed ur Rehman Para, for his alleged involvement in a militancy-related case, a charge, which PDP has denied. Para was arrested a day before the first phase of the DDC elections, and a day after he (Para) had filed his nomination papers to contest the elections.
However, by and large, the election process has been smooth and peaceful and fact of the matter is that the elected DDCs will be the only democratically elected bodies in J&K until the assembly elections are held. All the 20 elected DDC chairpersons will enjoy powers equivalent to as Ministers of State (MoS). In this scenario, there is a possibility of cropping up of a new breed of politicians in every district. Some of them will contest the assembly elections in the future, as well, and most probably some of them might succeed in replacing traditional politicians. Undoubtedly, the regional parties will have to face the tough challenge of remaining afoot in the changing political scenario of J&K.