Rudderless PAGD?

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After securing a majority in around 13 of the 20 District Development Councils, the PAGD struggled to hold on to its lead and lost the councils to Apni Party and the BJP, reports Yawar Hussain

Gupkar Declaration Signatories addressing a joint press conference after meeting at National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah’s residence on Thursday, October 15, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The exit of the People’s Conference has seemingly left the PAGD adrift. The five-party alliance including big players like National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party have not met for nearly two months now.

Seemingly, the PAGD is disinterested in the elections to the chairpersons and vice-chairpersons which they have lost in six out of 13 where they had the mandate when results were declared on December 22 last year. The alliance also hasn’t appointed a new official spokesperson since Sajad Gani Lone left.

Losing Turf  

From having a majority in nine out of 10 districts in Kashmir when results were declared, the PAGD has won on only five districts.

In Kupwara district where the PAGD had four DDC berths out of 13—as one seat of Dragmulla is yet to be decided—the alliance surprisingly decided to abstain from the voting process leading to PC candidate Irfan Panditpuri being elected as chairperson.

The independent candidate Haji Farooq Mir was elected as vice-chairperson backed by the PC.

The Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) which had won one seat in the district supported the PC hinting at the beginning of some interaction between the former rivals.

However, losing Kupwara district without a fight when the PC had just one more seat left everyone wondering about the PAGD’s game plan.

Elected DDC Chairperson Kupwara Irfan Panditpuri with Peoples Conference Chairman Sajad Lone and Imran Raza Ansari.

Budgam was not different as the PAGD lost the chairperson post to an independent and incumbent PDP District President Nazir Ahmad Khan.

The PAGD had won 10 out of 14 seats in the district with the NC having won the majority of eight seats on their own. Still, there was a tie between the official PAGD candidate Abdul Ahad Dar and Nazir Ahmad Khan who had won himself and had the support of another independent Nisar Ahmad Sheikh from Khag DDC segment.

The tiebreaker was decided through a draw of lots in which Khan won. The PAGD had three unknown defections in the district with one from the NC itself.

Interestingly Khan had openly rebelled and contested against the PAGD, a move ignored by his party even though it is a part of the alliance.

The only consolation for the PAGD was that the NC candidate Nazir Ahmad Jahara was elected the vice-chairperson.

In another jolt to PAGD in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, the cross-voting against its own candidate, helped independent candidate Safina Baig to win.

Safeena Beigh (KL Image by Shuaib Wani)

DDC Chairperson Baramulla Safina Beigh

Safina, was backed by Peoples Conference (PC), JKAP and other independents. PC’s  Sonullah Parrey bagged the position of vice-chairperson.

While three members of PC, two from Apni Party and Muzaffar Dar (an independent candidate) were supporting Safina, PAGD comprised of two members each from NC, PDP, Congress and Irfan Hafeez Lone (an independent candidate)  For the post of vice-chairperson, PC’s Sonullah Parrey and Irfan Hafiz Lone got seven votes each and then through a draw of lots Parrey managed to win.

Shopian Case

Last week the PAGD suffered another loss in south Kashmir’s Shopian district where the JKAP managed to win.

JKAP candidate Bilqees Akhtar polled eight votes to win the chairperson’s post while the PAGD candidate secured only six votes. As per sources, JKAP candidate was short of one vote and a candidate from the alliance, which also had won seven seats out of 14 in Shopian, voted in favour of the JKAP. The Shopian DDC chairperson seat was reserved for a woman along with Ganderbal and Baramulla districts of the Valley.

DDC member from Harwan Joins Apni Party

The contest for the vice-chairperson’s post in Shopian went down to the wire with Apni Party’s Iqbal Manhas declared winner through a draw of lots after a tie between him and the PAGD candidate.

In the summer capital Srinagar where JKAP is already heading the Municipal Corporation, the party candidate Aftab Malik bagged 10 votes out of 14 against three votes bagged by the PAGD candidate Kaiser Ganai, also a member of the National Conference.

The JKAP had won only three seats in the DDC polls, held in November-December last year, out of 14 in the Srinagar district. It required the support of five more candidates to win the chairperson’s post. The BJP’s lone DDC member from Srinagar Ajaz Hussain also lent his support to the JKAP along with the BJP backed independent candidates. Apni Party’s Bilal Ahmad was elected as vice-chairperson after getting nine votes.

Communists In Kulgam

In Kulgam district, the PAGD managed to hold its fort with Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) candidate Muhammad Afzal Parray winning the chairperson’s post. NC’s Shazia Poswal was elected vice-chairperson in the district.

“Kulgam will become a model for development. We will work to address issues related to Sadak, Bijli, Paani, employment, education, etc,” Afzal Parray said.

Some consolation for the PAGD came from Anantnag, Pulwama and Ganderbal districts where the alliance candidates managed to win the chairperson and vice-chairperson.

Reacting to the DDC post elections, JKAP President Muhammad Altaf Bukhari said: “These wins show the success of people who reposed their trust and confidence in the Apni Party. The elected Chairpersons represent a new thought that focuses on the empowerment of the people at the grassroots level.”

He said this is a new generation of leadership, which does not have political godfathers or dynastic legacies behind it.  “This new leadership has been given a chance to bring a paradigm shift in local politics,” he added.

 The Jammu Scene  

In Jammu province’s 10 districts the PAGD managed to win on zero out of seven districts where elections were held till this report was filed. Out of these seven, the BJP managed to win on six while independents won in Poonch district.

In Udhampur district, BJP’s Lal Chand Bhagat and Juhi Manhas were elected as chairperson and vice-chairperson respectively.

The BJP had 11 members out of a total of 14 in Udhampur DDC, which was reserved for Scheduled Castes.

In Doda district, BJP’s member from Bhaderwah Dhanantar Singh was elected as chairperson while Sangeeta Bhagat was elected as vice-chairperson.

In Jammu district, reserved for Scheduled Caste candidate, BJP leader Bharat Bhushan was elected chairperson while Suraj Singh as vice-chairperson.

In adjoining Kathua district Mann Singh of the BJP was elected as DDC chairperson while Raghunandan Singh was elected as vice-chairperson. The BJP had won 11 DDC seats in Jammu district and 13 in Kathua district.  The BJP won without opposition in Samba district as the party had 13 elected candidates while the National Conference had won just a single seat.

The Reasi district witnessed an interesting contest. The BJP’s Saraf Singh Nag was elected as chairperson with nine votes while PAGD candidate and former minister, Babu Jagjivan Lal, backed by Congress and Independent, polled five votes.

However, for the post of vice-chairperson, BJP’s candidate Abdul Rashid lost to opposition backed independent candidate Sajra Qadir in the draw of lots.

The two members of Apni Party are said to have voted for the BJP candidate for the post of chairperson but changed their vote for the post of vice-chairperson in favour of Sajra Qadir.

In Pir Panjal’s Poonch district, independent candidates were elected as chairperson and vice-chairperson.
Tazeem Akhter, an independent candidate was elected as chairperson defeating Congress party’s Nazia Ghani by four votes.  Also, Ashfaq Ahmed, an independent candidate managed to secure the post of vice-chairperson in Poonch district.

In Rajouri district, a high-pitched drama triggered by internal rebellion within the National Conference and fears of cross-voting by Congress led to the postponement of DDC chairperson and vice-chairperson election.

In Kishtwar district, the election for the post of chairperson and vice-chairperson was postponed due to lack of a mandated quorum for the elections. The PAGD along with the Congress has nine seats in the district.

Newfound Bonhomie

After the PC exited the PAGD, the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party has supported the party in twin districts of north Kashmir, Baramulla and Kupwara.

In Baramulla district, both parties have supported Safina Baig, wife of former Deputy Chief Minister Muzzafar Hussain Baig in becoming the chairperson.  Safina, an independent who won from women reserved Wagoora DDC seat had defeated JKAP Baramulla District President Shoaib Nabi Lone’s mother.

This unlikely alliance of the three forces  – the PC, AP and Muzaffar Hussain Baig – in the twin north Kashmir districts has led the political pundits to speculate about a larger Valley-based alliance against the PAGD.

Peoples Conference Vice President and former minister Abdul Gani Vakil said the decision to come together in Baramulla was based on the candidature of Safina Baig.

“DDC post here is reserved for a woman. Safina Baig is the best choice and that is why the PC and JKAP have joined hands to support her,” he said, adding that the support lent by one member of the JKAP in Kupwara wasn’t required by them as they had the majority numbers. “We aren’t in an alliance with them. They supported us in Kupwara on their own. In Baramulla Safina Ji is the reason we came together.”

He said those calling JKAP and the PC the “B-Teams” of Bharatiya Janata Party should realize that they themselves were their allies at one point of time.

Also the BJP lent its support  to JKAP in Srinagar district and they reciprocated it in Jammu’s Reasi district.

JKAP Vice President and former minister Usman Majid said that it is still premature to term the bonhomie between the BJP and the PC as an alliance.

“Elections have not yet been announced so no permutations and combinations are being worked out. We supported BJP in Reasi because they supported us in Srinagar,” he said. He said JKAP would ally and support anyone who does positive politics. “We want to defeat those who fooled people for years. We will support all likeminded people.”

Deliberate Surrender?   

After winning polls, the PAGD had gone silent. A senior PDP leader wishing anonymity said the problem within the PAGD is that the NC’s top leadership wants the alliance to die a gradual and silent death.

“Mehbooba Ji is active. She is campaigning throughout Jammu and Kashmir. But NC’s top leaders are silent or circumspect. Omar Abdullah is completely silent on the alliance from day one,” he said.

Echoing similar concerns, an NC leader also wishing anonymity said the PAGD not meeting to celebrate after winning and again not meeting to deliberate after PC’s exit is intentional. But the leader didn’t divulge who was behind these “intentional delays”.

National Conference leader and former law and justice minister Syed Basharat Bukhari said the political parties including the PAGD constituents are the ones who form governments and head administrations.

“It is the responsibility of these parties to see whether they can do what is needed for the betterment of the people through their politics,” he said.  “If they have nothing to offer then they should say that as well.”

He said the parties celebrating and congratulating people on the victories secured by them through horse-trading are writing new definitions of democracy. “This isn’t good for the democracy in the longer term,” Bukhari said.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and former lawmaker Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami said the PAGD needs to meet soon in order to evolve a future course of action.

“I share the concern that we haven’t met since the results of District Development Council elections were announced,” he said, adding that he would urge the PAGD President Farooq Abdullah to convene a meeting as soon as possible.

Tarigami said there are certain concerns with regard to losing the DDC posts in some districts, which would be discussed after the PAGD President Dr Farooq Abdullah is freed from his engagement in the ongoing parliament session. “I and Mehbooba Ji also had prior engagements,” he said.

PDP leader Peer Mansoor Hussain said there is so much confusion within the PAGD that a certain leader says one thing, which is then contradicted by the other leader.

“Farooq Abdullah said something in Parliament which was contradicted by Muzaffar Shah here,” he said, adding that same lack of unity and cohesion was witnessed even during the DDC elections. “Everybody knows about the proxy candidates.”

Hussain said like a common man he too has questions about the lack of a clear roadmap for the PAGD. “I also think that why they haven’t met since December 22,” Peer said. “Only they (New Delhi) can give what we are asking for. So if we have to talk to them then the PAGD needs to discuss the parameters under which those talks would be held.”

All Is Well  

Even though the PAGD lost turf in many districts without much fight, there still are optimists within the alliance who claim everything is normal with the three-month-old political grouping.

Peoples Democratic Party General Secretary and former minister Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura said the PAGD is a united front and there are no divisions within it. “We have joined hands for a larger cause. We are all waiting for Farooq Abdullah to come back so that we can meet,” Hanjura said.

However, he chose to not comment when asked why in his home district of Budgam the PAGD’s official candidate failed to win the chairperson post despite having the support of 10 members. “I cannot comment on it,” Hanjura said.

PAGD Convener and Parliamentarian Justice (Retd) Hasnain Masoodi said the DDC elections were just a test for the alliance and not the ultimate aim

“We are together for the larger cause of restoration of what happened on August 5. These elections aren’t our real aim,” he said.

Grapes Are Sour?  

The NC has raised the issue of defections of elected DDC members with the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), J&K, Kewal Kumar Sharma.

The party’s provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani and MP, Masoodi brought the issue of defections of elected DDC members of Shopian to the notice of CEC. They urged the disqualification of such DDC members. “If the issue is not combated, it is likely to undermine the very foundations of democracy,” the NC spokesperson said.

He said the ruling BJP and its “ilk” are “undermining” democracy by resorting to “illicit” means to capture power in District Development Council elections.

“The way administration was playing partisan to curry favour with the ruling party and their stooges have also raised a question mark on the partiality of the entire process,” he said.

Peoples Democratic Party President and the PAGD Vice President Mehbooba Mufti said, “senior officers in the administration and police are helping the BJP in violating the people’s mandate in the elections to the posts of chairpersons of the district development councils (DDCs).”

“So much for Vajpayee Ji’s vision of Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat  and Jamhuriyat. Not surprised at all by the recent DDC Chairmanship results. Two months were given to buy and intimidate the DDC members,” Mehbooba said.

She said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had “already murdered” ‘insaniyat’ (humanity) and ‘Kashmiriyat by scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019 and now, by “manipulating the DDC election results”, it has put “the final nail in the coffin” of democracy.

National Conference Vice President and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said, “Shopian DDC election, even Srinagar for that matter, aren’t really a surprise. These people have been buying and selling elected representatives since 1984. Practice makes perfect.”

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