Turf Wars

The first post-5/8 election for the newly created developmental bodies across Jammu and Kashmir has neither prevented established politicians from jumping into the micro-constituencies nor stopped the families from keeping the show going on. Yawar Hussainreports the rise of sons and daughters who are taking the development bandwagon to defend home turf

A Gujjar female voter in Srinagar outskirts shows indelible ink mark on her finger after she cast vote in Harwan area on Saturday, November 28, 2020. The area elected its representative for the District Development Council (DDC). KL Image: BIlal Bahadur

The upcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections being held in winters (the first of the eight phases was on Saturday, November 28, 2020) has already started heating-up Kashmir. What is interesting and very obvious is that neither the traditional politics is being decimated nor dynasty politics is emerging weaker. The people who are contesting the top-tier of the Panchayat Raj indicate details about the ground situation of Jammu and Kashmir semi-frozen politics.

The traditional political class has not only come to the battleground to defend small pockets of their influence but has also created enough of space for their extended families by putting up their kith and kin as candidates. A DDC constituency is a small constituency that comprises a dozen-odd Panchayats. The administration has divided a district into 14 such constituencies. In an assembly that had 87 berths, now the DDC set-up will cumulatively have 280 elected members. That means an assembly constituency will now have more than three representatives.

The smaller constituency has not impacted various lawmakers of the earlier assemblies to jump into the fray. It is across the political parties. Some have taken personal ambitions too seriously as others hold their party leaders responsible for pushing them into a “small job”.  

Lawmakers Into DDC

Two-time BJP legislator from Suchetgarh and former cabinet minister Sham Lal Choudhary has thrown his hat in the ring for DDC elections citing the “demand from the people” of his constituency as the reason behind his decision.

“I didn’t want to contest these polls but my people told me that they won’t vote for anybody else,” Choudhary said. Terming the election as a referendum in support of abrogation of Article 370, he added: “I am like an army man who comes forward when needed by the country. My party ordered me and I am here to fight.”

Once elected, he wants to work on a “few” developmental lacunas which he couldn’t fulfil last time around as legislator.

Several-time minister and two-time Congress lawmaker from Uri Taj Mohiuddin has also decided to trade his luck in the upcoming polls. He had lost 2014 assembly election to veteran National Conference leader Mohammad Shafi Uri. However, both the leaders couldn’t garner leads for their respective parties in the 2018 Lok Sabha polls in which the Awami Ittihad Party President and the then parliament candidate Engineer Abdul Rashid took most of the votes. Rasheed is in jail and interestingly Taj Mohiuddin has a CBI case registered against him for the land grab, a charge he denies.

Shakti Raj Parihar, former Minister of State who represented Doda assembly segment for BJP in the erstwhile state has also decided to contest two DDC segments of Marmat and Gundana personally. In the latter berth, he is contesting a respected lawyer of the region – Asim Hashmi, who has NC mandate via PAGD.

Some of the former assembly members who are now contesting the DDC elections for the small constituencies. Every district has 14 such constituencies.

Another former independent lawmaker (2008-14) from Kathua, Charanjeet Singh Jasrotia, who joined BJP in 2019,  was given a party ticket from a DDC segment in Kathua district.

Two more former legislators, associated with BJP, who have got party tickets for DDC elections, include Garu Ram Bhagat from Ranbir Singh Pura and Bharat Bhushan from Bhalwal.

In Pir Panjal region’s Poonch district former Congress lawmaker Choudhary Akram, who is the son of four-time Congress legislator, ex-minister and ex-speaker, Choudhary Aslam, has decided to contest personally. Akram also happens to be the nephew of National Conference (NC) leader and former minister Mian Altaf Ahmad.

However, what makes the contest tight for Akram is a dissident Congress General Secretary Choudhary Shahnawaz, who without quitting the party has decided to fight the DDC elections.

In Manjakot DDC segment of Rajouri district, former minister and lawmaker, Shabir Khan is contesting on a Congress party ticket.

National Conference’s former cabinet minister and legislator from Gulab Garh, Abdul Gani Malik, is also trying his luck as PAGD candidate from Mahore DDC segment in Reasi district.

Former Minister of State and a three-time legislator from Gool Arnas Aijaz Ahmad Khan, now Vice President of Apni Party (JKAP), is also fighting the elections on his party’s ticket from Thuroo DDC seat while his brother Mumtaz Khan, who is also a former MLA has filed nomination papers from Mahore-A segment of the same assembly belt.

Khan’s JKAP colleague and former lawmaker Shoaib Lone, who is the son of former minister Dr Ghulam Nabi Lone has also joined the election race from Sangrama constituency.

‘Friendly’ Contests

Apparently, in Kashmir, there are two major players in DDC polls – the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) alliance and the Apni Party. But after the Congress came out of the PAGD fold, the BJP and Congress are the other challengers at various places. In addition to all this, there are established politicians who apparently revolted against their parties and jumped into the fray as individual independent candidates.

Former Beerwah lawmaker and 2019’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Srinagar parliament seat, Nazir Ahmad Khan has also decided to contest from a DDC ward. Khan, who is contesting as an independent is pitted against PAGD candidate Muhammad Ashraf Lone. Khan is also PDP’s Bdgam district President.

Khan said he is still with PDP but chose to fight against the PAGD candidate because National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah ensured the mandate from Beerwah to a person who is a “nobody”.

“PAGD was set up to regain the lost trust of people but that is not being done,” Khan alleged. “I had to contest these elections so that I can bring this to fore.”

Another former legislator, Dr Shehnaz Ganai, who parted ways with National Conference, is contesting from Mandi DDC segment as an independent candidate. The Mandi segment of Poonch assembly constituency is reserved for women candidates.

In Rajouri and Poonch districts, former PDP lawmakers, Qamar Choudhary and Shah Mohammad Tantray, who both left their parent party, are contesting the DDC elections. While Tantray is contesting as an independent candidate from Loran segment of Poonch district, Qamar Choudhary is personally contesting from Rajouri on JKAP’s ticket.

The Family

Qamar Choudhary’s nephew, Mohammad Ali Choudhary is also fighting on JKAP ticket from Thanamandi segment. Choudhary’s other nephew and Mohammad Ali Choudhary’s brother, Maqsood Choudhary is fighting as an independent against him.

Former legislator Choudhary Bashir Naz’s son Reyaz Choudhary has also joined the electoral race from Loran as an independent candidate

Safina Baig, PDP’s Women Wing President and wife of former Deputy Chief Minister and former PDP Patron, Muzzafar Hussain Baig is contesting as an independent from Wagoora DDC segment of Sangrama assembly constituency.

Interestingly, Muzzafar Hussain Baig parted ways with PDP last month but Safina is yet to resign from the party. Her nomination from Wagoora, a reserved seat for women has not brought her any explanation from the party.

Safina is pitted against the mother of JKAP leader Shoaib Nabi Lone. Nasreena Firdous, wife of Mufti Sayeed’s assassinated Education Minister, Dr Ghulam Nabi Lone and mother of Shoaib Nabi Lone has also filed her nomination from Wagoora segment on a ticket from Apni Party.

Muzaffar Hussain Baig and his wife, Safina Beig

Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) President and former cabinet minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir’s son, Naseer Ahmad Mir has also been given a party ticket from Shahbad Bala DDC segment of Dooru assembly constituency represented by senor Mir twice in the past.

Naseer Mir said his father has done a lot for the assembly segment but demands change with time vis-à-vis development. “Today, there are new demands which I want to fulfil,” Mir Junior said. “I couldn’t have left the space open for people as we did in Panchayat elections.”

He said he hopes that DDC’s are given the promised mandate by the government. Interestingly, Mir has a PAGD mandate and lacks an opposition. It was only after he and many other Congressmen got the mandate that the party pulled out of PAGD.

Another senior Congress leader and former legislator from Shangus Gulzar Ahmad Wani has fielded his 23-year-old daughter, Sabahat Gulzar, who is pursuing her law degree from the University of Kashmir. Wani said that in his assembly segment, Shangus, “unfortunately” both the DDC seats were reserved for women.“We went looking for an educated lady who could stand up in the polls but owing to the prevailing situation, nobody wanted to contest,” Wani said. He said the residents later suggested him to field his daughter.

Wife of JKAP Vice President, former minister of state and former legislator from Bandipora assembly constituency, Usman Majeed has also filed her nomination papers from Bandipora-A for DDC elections.

Firdousa Akhtar, Majeed’s wife will be contesting against the PAGD candidate of Awami National Conference (ANC), Ghulam Mohiuddin Bhat, who has also filed his nomination papers from Bandipora-A block today. The polling date for the DDC segment is December 13.

Meanwhile, the wife of former MLA and senior People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Nizam-ud-din Bhat’s nephew has also filed her nomination papers today to contest the DDC election from Bandipora-B panchayat block which is reserved for women.

Kaunser Shafeeq, wife of Advocate Shafeeq Ahmad Bhat will be contesting the polls for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Bandipora-B block that is also going to polls on December 13.

Begum Atiqa Jan, who is mother National Conference leader and former lawmaker Aijaz Jan is contesting from Mandi, Poonch DDC segment. Jan’s father, Ghulam Mohammad Jan has also served as a legislator from Poonch.

Former BJP cabinet minister Abdul Ghani Kohli’s daughter-in-law, Jahan Bi, had been given a party mandate but she withdrew her papers after filing nominations from Mogla DDC segment in Kalokote constituency, which was represented by Malik in the previous assembly.

Multiple Sons Rise

Another former cabinet minister and three-time PDP lawmaker from Pulwama assembly segment, Mohammad Khalil Bandh, who is now with National Conference, has fielded his son Mukhtar Ahmad Bandh from Litter DDC constituency. Bandh said he hasn’t chosen or forced his son as a candidate on people.

Mukhtar Bandh, son of PDP leader, joined NC and is in the contest.

“I belong to National Conference and my workers wanted my son to contest,” the former lawmaker said. He said this election is being fought to not let communal forces occupy elected spaces so that they can pursue their agenda. “Everyone knows what they have done to Jammu and Kashmir. Our brotherhood and religious amity is being attacked by these people.”

Apni Party senior Vice President and former cabinet minister Ghulam Hassan Mir has also sent in his son Mir Tajamul Ishfaq to contest DDC polls from Tangmarg segment of Gulmarg assembly constituency, which the former Mir has represented thrice.

National Conference leader and former legislator from Mendhar assembly segment Javed Rana has also secured a party ticket for his son Zeeshan Rana.

PDP General Secretary and former cabinet minister Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura, who represented Charar-i-Sharief in the last assembly has fielded his son Gowhar Nabi Lone from Surasyar, also falling in the same constituency.

Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura said these elections are for development which in itself is a continuous process. “During my stint as MLA everything couldn’t be accomplished and that is why my son is contesting,” Hanjura said. “The segment needs somebody who knows how the system works.”

He said he is hopeful that DDC members are given the powers as mandated by law so that development can take place. “Our DDC candidates have nothing to do with politics as they are there to work for development,” the PDP general secretary said.

Former cabinet minister and Congress leader Mula Ram’s son Rajinder Kumar has also been awarded a party ticket from Marh DDC segment. Mula Ram has represented the assembly constituency twice.

Sons of two more former ministers and lawmakers, Sardar Rafiq Khan and Lal Mohammad Sabar are contesting DDC polls. Khan’s son, Nadeem Rafiq Khan is contesting from Mendhar-A segment while as Sabar’s son Mohammad Ashraf is contesting from Majankot segment.

In Lolab assembly constituency’s Sogam DDC segment, National Conference’s former lawmaker, Qaiser Jamshed Lone, has put up his 33-year old brother, Nasir Lone as the PAGD candidate.

Apni Party candidate Tajamul Ishfaq busy canvassing fr his party. He is the son of Ghulam Hassan Mir

The younger Lone, contesting for the first time, said he didn’t want to contest these elections but then the people associated with his brother from the constituency didn’t want to concede this space. “They put forth my name and wanted me to contest,” Lone Jr said, adding that his brother and deceased uncle, Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, have done their bit of development but still a lot needs to be done. “Development isn’t something which can be done and dusted forever. After August 5, last year there has been a gap between bureaucracy and people. I am here to fill that.”

On PAGD working together on the ground, he said, “Taking a decision in a room by leadership is easy but for it to work on the ground is difficult. Yet, I am optimistic.” Without saying many things, he was actually referring to the opposition party – also a member of the PAGD, contesting against him, albeit independently.

Contesting Within Families

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad‘s two nephews are also etched in a fight against each other from Changa DDC segment of Doda district.

Javed Iqbal Choudhary and his wife Shazia Choudhary

On one side is Azad’s nephew, Nadeem Sharief Niaz, who happens to be the son of Mohammad Sharief Niaz, a former cabinet minister and lawmaker from Congress who died recently due to Covid-19 related ailments. He is pitted against an independent candidate, Mehboob Azad, who is the son of Azad’s brother, Mustafa Azad.

In Kalakote DDC segment, the wives of two brothers are fighting each other. Anita Thakur, wife of former NC lawmaker from Kalakote, Rashpal Singh has been fielded by the party against Sushma Thakur, wife of Singh’s younger brother Randhir Singh who is from the BJP.

Former cabinet minister and Vice President JKAP, Choudhary Zulfikar Ali, who represented Darhal in the previous assembly on a PDP ticket, has put up his wife Zubeda from Budhal-A DDC segment on his party’s ticket.

However, his wife is pitted against his sister’s daughter-in-law, Shazia Javed, who is the wife of Block Development Council Chairman Javed Iqbal Choudhary.

Javed is himself contesting from Peeri DDC segment against Choudhary Naseem Liaqat, who has the support of Choudhary Zulfiqar Ali.

Interestingly, Naseem’s father, Choudhary Liaquat, was defeated twice in the assembly polls by Choudhary Zulfiqar Ali himself.

Also, Zulfiqar’s wife, Zubeda herself has a political background from her father’s side. Her father, Haji Buland Khan, and brother, Aijaz Khan, the JKAP vice president and himself a DDC contestant, have been ministers and lawmakers several times. 

2 Youth Leaders

Among other prominent leaders, the PDP has put forth its Youth Wing President, Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, who has now been arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and given to their remand for a fortnight, from Tahab, Pulwama along with journalist turned PDP leader, Suhail Bukhari from Sangrama DDC segment.

Suhail Bukhari

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.

Subsequently, on October 17 this year, the Central government amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, for holding direct elections for DDCs, which now constitute the third-tier of the Panchayati Raj system.

Under the new rules, each district will elect a chairman and vice-chairman of their respective councils. The DDC electoral process allows for reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and women along with granting voting rights to West Pakistan Refugees for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. The DDC polls are witnessing old wine being presented in new bottles with established politicians, dynasts and their politic ships remaining afloat in Jammu and Kashmir even after a sea change in political scenario post-August 5, 2019.

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