PAGD Victory Signals Political Strife Ahead

The alliance of a motley group of mainstream regional parties of the Jammu & Kashmir union territory might have won the largest number of seats in the recently concluded local bodies elections but far from signalling a period of political stability this suggests there is more strife in store ahead.

30 December 2020

Voting During the DDC Polls

The alliance of a motley group of mainstream regional parties of the Jammu & Kashmir union territory might have won the largest number of seats in the recently concluded local bodies elections but far from signalling a period of political stability this suggests there is more strife in store ahead.

The first ever District Development Council (DDC) polls in Jammu and Kashmir were spread over 8 phases beginning 28 November and ending 19 December 2020. This was a big step forward in terms of grassroots democratic empowerment. It also introduced another power layer below the state level legislative layer.

This polls despite being for local bodies at the district level assumed significance for several reasons. Primarily because it was an indicator of political currents prevalent in the erstwhile state which had been truncated and downgraded by the government in New Delhi.

The best part was the fair and transparent manner in which these polls were held. In the past, governments, both in Srinagar and New Delhi, have interfered with the polling process and there has often been a lot of hue and cry about rigging. This time, there wasn't a single murmur regarding foul play in the electoral process. This itself is a great plus in J&K!

Thus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi could justifiably claim that the DDC polls in Jammu and Kashmir have written a new chapter in the region. He said the transparent election process and enthusiastic participation of voters is a 'moment of pride' for India. He claimed the District Development Council (DDC) polls have seen people winning due to their work and not names. This part of his assertion could not be disputed.

What could, however, is the assertion of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in New Delhi that these polls have seen the victory of their pro-development policies. This is a debatable point. For, the political opposition in the erstwhile state led by the regional parties such as the National Conference (NC), People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the People's Conference, based their campaign on the political demand of restoration of the union territories special status. Their demand is for the reversal of the steps taken in August 2019, which led to the division of the erstwhile state into two union territories and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave them special status. And it is the alliance of regional parties that won the overwhelming majority of seats, although it is the BJP that secured the largest number of votes.

The alliance of seven mainstream regional parties was formed on 7 October 2020 with the aim to fight for the reversal of constitutional changes made to Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year. National Conference President Farooq Abdullah was chosen to head the alliance as president while PDP Chief Mehbooba Mufti became vice president, People`s Conference leader Sajad Lone the spokesperson and CPI-M leader Yousuf Tarigami its convenor. The flag of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was adopted as the symbol of the alliance, which was called the Peoples' Alliance for Gupkar Declaration or PAGD for short.

The PAGD fought as one unit to consolidate votes and to show that they were united in their stand against the Constitutional changes brought about by the BJP government. Theirs' was a political battle which had little to do with the furthering of grassroots level democracy. It should be noted that earlier the district development boards were mostly defunct bodies and counted for little in the development process. With the amendment to the &K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, brought about by the BJP government in October 2020, the district level development boards were replaced by elected councils. There would be one council consisting of 14 member in each of the 20 districts in the union territory - 10 in the Jammu region and 10 in the Kashmir Valley.

Of the 280 total DDC seats in the Union Territory in which elections were held, results for 278 have been declared while two have been held up due to confusion over the citizenship of two candidates, who are reported to be Pakistan-occupied Kashmir nationals (PoK) married to former militants. They are among the contestants from Dragmulla constituency in Kupwara and Hajin-A in Bandipora. The state Election Commissioner has stopped the counting of votes in the two constituencies till further orders.

The alliance partners were able to win 110 of the total 278 district constituencies for which the results were declared. Eighty-four of these constituencies lie in Kashmir Valley and 26 in the Jammu division. BJP, on the other hand, won just 75 seats, 72 in Jammu region and merely 3 in Kashmir. A few other parties contested outside of any alliance. These included the Congress which got 26 seats - 17 in Jammu division and 9 in Kashmir - while the recently floated Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) got 12 seats. One surprise was the victory of a large number of independent candidates - as many as 50 many of whom are reported to be party rebels.

Even though the BJP trailed the PAGD, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad boasted: "BJP got over 4.5 lakh votes, which is more than National Conference, PDP and Congress combined. BJP is also the single-largest party. J&K has given a resounding slap to the terrorists, extremists, and separatists." This may or may not be true but the fact remains the mandate is fractured in many ways.

The most obvious is the regional divide. The BJP has shown it has overwhelming support in the Jammu region while the PAGD demonstrated it has complete control of the Kashmir Valley.

There is also a religious divide: the PAGD has done well in all Muslim dominated areas. Thus, the Chenab Valley, which is in Jammu Division, went mostly with the PAGD. In the three districts of the Chenab Valley - Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar - the BJP got 14 out of 42 seats.

BJP's Shortcomings were evident in many ways. It did not manage to get a single seat in Poonch district which is in the Jammu division and it trailed even in some other areas where it has previously demonstrated strength.

The DDC polls has once again proved the National Conference's relevance in Jammu & Kashmir politics. The support base of the regional mainstream parties in the Kashmir Valley cannot be wished away. This time, even the Valley saw relatively higher levels of voter turn out which can only be attributed to the fact that these parties could deploy workers to ensure common people actually went to the booth to vote for them. According to one estimate, the Valley districts recorded between 29.91% and 40.65% turnout, which is high by local standards.

In the Jammu region, voting has always been high. This is also the region from where the BJP garnered most of its votes and thereby could claim to have secured the highest number of votes. Unfortunately, its vote was not uniformly spread throughout the union territory. This only highlights the fractured nature of the mandate and the continued gap in perceptions and politics between the two divisions in the union territory.

Thus, there is no meeting point in the politics of Jammu & Kashmir as of now. The abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and the scrapping of the erstwhile state's special status continues to be an intractable knot. In these circumstances, there is little hope of reconciliation or unity within Jammu & Kashmir. The BJP is adamant that it will not reverse its August 2019 decision to scrap Article 370 while the regional mainstream parties have made its reversal the main plank of their politics. In the months to come this conflict can only worsen. How this will help the common man in the union territory is far from clear. One can only hope this difference of views is ultimately resolved through parliamentary means and does not spill onto the streets.

Party Break up of Seats

Party Number of Seats Percentage of Total Votes
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 75 24.82
National Conference (NC) 67 16.46
People's Democratic Party (PDP) 27 3.96
People's Conference (JKPC) 8 na
JKPM 3 na
CPI(M) 5 na
Congress 26 na
Apni Party 12 5.3
PDF 2 na
National Panther's Party (NPP) 2 na
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 1 na
Independents 50 13.82
Total 278

District-wise Breakdown of DDC Poll Results

Districts BJP PAGD INC Apni Ind & Others
Doda 8 1(NC) 4 0 1
Kishtwar 3 6(NC) 3 0 2
Ramban 3 6(NC) 2 0 3
Reasi 7 3(NC) 1 2 1
Udhampur 11 0 0 0 1+2(JKNPP)
Kathua 13 0 0 0 1(BSP)
Jammu 11 1(NC) 0 0 2
Samba 13 1(NC) 0 0 0
Rajouri 3 5(NC)+1(PDP) 3 1 1
Poonch 0 2(NC) 4 0 8
Srinagar 1 1(NC)+1(PDP)+1(JKPM) 0 3 7
Badgam 0 8(NC) +1(JKPM)+1(PDP) 0 0 2+2(PDF)
Kupwara* 0 4(NC)+5(JKPC) 0 1 3
Baramulla 0 2(NC)+2(PDP)+3(JKPC) 2 2 3
Bandipur* 1 4(NC)+2(PDP)+1(JKPM) 1 1 3
Ganderbal 0 7(NC)+4(PDP) 0 0 3
Pulwama 1 2(NC)+7(PDP) 0 0 4
Anantnag 0 6(NC)+3(PDP) 3 0 2
Kulgam 0 5(NC)+2(PDP+5(CPI-M) 2 0 0
Shopian 0 3(NC)+4(PDP) 1 2 4
Total 75 110 26 12 50+1BSP
*13seats only

Syed Hasnain Imam

30 December 2020