The National Conference-led Gupkar Alliance takes a big lead in the District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir dashing the BJP’s hopes of building an alternative to the regional parties.

Published : December 22, 2020 21:09 IST

Rehana Pervaiz of the PDP, part of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, flashes the victory sign on winning a DDC seat, in Srinagar on December 22. Photo: PTI

The Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a conglomerate of six regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir, has taken a big lead in the District Development Council (DDC) elections, leading or winning in 115 of the total 280 wards. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is performing decently in Jammu, but it could not repeat the sweep of 2019 general election. According to the latest figures available, the BJP is leading/winning in 69 wards (three in Kashmir). The Congress, which many expected to collapse, has clinched a not-so-humbling 23 wards. Others, most of them believed to be proxies of the PAGD, are leading in 51 wards. .

Spread across the 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir, there are a total 280 DDC wards. These are the first-ever elections to the DDC, created under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. The eight-phase elections began on November 28 and concluded on December 19

In a significant development for the BJP, the party’s Aijaz Hussain won from Khonmoh-II seat in Srinagar. This marks the first ever election victory for the BJP  in Kashmir. The BJP leading/winning in three wards in Kashmir is being attributed to low turnout in those wards.

But the overall election trend comes as a shocker for the BJP, which had allegedly propped up the Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party. It is widely believed that the BJP was looking to create an alternative mainstream political party headed by Altaf Bukhari. And,  in alliance with the Apni Party, it  it hoped to sweep the DDC elections and prepare the ground for winning the Assembly elections whenever they are called.

Today’s results have dashed those hopes. The Apni Party is so far leading/winning only in  13 wards. The party’s poor showing is despite the fact that the administration allegedly attempted to thwart the PAGD’s campaign, often restricting its candidates’ movements and placing them in “safe houses” under the pretext of security threats. Even in Jammu, the PAGD is giving a strong challenge to the BJP. The PAGD was leading/winning in 37 wards. The BJP had been berating the PAGD as the “Gupkar Gang” and attempting to give it an anti-national image.

The PAGD was formed with the express purpose of putting up a constitutional fight for the retoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s  special status. It includes the National Conference (N.C.), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sajad Lone’s the Peoples Conference (P.C.), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Muzaffar Shah-led Awami National Conference and Mustafa Mir’s Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement.

The Congress initially had some seat sharing agreement with the PAGD but following the BJP questioning its nationalist credentials, it distanced itself from the PAGD. However, the party is said to be having a covert understanding with the Gupkar signatories.

Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the results and emerging trends of the DDC elections are an “important milestone” for the PAGD. “Now if the BJP and its proxy political party believe in democracy, as they have stated, they should immediately reverse their decision [to abrogate Article 370] and respect the verdict of the people of this region,” he said.

Before the counting of votes, at least 20 leaders of the PAGD were detained at their homes or arrested on December 21. This included heavy-weights such as Sartaj Madani, PDP leader  and Mehbooba Mufti’s uncle,  Naeem Akhtar, former Cabinet Minister in the PDP-BJP government. The arrests fuelled speculation that the election results “could be manipulated”. Mehbooba Mufti reacted sharply to the developments, posting on Twitter: “J&K admin is on an arrest spree today. PDPs Nayeem Akhtar too has been abducted by J&K police & is being taken to MLA hostel. Looks like BJP is planning to manipulate DDC results tomorrow & don’t want any resistance. Democracy is being murdered in J&K.”