More than 51% of nearly six million eligible voters across Jammu and Kashmir’s 20 districts cast their votes in the recently held District Development Council (DDC) election. The DDC election is part of a process in which residents directly elect their village representatives, who then vote to form development councils for clusters of villages. The Election Commission has called this “the biggest festival of democracy”. The people of Jammu and Kashmir defied the habitual abstention or election boycott seen during previous elections as a sign of protest against authorities or political parties by voting in large numbers this time. This was the first time since the revocation of Article 370 and since losing special status and other rights to constitutional amendments brought by the ruling BJP government that people of Kashmir have been seen expressing themselves to the entire nation by exercising their democratic voting rights. The region of Jammu and Kashmir had reportedly suffered thousands of crores of economic loss as the state and its people were locked down even before the nation went into the covid lockdown. Many pro-India leaders and also separatists and youth were put under detention for several months. Businesses, communication lines and regional press remained closed for months together before the centre restored little democracy through local elections to gauge the mood of the people, but not before removing several rights which had remained special to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) formed by regional and other parties opposed to BJP’s Article 370 revocation won a majority of seats in the DDC elections. Many parties including Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, former Kashmir CM’s Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party, Communist Party of India (M), Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, Awami National Conference and others allied against the ruling BJP government in their resolve to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The alliance opposes modification, abrogation of Articles 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifurcation of the State and it wants to safeguard the legitimate interests of the people of the State with regard to the guarantees given to the State by the Constitution of India. The PAGD has been called the “Gupkar gang” derogatorily by the BJP as it comprised several leaders from opposition who have regularly denounced BJP’s Kashmir policies.
The PAGD won 112 of the total 280 seats with Independents winning 49 and Congress winning 26 seats. BJP won 74 seats with most of its seats coming from Jammu area where it has significant support. The Kashmir-based politicians have said that the election results made it clear that Kashmiri people have rejected last year’s decision. Sajad Lone, president of People’s Conference, a pro-India political party, and PAGD spokesperson, said that the result “is a verdict in favour of the PAGD”. “Let’s hope it restarts a political process,” Lone said.
The People’s Alliance has a majority in nine DDCs, all in the Valley while the BJP has secured control of at least six District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu, it has none in Kashmir. With no clear majority in five councils, the independents are likely to play the role of king makers. Omar Abdullah has alleged that the BJP was “collecting” independents and taking them to Srinagar for “discussions”. “If you really say that democracy has won, then you will have to listen to the voices of the people, and the people of Jammu and Kashmir have said it with a huge majority that they do not accept (the decisions of) August 5, 2019,” Abdullah said. Meanwhile, the BJP has also hailed this election as a big win for the party. Both the BJP and the People’s Alliance are terming the poll results as their win. While the BJP has termed the result and the voter turnout a contradiction to the “idea of Gupkar Alliance”, the People’s Alliance has said that the people have rejected the “unconstitutional decision to abrogate Article 370”.
The people of Kashmir still have their hopes pinned on democracy but regional leaders do not foresee assembly elections any time soon “because of the poll results”.