DDC elections in J&K: Political playground of new age separatists
by Jaibans Singh on 27 Nov 2020 1 Comment

Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, regardless of the level at which they are held, have a tendency to heat up the political environment. All parties bare their claws and indulge in the worst form of name calling and trading of barbs/insults. In the melee, important issues are skirted as attention remains focussed on mundane matters that are high on emotion.


This scenario is being witnessed in full measure in the elections for the District Development Councils (DDC). DDC is a new concept introduced on October 17, with the Government of India amending the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 and J&K Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996. Its objective is to strengthen grassroots democracy and the Panchayati Raj system by replacing the bureaucratic District Planning and Development Boards (DDBs) with the DDCs, wherein the planning process will be handled by the elected representatives of the people. While the DDBs functioned under a cabinet minister, the DDC will be headed by the local Member of Parliament as chairman and local elected representatives as members. The Councils will oversee the functions of the Panchayats and Block Development Councils.


The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) termed the progressive amendment and as mere tokenism. “The aim is to sub-divide, overlap, create layer after layer, so that nobody would know who is in charge. In such a scenario, the ultimate arbiter would be the bureaucrats and the security set-up,” a PDP spokesperson said. Other political parties of Kashmir were equally critical.


These parties, now in alliance as the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) that include the National Conference (NC), PDP, People’s Conference (PC), Communist Party (CPI-M), and Awami National Conference (ANC) have taken on the separatist mantle with consistent calls for restoration of Article 370. They have not taken long to comprehend the political isolation they would face by not participating in the DDC polls; hence, they decided to fight the election together.


The adage, “politics makes strange bedfellows” aptly denotes the PADG. Its constituents are bitter political enemies who have been at each other’s throats for decades; now they are getting together for a small grassroots election. Furthermore, most constituents had sworn publically that they would not fight any election till Article 370 is restored and have now retracted in a grand show of political opportunism. Home Minister Amit Shah has dubbed it an “Unholy Gathbandan (Alliance)”.


The Congress party, unsure of favourable results in the DDC elections, has joined the PADG bandwagon deftly, sidelining the fact that it rooted for abrogation of Article 370 but could not garner the will to revoke it. Now it is associating with elements that seek restoration of the Article. India and the world are watching this double-faced opportunism which is bound to negatively impact the party’s already diminishing reputation.


The Congress has realised the blunder and is attempting to make amends. The state level leadership clarified that it “may pursue a state level electoral alliance” but would not be signatory to all proclamations. The central Congress leadership claimed there was no alliance at all. It is unfortunate to see a national party of the stature of the Congress stooping to such low levels.


PADG is fighting the DDC election on the platform of “restoration of Article 370.” How will it fulfill this dream through victory in a grassroots poll? Quite obviously, this is a flawed agenda. In any case, fissures in the unholy alliance are already visible with most constituents expressing dissatisfaction over the seat sharing formula made by the National Conference. How can these people be depended upon to work for the welfare of the people?


Some wish to create an impression that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will come under stress due to this alliance. This is a faulty argument. The BJP will fight the elections but its main interest is to ensure free and fair polls and smooth political movement to pave the way for state level elections. The PADG has, in fact, played into the hands of the BJP by agreeing to fight the elections and giving an indication that its anti-polls rhetoric was false. The NDA Government has, thus, moved a step closer to its assurance that assembly polls in the Union Territory will be held soon.


It is a matter of concern that the PADG constituents are looking for support from across the border for their political survival. PADG chairman Farooq Abdullah is seeking support from both China and Pakistan. This has grave security implications. Pakistan has already taken cognisance of the statements and drastically increased its nefarious activity along the Line of Control (LOC). The recent exchange of fire all along the LOC and the killing of terrorists being transported from Jammu to Kashmir are indicators of enhanced activity by Pakistan. The response by the Indian army and other security forces has been strong and decisive, but that does not condone the anti-national bias of the PADG constituents.


The new age separatists want the DDC elections to become a political playground for their battle on the issue of Article 370. But abrogation of Article 370 is irrevocable. India and the world have accepted it. Politics in the Union Territory has to be conducted within the ambit of this reality. Moreover, the existing set of politicians and their agendas are outdated and as such a new leadership needs to be given a chance.


(Jaibans Singh is a columnist, author and political commentator) 

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