by Yawar Hussain
SRINAGAR: The first-ever District Development Council (DDC) polls scheduled to kick-start Friday are witnessing a huge number of independent candidates across all districts. This is making the exercise outcome hugely unpredictable.
This phenomenon has gripped the election environment at a time when six traditional political parties, including arch-rivals National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have joined hands in Jammu and Kashmir to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Such a huge number of independent candidates filing nominations was also witnessed during 2018 Urban Local Body and Panchayat elections which the Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference had boycotted.
In Arin DDC segment of Bandipora district, out of 13 nominations filed 10 are independents while the rest three are from different political parties.
Similarly, in Kupwara district’s, Kalaroos, Kralpora and Tanghdar DDC segments, 29 nominations have been received out of which 19 are from independents.
In Pir Panjal’s Poonch district, Choudhary Haroon contesting from Larnoo DDC segment claims that he is contesting as an independent because the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) candidate from the area is in alliance with the BJP.
In Kupwara districts’ Kralpora DDC segment, Bilquees Cheeta, an unheard political player has decided to join the election fray as an independent candidate promising “development” as her agenda.
In Ganderbal district’s Kangan-A DDC segment, Ruheena Shahzad is contesting as an independent even though she has been associated with the BJP.
In Beerwah assembly segment, PDP district President and former lawmaker Nazir Khan is contesting as an independent against his party’s supported PAGD candidate, Mohammad Ashraf. Khan has also put up independent candidates on his own against the PAGD candidates, elsewhere.
Similarly, in Sangrama DDC segment, where the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has fielded PDP leader Suhail Bukhari and J&K Apni Party has fielded former legislator Shoaib Nabi Lone, Mohammad Ashraf, otherwise unknown political figure, has filed his nomination as an independent.
Ashraf, in his interactions with the media, states that he decided to contest because all the traditional parties have done nothing for Sangrama.
In north Kashmir’s Naidkhai DDC segment, Noor Mohammad, also a first-timer has filed his nomination papers from the area.
In Pulwama district’s Hiller DDC segment, two independents, hitherto unknown, Farooq Ahmad Bhat and Talib Hussain have filed their nomination papers
On Thursday, the Peoples Democratic Party General Secretary and former minister Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura had claimed that proxy candidates are being put up by PAGD constituent party leaders against the official candidates.
The first-ever eight phased DDC elections slated to begin from November 28 to December 22 across 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir will elect 280 representatives with 14 members from each district. The election to DDCs is the first adult suffrage exercise post-August 5, 2019 when the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two union territories and the special status under Articles, 35-A and 370 was abrogated forthwith.
The major contest in these elections is slated between the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration(PAGD)—an amalgam of mainstream parties, set up to bring back erstwhile J&K state’s special status, comprising of National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Conference (PC), J&K Peoples Movement (JKPM), Communist Party of India (M), and Awami National Conference (ANC)—on one side against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the other and the newly formed J&K Apni Party.
Encouraging individuals to file nominations has been an old system of improving participation. However, established political parties insist that these candidates are now a threat to divide the votes thus making the exercise completely unpredictable.