The wheeling-dealing to capture DDC chairperson posts has undone all the good work that went into creating a new political space in Kashmir
As a young Kashmiri Muslim candidate of a small sub-regional Kashmir-based political party, with a personal background in management and journalism, I fought in the recently held DDC elections, the first major electoral exercise held after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India and the demotion of Jammu & Kashmir State to a Union Territory segregated from Ladakh.
What motivated me to fight in these elections was that despite the prevalence of an atmosphere of general pessimism in Kashmir valley after August 5, 2019, some of the subsequent political and administrative changes had instilled optimism that there is, after all, some positive outcome of the catastrophic changes that took place in J&K the previous year. The introduction of the DDC model of political governance appeared to be an opportunity for many politically sincere people of Kashmir to enter the political mainstream, which had so far been dominated by a few high-profile upper-caste Kashmiri Muslim family dynasties.
But the blatant underhand manner in which the positions of DDC chairpersons were captured in Kashmir, in utter violation of constitutional and ethical principles of polity, has disappointed many like me, who were supposedly being cultivated as “seeds of future political change” in Kashmir valley.
To begin with, one must say that the DDC elections were conducted and held in an absolutely honest and fair manner, and that goes to the credit of the administration in a region that saw the infamous alleged rigging of 1987 J&K state assembly elections that paved the way for the rise of separatist militancy in Kashmir valley. Though I lost in the fiercely fought DDC election in a constituency of Budgam in central Kashmir, I can still vouch for the credibility of the result. What has left me disturbed, however, is the fact that such a good, honest, clean and fair political endeavour that actually brought ordinary Kashmiri Muslims close to the new political administration was all squandered and destroyed by unnecessary political shenanigans merely to capture chairperson posts. Despite the Kashmiri people’s well-known grievances against the manner in which changes were brought to the erstwhile state of J&K after August 5, 2019, the people of Kashmir braved bullets and collective anger to cast their vote in large numbers, thereby showing their support, at least in part, for some of the political changes introduced in the last two years. Sadly, the DDC chairmanship elections have all but dented a lot of the goodwill that was otherwise generated by this new political change.
The question is, was it really worth it in a troubled region like Kashmir, at a time when the administration is trying to reach out to ignored sections of Kashmiri society, like youth, women, Dalits and tribals, against the status quo dominance of upper-caste Kashmiri Muslim political families?
I am no fan of the old corrupt, nepotism-ridden family-run mainstream parties of Kashmir valley, even though I have been part of that ecosystem in earlier times. The fact is that the political conglomerate that they formed (People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, or PAGD) to fight in the DDC elections won overwhelmingly in Kashmir valley and should have in all honesty captured posts of Chairman and Vice Chairman in 6 out of the 10 DDCs in Kashmir valley where they had a comfortable majority. In three other Kashmir-based DDCs they just needed the vote of one councilor to obtain the majority number of 9 votes. Yet, this conglomerate managed to secure only 5 councils. In its place, a newly-formed political party with a mere 12 seats spread across the entire UT managed to win 2 DDC councils. The travesty that occurred in the Budgam council, for example, where the conglomerate should have on its own captured the council by virtue of the fact that they had 10 out of 14 votes, and yet ended up losing the council and ceding the same to an officially “independent” candidate.
Such a political “feat” was accomplished through cross-voting from a few councilors of the PAGD in favour of the independent candidate, which equalised votes between the PAGD candidate and the independent candidate. The independent candidate eventually won through a draw of lots. It goes without saying that horse-trading played an important role and what eventually happened in the end in Budgam effectively amounted to a negation of the mandate of the people of Budgam. Similar shenanigans also took place in many other DDCs of Kashmir valley.
Was there really a need for that?
Kashmir’s old mainstream political parties are no saints and have had a long history of corruption, misgovernance and inefficiency, but they clearly had the mandate in their favour. Under normal circumstances and in some other state, such political maneuvers might be dismissed as normal but such a view cannot be taken in a politically sensitive place like Kashmir, which has just recently gone through thunderous political changes and where establishing confidence remains the prime motive of the administration of a newly created UT, especially when our neighbouring countries are waiting to create mischief in this region that has suffered enormously in the last three decades. It also doesn’t help that due to the abrogation of Article 370, there is a lot of ambiguity regarding the law that penalises those who indulge in illegal horse-trading.
The DDC is indeed a revolutionary step and has the potential to create an egalitarian level-playing field in Kashmir’s politics, which has hitherto been controlled by rich and upper castes. Allowing such a wonderful endeavour to become victim of dishonest and unfair tactics that were identified with the old political ecosystem of Kashmir has disappointed many in Kashmir valley, who were genuinely desiring for the return of a permanent and sustainable peace. I hope that correct steps are taken in time before this also adds to the list of political misadventures and lost opportunities that have destroyed Kashmir valley.
—The writer fought DDC elections from Beerwah constituency of Budgam District. He can be reached @Javedbeigh across social media platforms. Views are personal.