Srinagar: Maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections in the fag end of 2020 marked a resumption of political activity in Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of special status and reorganisation of the erstwhile state last year.
The year 2020 began amid uncertainty as most of the mainstream political leaders continued to be under various forms of detention following the landmark constitutional amendments of 2019.
While some leaders were released in the first two months of the year — purportedly after signing a bond not to speak against the abrogation of Article 370 — the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic hastened the release of many others including Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah in March.
However, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti remained in incarceration for the longest period — 14 months — and was released only in October, just ahead of the DDC polls.
The better part of the year was spent dealing with the COVID outbreak that affected over 1.19 lakh people and claimed nearly 1900 lives.
Anti-corruption agencies intensified probes against mainstream political leaders as Farooq Abdullah had properties worth Rs 11.86 crore attached by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the JK Cricket Association scam while youth PDP leader Waheed Para went behind bars for alleged links with militants.
For the record, Para won the DDC polls, defeating his nearest rival from BJP by a huge margin.
High speed internet on mobile devices remained suspended in most parts of Jammu and Kashmir even after passage 16 months since abrogation of Article 370 as the administration still feels that allowing the service poses a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India.
On the administration front, BJP leader Manoj Joshi replaced Girish Chander Murmu as the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir amid rumours of a rift between the latter and Chief Secretary of the union territory B V R Subrahmanyam.
But the successful conduct of the DDC elections was the highlight of 2020.
However, within hours of final results being declared, opposition parties charged the union territory administration of luring independents to support the BJP or its proxies.
Seven mainstream political parties — NC, PDP, People’s Conference, Awami National Conference, People’s Movement CPM and CPI — cobbled an alliance under the name of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) with Farooq Abdullah as its head.
The main purpose of forming the alliance was to strive for restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Even before the alliance could take baby steps, the DDC elections were announced and the PAGD was expected to boycott. But the alliance took the electoral plunge as a grouping.
The results were along the expected lines with minor surprises here and there. The PAGD bagged 110 seats. Kashmir predominantly voted for the PAGD candidates with BJP bagging three of the 140 seats while Apni Party of Altaf Bukhari winning few others. However, the three wins for BJP were a massive shot in the arm for the saffron party as it marked its first victory in any election where the National Conference and the PDP were also taking part.
On the other hand Hindu-dominated districts in Jammu region and Doda district gave a resounding mandate to the BJP. In fact, 63 of the 75 seats won by the BJP came from six districts of Jammu, Kathua, Samba, Udhampur, Reasi and Doda.
However, the BJP faced a blank in Poonch and managed just three seats each in Rajouri, Kishtwar and Ramban districts — a performance below par compared 2014 assembly elections.
“The administration has now taken on the responsibility of trying to collect independent candidates for the BJP and its recently formed subsidiary,” National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said.
“It seems the government does not have enough to do and has branched out in to this line of work as well,” Omar said about wooing of independent DDC members.
Independents emerged as the third largest entity in the DDC polls, bagging 50 seats. The BJP with 75 seats and the National Conference with 67 were the top two parties.
“There are some disturbing reports about interference in democracy, in peoples’ verdict, wherein the government of the day is acting in a partisan manner… facilitating moves by some people to attract independents towards them,” PAGD spokesman and Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone said.
Lone said the government should desist from humiliating the “great verdict” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“History is replete with examples that those who tried to humiliate the verdict of the people, they end up with a disaster,” he added.
While DDC elections in the rest of the country have become a norm for a long time now, residents of Jammu and Kashmir had their first experience of directly electing district-level council.
However, the process of election — mainly campaigning — was marred by allegations of favouritism towards BJP and its allies while the opposition parties’ leaders were prevented from campaigning.
The sudden announcement of DDC elections in the newly-carved union territory caught most of the regional parties off-guard.
The National Conference and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) did not take part in the panchayat elections in 2018 due to apprehensions that the BJP-led government at the Centre was planning to tinker with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The result of the boycott was that BJP for the first time won any kind of election in the valley.