‘I Fought Kashmir’s DDC Polls — And Here’s Why I’m Disillusioned’

Javed Beigh, a young Kashmiri Muslim politician, writes about his experience and why he’s disappointed. 

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As a young aspiring Kashmiri Muslim candidate of a small sub-regional Kashmir-based political party with a background in management and journalism, I fought the recently-held DDC elections, the first major electoral exercise held after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India, and demotion of Jammu & Kashmir state to a Union Territory and its separation from Ladakh.

The goal that motivated me to fight in these elections was that despite the prevalence of the atmosphere of general pessimism that overtook the Kashmir Valley after 5 August 2019, some of the subsequent political and administrative changes introduced by the administration of the newly-created UT of Jammu & Kashmir installed hope and optimism.

That there is, after all, some positive outcome of the catastrophic changes that took place in J&K in 2020 — in the form of the introduction of the DDC model of political governance, which will give an opportunity to many aspiring and politically-motivated people of Kashmir. An opportunity to register their presence in the mainstream politics of Kashmir Valley, which has so far been dominated by a few high profile upper caste and dynastic Kashmiri Muslim families.

Why DDC Chairmanship Elections Caused a Loss of Faith

But the blatant manner in which chairmanship positions of the DDC were captured in Kashmir Valley — in total violation of the constitutional and ethical principles of polity — has disappointed many young and aspiring Kashmiri Muslims like myself, who are being cultivated as the ‘seeds of future political change’ in the Kashmir Valley.

To begin with, one must say that DDC elections were conducted and held in an absolutely honest and fair manner, and the credit goes to the administration in a region that saw the infamous alleged rigging of the 1987 J&K state assembly elections that paved the way for the rise of separatist militancy in Kashmir Valley.

I myself lost in my own fiercely fought DDC counsel of Budgam in Central Kashmir and despite that, I can vouch for the credibility of these results.

What I am really disturbed about 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 squandered away and destroyed by unnecessary political shenanigans, merely to capture chairmanship posts.

Despite Kashmir Valley’s well-known grievances against the manner in which changes were brought to the erstwhile state of J&K after 5 August 2019, the people of Kashmir braved bullets and collective anger to caste 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 goodwill that was otherwise generated by this new political change.

The Budgam Travesty

The question is, was it really worth it in a troubled region like Kashmir Valley, where the administration is trying to reach out to ignored sections of Kashmiri society such as the youth, women, Dalits and tribals against the status quo dominance of upper caste Kashmiri Muslim political families?

I am not a 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 to fight in the DDC elections won overwhelmingly from Kashmir Valley. They should have captured posts of chairman and vice chairman from 6 out of 10 DDCs falling in Kashmir Valley with the comfortable majority that they had. And in three other Kashmir-based DDCs, they just needed the vote of one councillor to obtain the majority number of 9 votes. Yet, this conglomerate managed to secure only 5 councils. And 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 Budgam council for example, where the conglomerate should have — on its own — won the Budgam council by virtue of the fact that they had 10 out of 14 votes, and yet the conglomerate ended up losing the council and ceding the same to an officially ‘independent’ candidate.

Horse-Trading & Other Political Manoeuvres

Such a political ‘feat’ was accomplished through cross-voting from a few councillors of the conglomerate in favour of the independent candidate, which equalised votes between the conglomerate candidate and the independent candidate. The independent candidate eventually won due to 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 the negation of the mandate of the people of Budgam. Similar shenanigans also took place in many other DDCs of Kashmir Valley.

But was there really a need for that?

Kashmir’s old mainstream political parties are no saints and have had a long history of corruption, mis-governance and inefficiency, but they clearly had the mandate in their favour.

Under normal circumstances and in some other state, such political manoeuvres might be dismissed as ‘normal’ political shenanigans, 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 is the prime motive of the administration of a newly created UT. More so when our neighbouring countries are waiting to create mischief in this region that has suffered enormously in 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.

Corrective Measures Needed

The DDC is indeed a revolutionary step and one of the most positive outcomes of the new set of changes that have taken place in this troubled region of Kashmir. It has the potential to create an egalitarian level playing field in Kashmir’s politics which has thus far been controlled by the rich and upper caste.

Allowing such a wonderful endeavour to fall victim to dishonest and unfair tactics — that were identified with the old political ecosystem of Kashmir — has disappointed many in Kashmir Valley, especially those who are genuinely desirous of a return to permanent and sustainable peace.

I hope corrective measures are taken in time before this also adds to the list of political misadventures and lost opportunities that have destroyed Kashmir Valley.

(Javed Beigh is a senior political leader from Kashmir. He fought the DDC election from Beerwah constituency of Budgam district. He tweets @Javedbeigh. This is a personal blog and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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