On the face of it not much may seem to be happening on the political scene in Kashmir, but even the volatile turn that events in Delhi have taken in the wake of the farmers’ protest cannot hide the frantic political activity going on in both Jammu and Kashmir regions for securing chairmanships of different district development councils (DDCs).
Hidden from the news grabbing political events taking place in India and the USA, and also the ongoing trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic, there exist the dynamic and fast-changing political shenanigans happening in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, which is witnessing quite an interesting turn of political events that include signs of emerging new political alliances as part of the political strategy to capture as many DDC chairman positions as possible.
The BJP remains the clear and undisputed leader of the Jammu region, having won most of its 75 DDC seats from the Hindu-majority parts and also emerging as the major political opposition in Muslim-majority areas like the Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley. The BJP has emerged as the single largest political party overall in these DDC elections and has additionally opened its account in Kashmir valley. The Congress party, which previously used to lord over Jammu region, has only managed 26 DDC seats from both Jammu and Kashmir regions. The emergence of BJP and the decimation of Congress has complicated the electoral politics of the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and in parts of the Jammu region where Muslims constitute nearly a third of the total population. This has been reflected in the formation of some of the recent political alliances, like the 2015 BJP-PDP alliance in the erstwhile state of J&K.
While the Jammu region has by and large remained steadfastly behind the BJP, it is the Kashmir valley which has been witnessing a lot of political churning due to the diversity of the fragmented mandate thrown up by the DDC elections.
On the face of it, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) led by Farooq Abdullah technically emerged as the largest political alliance in these DDC elections, having won 110 seats out of a total of 280 DDC seats in the UT of J&K, but the fact remains that both the process of seat distribution and subsequent behind-the-scene quarrels on securing the chairmanship of different councils in Kashmir valley has exposed the fragile opportunistic motive of this alliance, which claimed to have come into existence to secure the repeal of Articles 370 and Article 35-A of the Constitution of India and restoration of statehood of J&K.
The politics of Kashmir valley, which used to be dominated by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s National Conference, ceded space to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party over the last three decades and whatever little electoral space remained in the electoral politics of Kashmir region was grabbed by the Congress, the Yousuf Tarigami-led CPI(M) in south Kashmir, the Sajad Lone-led PC in north Kashmir, and the Hakeem Yaseen-led PDF in central Kashmir. The formation of Altaf Bukhari’s J&K Apni Party (often regarded as ‘King’s Party’, a reference to its indirect backing by Delhi) has added another dimension to the complicated and overly crowded electoral political scene of Kashmir valley (as opposed to Jammu region, where BJP continues to remain the only major political player).
Within this broader coalition of PAGD, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference is the largest party with 67 DDC seats, followed by Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP, which won 27 seats. J&K Apni party won 12 seats, Sajjad Lone’s PC won 8 seats, CPI(M) won 5 seats, Hakeem Yasin’s PDF won 2 seats, and in Jammu region Bhim Singh’s Panther’s Party won 2 seats. The BSP won a single seat from Kathua. Rest of the remaining lion’s share of seats was won by independents, most of whom were either rebel or proxy candidates of mainstream political parties.
The decision to capture the post of chairman of the DDCs in Kashmir valley has led to a flurry of political activity, which includes the well-known disgruntlement within PAGD against the stubborn authoritarian dominance of National Conference, which many believe has led to the departure of Sajjad Lone’s PC from PAGD. There is speculation of the PDP also following suit. The much visible disinterest and detachment from political activities of NC Vice President Omar Abdullah is also being keenly observed in the political circles of Kashmir valley.
While Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party may seem to have made a remarkable debut in Kashmir’s electoral politics, the fact remains that most of the seats won by candidates of Apni Party were due to the powerful political clout of its individual wining candidates, rather than the political ideology of Apni Party, which is yet to see a credible organic political growth on the ground. The recent public praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coronavirus vaccination drive by Shah Faesal, who formed the J&K People’s Movement, is also being keenly analysed by observers of Kashmir politics. Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP may seem to look like a laggard in these DDC election results but it is clear that the party has regained a lot of lost ground and saved itself from near decimation, which most political observers expected of the party.
All said and done, the jury is still out on what direction the electoral politics of J&K will take in the near future. Will the existing dominant players like NC and PDP make their mark in Kashmir valley, or will they eventually cede space to emerging political formations like Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party? It will depend on how the Apni Party manages to grow and take hold on the ground in Kashmir valley based on its ideology. At the same time, sub-regional political outfits of Kashmir valley like Sajjad Lone’s PC and Hakeem Yasin’s PDF also need to be watched, even as the BJP is expected to retain its dominance of Jammu region and the crumbling of the Congress is likely to continue. This is indeed a season of interesting political shenanigans that J&K is witnessing after a very long time.
The writer is a leader of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Front. Views are personal. firstname.lastname@example.org, @Javedbeigh (Twitter).