Political activity picks up pace in Jammu and Kashmir ahead of UT’s first DDC elections

3 weeks ago
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Political activity has gained momentum in Jammu and Kashmir in the past few weeks, particularly after the announcement of District Development Council (DDC) elections.

On November 4, J&K Election Commissioner KK Sharma and Chief Electoral Officer Hridesh Kumar announced that DDC elections will take place in the Union Territory in eight phases starting from November 28.

Since then, hectic political parleys are taking place in the winter capital Jammu.

On Thursday, PDP chief and vice-chairperson of the ‘People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD) Mehbooba Mufti arrived in Jammu city to meet her party leaders and workers along with participating in the PAGD meeting.

Many organisations staged protests against the former J&K CM over her recent controversial remarks on the national flag. Black flags were shown to her outside the Jammu airport by protesters on Thursday.

Protest against Mehbooba Mufti outside Jammu airport on Thursday (Photo Credits: Sunil Bhat/India Today)

National Conference (NC) president and Chairperson of the Gupkar Alliance, Farooq Abdullah and NC vice-president Omar Abdullah reached Jammu on Friday. Soon after their arrival, the father-son duo visited the party office in Jammu where they addressed NC workers.

In their address, the two former J&K chief ministers launched a scathing attack on the Modi government and the BJP and vowed to fight for the restoration of Article 370 and 35A.

NC meet on Friday (Photo Credits: Sunil Bhat/India Today)

People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration

On Saturday, the Gupkar Alliance leaders met at Farooq Abdullah’s Jammu residence where they also held consultations with various delegations. There were protests against PAGD leaders in Jammu on Friday as well.

Many social and political organisations alleged that the Gupkar Alliance was trying to impose a “communal and anti-national agenda” in J&K.

After the day-long meeting of the Gupkar Alliance on Saturday, PAGD spokesperson Sajad Lone briefed the media in presence of other PAGD leaders and announced that the newly-formed alliance would contest the DDC elections.

Gupkar Alliance press conference on Saturday (Photo Credits: Sunil Bhat/India Today)

“PAGD has unanimously decided that we would fight these elections unitedly. Despite the abruptness of timing, all of a sudden, they spring a surprise, to finish everything in one month. But this space is too sacred to be left for the invaders to invade,” Sajad Lone, People’s Conference chief said.

What is significance of DDC elections?

The announcement of the Gupkar Alliance to participate in the DDC elections assumes great significance as NC and PDP had boycotted urban local bodies and Panchayat elections in 2018. At that time, both these parties had sought assurances from the Modi government on safeguarding of Article 35A.

PDP press conference on Monday (Photo Credits: Sunil Bhat/India Today)

The poll boycott by the NC and PDP had given a walkover to the BJP in the Panchayat elections in the Kashmir valley and as a result, the saffron party managed to install its Panches and Sarpanches at various places in the valley.

Many political observers feel that the decision of the Kashmir-based political parties to fight the forthcoming DDC polls is to prevent the BJP from winning these elections in the valley.

BJP releases first list of candidates

Meanwhile, the BJP has started gearing up for the DDC elections and has announced the first list of its candidates. On Monday, BJP announced the names of 35 candidates for DDC elections in the Jammu region and 37 candidates in the Kashmir valley.

“This time it would be BJP versus the Gupkar gang. The fight would be between nationalists and anti-nationalists. PDP insulted the national flag. They will get a befitting answer from the people of J&K. We will work as per the mantra of PM Modi, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabhka Vishwaas’. We are fully confident that we will emerge victorious in DDC elections,” J&K BJP chief Ravinder Raina told India Today.

BJP press conference on Saturday (Photo Credits: Sunil Bhat/India Today)

Earlier, before the announcement of the first list of candidates, the BJP held many important meetings at the party office in Jammu. The party’s national general secretary Tarun Chugh was also on a two-day visit to Jammu on Friday and Saturday. During his stay, he chaired important meetings with party leaders in Jammu. Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh also visited Jammu twice, on Saturday and Monday to hold discussions with the party leaders.

Gupkar Alliance VS BJP?

On the other hand, NC president and chairperson of the Gupkar Alliance continued with his public outreach in Jammu region on Monday. Farooq Abdullah visited Kathua district where he met various delegations.

Protest against Gupkar Alliance in Jammu on Saturday (Photo Credits: Sunil Bhat/India Today)

Later, speaking to the media, Farooq Abdullah said, “Those who call us ‘Gupkar Gang’ are actually the biggest dacoits. They also call me Pakistani. I want to remind them, I was the one who countered Pakistan at UNHRC and saved nation’s honour. Even Atal Behari Vajpayee had praised me. Our alliance will fight the DDC elections unitedly. We won’t be able to fight on a common symbol. We will contest these elections unitedly on our respective party symbols.”

Congress-Gupkar Alliance tie-up?

Meanwhile, speculations are rife that there could be a possible tie-up between the Gupkar Alliance and the Congress. What fuelled these speculations was the meeting between Farooq Abdullah and J&K pradesh Congress committee chief GA Mir.

On Sunday, Farooq Abdullah claimed that the Congress was a part of the Gupkar Alliance and they would fight the elections together. However, playing down the meeting between GA Mir and Farooq Abdullah, the Congress has said that the party high command would take a decision on any electoral alliance in DDC elections.

“There are many issues on which PAGD and Congress are on the same page. We don’t rule out an electoral understanding with the PAGD. But the Congress high command would take a call on this issue. Our party high command would decide whether to have an electoral understanding with PAGD or to join PAGD or to fight the DDC elections independently. As far as the meeting between Farooq Abdullah and J&K Congress President GA Mir is concerned, it was just a courtesy meeting,” Ravinder Sharma, chief spokesperson of the J&K Congress told India Today.

First DDC elections in J&K

It is important to mention here that, District Development Council (DDC) elections are taking place for the first time in J&K. Prior to the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, J&K did not have a three-tier Panchayati Raj system.

Last month, the Modi government gave its approval to amendments in J&K’s Panchayati Raj Act, 1989. As per the amended law, J&K like the rest of the country would now have a three-tier Panchayati Raj system.

As a result, DDCs will be constituted in all 20 districts of J&K. There will be 14 constituencies in each district of the Union Territory. People will elect their representatives to DDCs directly through elections. Since J&K has 20 districts – 10 each in the Jammu region and the Kashmir valley – voting will take place for 280 constituencies in J&K.

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