DDC Polls: How The Major Newspapers Commented?

The DDC elections, the results of which were declared (barring two berths) has been a major electoral exercise in Jammu and Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, and the subsequent bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union territories. The development was keenly watched and is being commented in the media. Here follow some of the editorials that have appeared in the major non-Jammu and Kashmir newspapers.

BJP Kashmir unit Sunday facilitated newly District Development Council (DDC) members. Pic: Internet

Spot The Winner In J&K, The Alliance Has Spoken
There is thus reason to view the outcome as an expression of the people’s opinions on the Centre’s interventions

The Telegraph, Kolkotta
December 25, 2020

The Union minister of law and justice has described the results of the District Development Council elections in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir as a ‘historic’ triumph for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP, at first glance, seems to have performed well. It has emerged as the single largest party winning over 70 seats, sweeping southern Jammu and even pocketing three seats in the Valley. But the minister, as is the wont of this dispensation, has spotted the wrong winner. For it is the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — its constituents include the National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and others — that has emerged as the real winner. The PAGD, which is seeking to restore Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood that the BJP took away, is in a position to dominate not only the district boards in Kashmir but — this is significant —  quite a few in Jammu if the Congress decides to lend a helping hand. The alliance has made a mark in north Jammu, and a closer look would reveal that some of its smaller members — the CPI(M) and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference are examples — have had the best strike rates among the contestants. Contrastingly, the BJP, which has ceded some strongholds in Jammu and polled a little over three per cent of votes in Kashmir, clocked a strike rate of 32.6 per cent although it fought the highest number of seats. The election results have not been disputed, but this should not deflect attention from the formidable hurdles that the PAGD had to confront. There was the all-too-familiar vilification: the Union home minister described the alliance as a ‘gang’, insinuating its sympathy for separatists; PAGD candidates were also prevented from campaigning freely on specious grounds. The people have now replied unambiguously against this orchestrated intimidation.

Local elections are usually benign affairs. But what made the DDC elections singular was that this was the first election that took place since the controversial abrogation of Article 370. There is thus reason to view the outcome as an expression of the people’s opinions on the Centre’s interventions. The message should be chastening for the BJP. However, another concern seems to have escaped public scrutiny. With the creation of an additional layer of governance — the DDCs are not statutory bodies since their genesis lies in an executive fiat — what would be the prospect of the state assembly, if there is one, in the future? Parallel institutions need not be a sign of the triumph of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.

Three Sikh candidates who were elected to DDC by Majority Muslim vote in north and south Kashmir.

Message From J&K
Not exactly a spring but DDC election results mark a thaw in J&K’s frozen politics, what next is the real test

The Indian Express, Delhi
December 24, 2020

The people of Jammu and Kashmir have spoken unambiguously in favour of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) in the District Development Council elections, the first democratic political exercise in the former state since the Centre stripped it of its special status and downgraded it into two union territories. Even though this was a local bodies election, both the BJP and the PAGD, whose constituents include the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the J&K People’s Conference, plus the CPI(M), among others, turned it into a referendum on those decisions. When the BJP’s apparent expectation of a boycott by the regional parties did not come true, and instead its prospects of winning diminished further with their decision to fight the elections together as the PAGD, none other than Union Home Minister Amit Shah lashed out at them as the “Gupkar Gang” who marched to a “foreign” tune, the allusion being to Pakistan. Naturally, the PAGD has projected its victory as a resounding rejection of all that the Centre has done in J&K over the last year-and-a-half, and as support for its own demand that special status and statehood be restored.

Seeking consolation in defeat, the BJP has been talking up its emergence as the single-largest party, and its win in three seats in the Valley. But what counts in these elections is winning the districts. The PAGD is set to control the councils of at least nine out 10 districts in Kashmir and perhaps a few of the 10 in Jammu, Congress willing. The PAGD’s victory is sweeter for all the obstacles that were thrown in its path, and the efforts made to discredit it in the eyes of the voters. The manner in which the administration waved names of senior PAGD leaders as Roshni Act beneficiaries ahead of the elections, the ED’s actions against NC leader Farooq Abdullah, the arrest of PDP’s star mobiliser Waheed Para, detaining candidates “for their own security” thus effectively ensuring they could not campaign, were all too apparent, orchestrated attempts by the Centre to control the election outcome. To their credit, the Gupkar alliance held firm against the strong-arm tactics.

The results should serve as a wake up call for the government. This is a new turning point in J&K, and calls for much political accommodation. As the party in office at the Centre, the BJP must take the lead. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha should be praised for holding an election whose results are seen as a fair reflection of the popular will. Now, his real work begins. To ensure that the mandate is respected in letter and spirit. So the BJP should refrain from trying to engineer cross-overs in its favour, especially as it has loudly declared that “democracy is the real winner” of these elections. For its part, the PAGD should use this seat at the local high table to do justice to the aspirations of the people. Spring is still far away but there is a thaw in J&K’s frozen politics, it needs a cautious welcome.

BJP candidate Engineer Aijaz Hussain who won from one of the 14 DDC seats from Srinagar. He defeated Apni Party. Aijaz is flashing a victory sign after being declared a winner on December 22, 2020. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

DDC Polls In J&K
Reactivation Of Democratic Process Offers Fresh Start

The Tribune, Chandigarh
December 24, 2020

In the absence of an Assembly, District Development Councils (DDCs) have been conceived as the link between the people and the government in Jammu and Kashmir. The first-ever DDC polls across 20 districts of the new Union Territory mark the reopening of the political space and restoration of the link that was effectively snapped with the dissolution of the Assembly in November 2018 and then the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year. The decision of the mainstream J&K-based parties to first contest and then come together, setting aside differences, is a welcome move. The results, though, have been on expected lines. The Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a seven-party grouping that includes rivals NC and PDP, has won it big in Kashmir, and the BJP in Jammu. The BJP may have described the victory of three of its candidates in the Valley as a wave of change and an affirmation of the Centre’s vision, but for former CMs Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, the results only confirm rejection of the decision to end the erstwhile state’s special status.

The perceived sense of injustice has deepened and the trust deficit has widened during the past 16 months. The largely peaceful electoral exercise is unlikely to bring about any immediate transformation. What it does offer is a positive turn towards samvad and vishvas — democratic concepts made dormant by those in charge. The reactivation of the constitutionally-mandated processes of governance may have come late in the day, but is still a constructive development. The test for the administrative and political leadership now is to stay committed to forging a working relationship that has public welfare as the overarching goal.

The disturbingly confrontational tone of the campaigning left a sour note, but elections of late have seen decibel levels go past all parameters of acceptability, unchecked. Neither does the model of detention and raids fit into the blueprint of a functional polity that allows opposing views and seeks accountability. A fresh start demands better.

Ulfat, a lawyer, who is contesting DDC poll from Ramhal (Kupwara) as a PAGD candidate. Photo: Facebook

Vocal For Local: On J&K DDC
PollsLocal polls mark the restart of the political process in J&K, which should soon return to statehood

The Hindu, Chennai
December 24, 2020

The first District Development Council polls in Jammu and Kashmir had rivals, National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Peoples Conference, coming together on one platform, the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. The six-party platform consolidated votes in nine out of 10 districts in the Kashmir Valley and three districts of the Pir Panjal valley and the Chenab valley in the Jammu region. The alliance has won 110 seats out of a total of 280 seats and the BJP, with 75 seats has emerged as the single largest party. The Gupkar alliance and the Congress are likely to have their chairmen in 12 to 13 districts in J&K, out of a total of 20, and the BJP could be leading five to six. Independent winners, 50 of them, will be able to swing some districts in favour of the BJP or the Alliance. The Alliance sees the poll results as a verdict against the reorganisation of J&K into two Union Territories and revocation of its special constitutional status on August 5, 2019. This was the first electoral process after the Centre ended J&K’s special status, and the alliance had pledged to fight for its restoration. The fears of the regional parties that the polls may be rigged were allayed by the final results. However, the withdrawal of security to leaders and candidates of the Gupkar alliance and restrictions on their campaigning had raised concerns about the process.

The sudden moves against Valley-based politicians in the Roshni land ‘scam’, cricket scam and other cases by the Enforcement Directorate, and the arrest of PDP leader Waheed-ur-Rehmaan Parra, just days after he filed his nomination, all amounted to undesirable use of the state machinery with a political intent. The polls, however, came to be seen as the restoration of the democratic process in J&K, which saw arrests of most regional leaders last year and the suspension of political activities to a large extent. These polls also stand out for being a rare electoral process in the past 30 years where the militant outfits and the separatist groups did not campaign vigorously for a poll boycott. Frequent encounters and locals joining militancy in the past one year in south Kashmir did impact the turnout, where most segments saw less than 20%. The BJP, which had already made inroads during the previous panchayat and urban local bodies polls in 2018 when the regional parties boycotted, managed a win over three seats in Srinagar, Bandipora and Pulwama. The low turnout notwithstanding, this comes as a shot in the arm for the image of the party. The BJP has also maintained a tight grip in Samba, Udhampur, Jammu and Kathua in the Jammu region. The political process restarted through the DDC election must be given more space. The Centre must appreciate the role of regional parties in moving towards peace and stability in J&K. Restoration of statehood and holding of the Assembly election are vital.

Safeena Beigh Defeats PAGD, Apni Party and wins from Wagoora. She is the wife of Muzaffar Hussain Beig

People Win In J&K
Gupkar Alliance wins big, proving that traditional leaders still have popular appeal; BJP makes inroads into Valley

Pioneer, Delhi
December 24, 2020

Yes, democracy has won in Jammu and Kashmir. The massive win for the Farooq Abdullah-led Gupkar Alliance in the local body elections is vindication that traditional leaders are still the people’s choice though the Narendra Modi Government had not spared any effort to demonise them as anti-nationals, separatists even, and as manipulators who smartly leverage the Indo-Pakistan dynamic. It even incarcerated them, knowing fully well that they would stand in the way of the abrogation of Article 370. That they won a mammoth victory in the District Development Council (DDC) polls, winning over 100 seats despite the many limitations on campaigning coming their way, proves that old leaders, though out of sight for a greater part of the shutdown, are not out of people’s mind. And for all the toxic tirade against them, local voters still trust them enough to be their fair representative despite the defanged status of Kashmir. So Article 370 or not, there’s no dislodging whom the Kashmiris want to lead them. The seven-party alliance, which includes Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has defied the script and won 45 seats in Jammu, pocketing the sensitive border districts of Poonch and Rajouri besides Kishtwar and Ramban. Clearly, this is as mainstream as it can get with Abdullah proving that his appeal is still intact in Jammu. Perhaps that’s because land ownership resonates among local residents irrespective of religion or region. The new land rules, which allow outsiders to buy non-agricultural land, have agitated Kashmiris, who see this as an attempt at demographic colonisation of the Muslim-majority area. But the Dogras of Hindu-dominated Jammu and Ladakhis are not too happy about their local culture and privileges being swept away under the same clause, particularly when the Northeastern States are allowed autonomy under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to protect tribal land. Much of this tidal verdict has got to do with the Modi Government undoing the trust the earlier Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government had developed with the NC as its ally and which the current regime continued with the PDP. Locking their leaders up has only united them and made them martyrs to a cause, much to the BJP’s detriment, one that it could have avoided with mediatory posturing. Had the local parties contested separately, the Muslim votes would have been divided, which the BJP could have used to win more than the three seats it won in Kashmir. The force-feeding of its agenda of mainstreaming Kashmir neither encouraged a political climate even after a year of the abrogation nor helped the national party hoist a credible local alternative. It may have helped float the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), drawing rejects from the PDP and NC but that has fared miserably in the polls.

The BJP, of course, has emerged the single largest party with 74 seats, mainly relying on the consolidated Hindu vote base in Jammu. But it has also debuted in the Valley, winning three seats in Srinagar, Bandipore and Pulwama. Enough for it to claim that its bold strategies in reintegrating Kashmir have rubbed off on the people a bit, if not completely. The seats it has won are significant in terms of the inroads it seems to have made on hostile ground. It, therefore, indicates a gradual acceptance of the larger reality of Kashmir’s changed status. No wonder the BJP spokespersons crowed “The lotus has bloomed” in the Valley. In Jammu, the BJP won 71 seats, scoring along expected lines. Just as expected is the decimation of the Congress which has won 26 seats, hardly relevant when Independent candidates have picked up 49 seats and are perfectly poised to be kingmakers. Srinagar is the touchstone as Independents have won seven out of 14 seats here. Assuming the Congress ultimately decides to support the Gupkar alliance, the huge number of Independents is a catchment area for the BJP’s future political laboratory. The Modi regime should have been prepared for the consequences and not pre-judged compliance by force but by gradual cooption. Of course, the BJP has got in seasoned politician Manoj Sinha as the Lt Governor, who used his acumen as a negotiator to get the political process going. But restoration of basic civil rights is still a long way off, patchy internet means the students and the new economy are left out of opportunities, unemployment is at an all-time high and the local economy is going down with a Rs 40,000 crore plus deficit. Without addressing these issues, there is no way that the BJP can claim the higher ground. Or else it could risk Kashmir as being its costliest misadventure.

Voters in a queue at a polling booth at Cheksari Pattan area of Baramulla on Saturday, December 18, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Step To Normalcy
Jammu & Kashmir DDC Polls Are A Victory For Democracy In The Region

Times of India, Delhi
December 23, 2020

The eight-phase district development council polls in Jammu & Kashmir have seen the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration – a conglomerate of seven parties including NC and PDP – gain a majority. At the time of going to press, the alliance has won or is leading in 110 out of the 280 seats spread across 20 districts. This means the alliance will have control of nine councils, all in the Kashmir Valley. However, BJP has emerged as the single largest party by winning or leading in at least 75 seats. This gives the party control of six councils in the Jammu region. Plus, the party has won three seats in Kashmir in a symbolic crossing of the Pir Panjal range.

Additionally, the Congress and NC are likely to win control of four councils in Jammu, while independents are picking up 50 seats. The results suggest that the polls – the first since the nullification of Article 370 of the Constitution last year that revoked J&K’s special status – were successful. The turnout was a substantial 51%. And no party has claimed widespread fraud or rigging. On the contrary, both the Gupkar alliance and BJP have claimed victory. And the fact that independents could play a key role in many of the councils means that the people of J&K could be tiring of the bipolar politics of BJP and Article 370-centric Kashmiri parties.

That said, the district development council polls should be seen as a stepping stone towards normalisation in J&K. The security deployment in the region since last year, though necessary given the undiminished threat of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan as well as the new threat from China, cannot be a substitute for development and winning the hearts and minds of the people. In this regard, the district development councils are supposed to drive development through direct funding from the Centre. Therefore, adequate resources should be devolved to the councils to meaningfully empower them.

The successful polls also make a case for easing restrictions in J&K. In particular, curbs should be lifted on high speed mobile internet connectivity. With so much of our lives online today due to the Covid-19 pandemic, such internet restrictions create hardships for students, businesses and the tourism sector. They also slow down pandemic control measures. Bringing J&K fully online should follow quickly upon the heels of the successful conduct of elections.

Entry to the polling station is subject to a welcome temperature check. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

A Good Day For Jammu And Kashmir

Times of India, Delhi
December 23, 2020

The results of the first ever District Development Council elections in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir have been along expected lines, with the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration led by Farooq Abdullah of NC and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti taking the lead in the Kashmir division while BJP did so in the Jammu division.

The critical thing is that the first electoral exercise since the nullification of Article 370 on August 5 last year has taken place successfully and set the stage for further democratic normalisation, by way of making available people’s representatives to hear their grievances and redress them.

The backdrop is that it had appeared at one point that BJP’s opponents wouldn’t participate in the elections and there were also threats by terrorists. While there have been complaints by the former of discrimination in permissions to campaign, today instead of allegations of rigging etc. both sides are claiming success in the elections. Continuing progress in this direction must lead to the normalisation of the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir, whose ultimate goal would be the restoration of statehood and holding of assembly elections.

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