The first-ever third-tier District Development Council (DDC) election, dominated by an ideological battle rather than local issues, holds much at stake for the BJP, which abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir , and the Gupkar alliance, an amalgam of six political parties fighting for return of the pre-August 5, 2019, status.
The poll is the first electoral process after Jammu & Kashmir’s 73-year-old autonomous status came to an end last year . It is also the first major impetus to the political structure, which remained dislodged after the BJP withdrew its support from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in June 2018 and brought J&K, now a Union Territory (UT), under the Centre’s rule. Though J&K did see panchayat polls in 2018, they were contested on a non-party basis.
The constituents of the Gupkar alliance, including the National Conference (NC), the People’s Conference and the PDP, rallied support for their joint candidates on the basis of the return of special status, terming the August 5 episode “unconstitutional and illegal”.
The Gupkar alliance will try to sell the victory, if it manages the maximum numbers out of 240 DDC seats, as a referendum against the August 5 decision of the Centre. However, conspicuously, all the top leaders of the Gupkar alliance, Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Sajad Lone, avoided public rallies, compared to the BJP leaders, and tried to downplay the move.
The BJP, on the other hand, has invested a lot in Kashmir. The idea of holding panchayat and urban local bodies in 2018, which was boycotted by the NC and the PDP then, was used to plant a new sapling of leadership to dislodge what it called dynasty rule.
The BJP has its leaders heading a significant number of urban local bodies in south Kashmir and panchayats too, because of the boycott by the PDP and the NC. It remains to be seen if these leaders have managed to widen the party base in the Valley in the past two years.
The seriousness with which the BJP contested the DDC poll can be gauged from the fact that top national leaders and Union Ministers, including Anurag Thakur, Simriti Irani, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussian, addressed scores of rallies, even in sub-zero temperatures and militancy bastions such as Anantnag and Pulwama.
The poll also saw the naming of leaders in the Roshni scheme, opening up old cases of corruption against Kashmir-based top leaders , including Dr. Abdullah, and the arrest of the PDP leader Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra by the National Investigation Agency , days after he filed his nomination.
If the BJP, which has its stronghold in Jammu region, gets the maximum numbers and wins seats from the Kashmir Valley, it will sell it as an endorsement of the August 5 decision and the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in J&K.
The poll may be for local developmental issues but national as well as international observers are keeping a close eye.