The announcement of the election schedule for the District Development Councils (DDC), the vacant Panchayats and the Urban Local Bodies by J&K’s State Election Commission on Wednesday, 4 November, has put the Valley’s mainstream parties in a quandary.
After joining forces under the banner of ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD) to fight for the restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, these parties, including the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, are now indecisive on whether to participate in these elections.
The eight-phased polls will start from 28 November and conclude on 22 December. State Election Commissioner, KK Sharma, said the delimitation exercise has been concluded and 280 DDCs have been identified in the union territory whose term will last for five years.
“All the necessary security arrangements will be put in place. Polling will also be held on the vacant Panch and Sarpanch seats. West Pakistan Refugees in J&K will be able to exercise their franchise for the first time,” Sharma said in Jammu.
The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea
For Kashmir’s mainstream parties, the announcement of elections could not have come at a worse time. Having been pushed to the wall by the BJP-led central government, these parties are in a dilemma about whether to contest elections or boycott them entirely.
It is a difficult choice. Participating in these elections will open these parties to ridicule from common people. They will have to face accusations of “sell out” and uncomfortable questions about their “political grandstanding” post the Article 370 abrogation.
“The PAGD will take a call on this issue,” said Waheed Rehman, PDP’s youth president and a confidante of the party chief Mehbooba Mufti. “Our (PAGD) leaders are in the middle of their outreach program. They will be in Jammu on 5 November and a meeting is likely to take place to decide on the future course of the alliance.”
On the other hand, if these parties boycott the elections, they will risk leaving the ground open for the Hindu right-wing party to “complete the takeover” of Jammu and Kashmir.
“If we boycott the elections, it will only benefit the BJP and its Kashmir proxies,” said a worker of the Congress.
An Indecisive Leadership
The BJP’s ‘game-plan’ for Jammu and Kashmir is giving sleepless nights to the leaders in NC, PDP and PC. The Quint spoke to at least a dozen leaders from these parties and except two, all of them were unsure about the future course of action the PAGD must adopt after the election schedule was announced.
“Everyone is in a dilemma. To be honest, we all have no clue. How can we know what to do when we are not sure what the next move of the BJP is going to be,” said a senior PDP leader, wishing to stay anonymous.
A senior National Conference leader said it is up to the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir to make a decision on elections. He said the PAGD will take the final call on the issue.
“But it should not come to a point where we are facing the predicament of a dog who, because of indecisiveness, gets struck by a vehicle in the middle of road. A decision should be made to be either here or there and not get caught like the dog in the middle of the road,” a former J&K minister said.
Threat of Militant Attacks Looms Over Polls
While the DDC polls will see the participation of the elected Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies’ (ULB) members, the elections to the vacant Panchayats will be a tricky situation amid a gradual rise in militant attacks. As per officials, around 11,500 Panch and 890 Sarpanch seats are vacant in Kashmir Valley alone.
Iqbal Ahmad, who heads JK Panchayats Congress based in South Kashmir, said the Panchayat members of the BJP who were elected in the previous election have “shown their true colours” by pursuing anti-people policies.
“The mood is picking up for elections. On grassroots level, people don’t want to boycott. Renegades and anti-social elements have taken control of Panchayats due to which people are fed up,” Iqbal, who was associated with the CPI (M), said.
Khursheed Malik, a former Sarpanch who is associated with the National Conference, said the government must create a conducive atmosphere for holding elections in Kashmir.
“The final decision will be taken by the party high command but the government must create conditions so that the elections are held in a free and fair manner. If there is a militant attack tomorrow, it will keep people away,” he said.
Senior BJP leader and party spokesperson Arun Gupta said the elections are being held to empower grassroots democracy in Kashmir. “Strengthening democracy at grassroots levels in Kashmir is much more important for a citizen so that their routine developmental works don’t suffer,” Gupta said.
The BJP leaders and workers have been the target of increasing violence by militants. According to official data, at least nine BJP leaders or workers have been killed by militants this year. This has prompted resignations of party workers and leaders.
However, Sharma, the State Election Commissioner, said the government will be taking adequate measures to ensure free and fair polls, “All the necessary security arrangements will be put in place to ensure peaceful polls,” he said.
(Jehangir Ali is a Srinagar-based journalist. He tweets at @gaamuk.)