The Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration and the BJP are locked in a tight race in the first District Development Council (DDC) election in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the first election in Jammu and Kashmir since its special status was scrapped and it was downgraded to a Union Territory.
In the latest leads, the Gupkar alliance — a grouping of regional parties including the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – is ahead in 43 seats; the BJP is also leading in 43 seats.
The Congress is leading in 15.
Votes are being counted for 280 seats – 14 in each of the 20 districts of the union territory – and the process may take longer than usual because the state election commission has opted for paper ballot instead of electronic voting machines or EVMs. Polling was held in eight phases over a period of 25 days.
The Gupkar Alliance, which was formed in protest against the massive constitutional changes in which Article 370 was abrogated, was largely missing during the campaign. Many of its leaders, like former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and others were detained in August last year, soon after the scrapping of special status, as the centre imposed security restrictions to prevent protests.
The results of the election may be used as a sort of referendum by both political ideologies – for and against the major constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir.
The announcement to hold DDC polls was so sudden that it took political parties by surprise. The regional leaders emerging from long detentions and restrictions were caught in a Catch-22 situation. The decision to fight the election was just not easy for the new political amalgam, named as People’s Alliance for Gupkar declaration or PAGD. The BJP calls them “Gupkar gang”.
The alliance by arch rivals, National Conference, PDP, People’s Conference and other groups was stitched to fight for restoration of Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. But that premise may have taken a backseat.
The Gupkar alliance announced it will field joint candidates and even issued list of their “unanimous” candidates for first five phases. The bonhomie, however, was short lived as the tussle over seat sharing forced them not to release subsequent list for last three phases.
Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti did not campaign even once for their candidates. No one knows the exact reason why they completely abandoned the fight.
Farooq Abdullah is battling a money laundering case in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association that is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate. The agency recently attached his properties including two houses in Srinagar and Jammu region.
The alliance leaders also alleged that their candidates have been kept in security enclosures and not allowed to campaign on the pretext of security concerns.
The BJP, on the other hand, drafted central leaders, including union ministers, to campaign across the regions in Jammu and Kashmir.
In temperatures at around minus 6 degree Celsius, people came out in large numbers to vote.