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NC, PDP look for scapegoats after defeat in Kashmir local polls

The grassroots democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir has been appreciated even by local political parties (IANS)

Failing to win even one of the nine district chairpersons and vice chairpersons posts for which elections have now been completed in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), valley-based traditional ruling parties, National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have begun to level allegations of ‘horse trading’.

Interestingly, both, Farooq Abdullah’s NC and Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP, have repeatedly hailed the democratic process held in November-December 2020—the first in Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August, 2019—as free and fair. Their caveats have been strictly limited to the PDP youth leader Waheedu-ur-Rehman Parra’s detention in a terror funding case. Parra, who won from Pulwama during his detention, was arrested in the thick of the elections in Kashmir.

After the results were declared for 278 of the 280 DDC seats in the 20 districts in J&K on 22 December 2020, both, NC and PDP, played up the victory of their conglomerate, Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), on 108 seats. These included 67 seats won by NC and 27 seats captured by PDP. As many as 50 winners were independent. On the other side, BJP emerged as the single largest party and its friendly Apni Party (AP) grabbed 12.

After declaration of the results, PDP’s tally has come down to 25. Its candidate Khalida Bibi, who had been declared elected from Larnoo Anantnag, has lost to an independent candidate, Sajida Begum, in the recounting of votes. Elected from Kagan in Ganderbal, Tasmeena Adil has also resigned from PDP.

Significantly, there is no legal restriction on resigning or joining a different party during the course of elections and after declaration of results in the absence of an anti-defection legislation.

All the parties have simultaneously approached over 50 independent councillors and are attempting to seek their support. This has already worked in Srinagar, Shopian and Budgam districts in the valley. While Srinagar and Shopian have been grabbed by AP, Budgam has gone to an independent candidate, Nazir Ahmad Khan. In Budgam, NC had apparently support from an independent in addition to 8 of its own councillors. However, during the process of the secret ballot, 7 votes each were found for NC’s Abdul Ahad Dar and the independent Nazir Ahmad Khan. Khan turned victorious in the draw of lots.

NC’s vice president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “Shopian DDC election, even Srinagar for that matter, aren’t really a surprise. These people have been buying & selling elected representatives since 1984. Practice makes perfect!” ‘1984’ is obviously referenced to the year in which the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Congress party brought down Farooq Abdullah’s NC government, engineered a split in his party and installed Ghulam Mohammad Shah as Chief Minister. The AP founder, Altaf Bukhari, and his businessman father Syed Mohammad Iqbal Bukhari played a key role in the coup d’etat.

The PDP president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday posted on her Twitter handle: “Disgusting that senior officers in admin & police have taken it upon themselves to violate the mandate of people. By scrapping Article 370, BJP had already murdered insaniyat & Kashmiriyat. Now by manipulating DDC results, they’ve put the final nail in the coffin of Jamhuriyat”.

With a sarcastic reference to the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s famous doctrine, Mehbooba added: “So much for Vajpayee ji’s vision of insaniyat, Kashmiriyat & jamhuriyat. Not surprised at all by recent DDC Chairmanship results. Two months were given to buy & intimidate the DDC members”. This is her first allegation that money and muscle was used to “buy & intimidate” the DDC members.

But even during the election of the councillors, which by admission of the two parties have been “fair”, the NC and the PDP have performed too badly in their traditional strongholds. While NC got just one seat out of 14 in its bastion of Srinagar, the PDP bagged not more than 2 out of 14 in the Mufti’s home district of Anantnag.

District Election Officers as well as the officials at the State Election Commission dismiss all such allegations as ‘fallacious and preposterous’. “It’s characteristic of them to level such allegations of rigging and horse trading to hide their own reverses and popularity deficit. They are habitual of it since long. When they win, they call it peoples’ verdict. When they lose, they call it rigging”, said a senior official. He asserted that all elections in Jammu and Kashmir after 1974 have been free, fair and transparent.

While the BJP and its partner AP have captured 6 of the 9 districts in the first two phases, they are confident of winning 5 to 6 more in the remaining phases on February 10, 12 and 13. As of now, all the four districts in Jammu have gone to the BJP. It has also a thumping majority in Samba and Reasi and is confident of winning the support of four members of different parties in Ramban. In Kashmir, BJP’s partner, AP, has already grabbed the two districts of Srinagar and Shopian and it is working hard to snatch victory from NC and PDP also in Anantnag and Bandipora.

Peoples Conference (PC) and Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM) have captured one each district in Kashmir—Kupwara and Kulgam, respectively. As of now, both NC and PDP have drawn a blank. However, in the remaining phases, NC has apparently good prospects in Ganderbal, Anantnag, Ramban, Kishtwar and Rajouri districts. The PDP is better placed only in Pulwama district.

These election results will have a remarkable psychological impact on the Assembly elections whenever held in the Union territory.