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DDC Elections: In a blow to Pakistan, Kashmir holds first district elections after abrogation of Article 370

DDC Elections: In a blow to Pakistan, Kashmir holds first district elections after abrogation of Article 370

Over a year since the abrogation of Article 370, which fully integrated Kashmir in the national mainstream, the people of union territory are participating in the first District Development Elections (DDC Elections), foiling Pakistan’s design to disrupt the polls.

The cascading elections which will end on December 19, are expected the pass on the baton of grassroots leadership to the generation- next, belonging mostly to well-known “political families”.

Forty-five-year old Dr Sajjad Shafi of Gharkot, Uri, would have been a Chief Medical Officer in the Jammu and Kashmir government’s Department of Health Services today. His family background and passion for politics made him resign, like Dr Shehnaz Ganai of Poonch.

Both, Shafi and Shahnaz, have had their fathers in politics for long. They have served multiple terms as MLAs and Ministers. Shahnaz began a tryst with politics after her father Ghulam Ahmad Ganai’s death over a decade back. Representing a reserved seat for the Panchayati Raj Institutions, Shehnaz became a Member of J&K’s Legislative Council in 2012. Her six-year-long term expired in 2018. In July 2019, she resigned from the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC).

Dr Shahnaz is now contesting the District Development Council (DDC) election from the Mandi constituency, parallel to the Uri-Poonch LoC strip, at the extreme end of Jammu. Among others, she is pitted against the wife of the former NC MLA Ghulam Mohammad Jan whose son Aijaz Jan served as NC’s MLA from Poonch in 2008-14. The female contestants from the two prominent political families are leaving no stone unturned to score a victory.

The eight-phased polling to fill up 280 seats in 20 DDCs, for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir, is beginning on November 28 and ending on December 22. It will complete the constitution of the third and the top most layer of J&K’s PRIs. This is also the first universal suffrage after the erstwhile State’s special status was withdrawn and it was broken into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh in August 2019.

<strong>Read also: </strong><strong><a title="" href="https://indianarrative.com/kashmir/ex-ministers-ex-mlas-contesting-as-families-overtake-parties-in-jk-ddc-elections-28451.html">DDC Elections: Dynastic politics in district level elections in Jammu and Kashmir</a></strong>

Across the Hajipir Pass in the Kashmir valley, there is equally huge enthusiasm in Uri where the senior Congress leader Taj Mohiuddin, who has served several terms as MLA and Minister, is contesting from Uri.

Dr Sajjad wanted to contest his political career’s maiden election from the home constituency of Boniyar. But he failed to file his nomination papers as NC’s candidate for the fact that his name figures in the electoral roll in Uri. He has a small residential facility in the Uri town. “I don’t know how I figure as a voter for DDC elections in Uri. My father and me have been registered as bona fide voters in all Assembly and Parliamentary elections in our ancestral village of Gharkot that falls in the DDC constituency of Boniyar. Clearly, it is a great conspiracy of the District administration, the SDM and our political rivals”, Sajjad complained.

“Neither (the federally ruling) BJP nor any of its proxy candidates is contesting from Boniyar. Why would the administration be partisan? We have no reasons to favour or harm any candidate”, said an official in the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Baramulla. “They all have been levelling such unsubstantiated allegations against the administration, against the Police and against their potential rivals”.

“We are not a bit bothered about any party’s or candidate’s victory or defeat. We just have a stake in the fairness and the transparency of the elections in addition to a good voter turnout. This particular election is very much important for the Government of India as well as the Lieutenant Governor’s administration as this is the first democratic exercise after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A”, said a senior official in the office of the Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar.

<strong>Watch:</strong> <strong><a title="" href="https://indianarrative.com/videos/jammu-and-kashmir-panchayat-ddc-elections-26380.html">Jammu and Kashmir: Panchayat &amp; DDC elections is a vote for development</a></strong>

“As of now, the response is highly encouraging. A large number of candidates has come forward everywhere, including in the terrorist-infested areas of South Kashmir where we had few contestants and few voters in the Panchayati elections of November 2018 as well as the Urban Local Body (ULB) elections of November 2019. Inspite of the Covid-19 pandemic, high-voltage campaigning is underway in all the 280 segments across J&amp;K. Candidates are canvassing freely till late in the night. There’s little fear as no political killing has happened since long. This is completely different from the situation we encountered in almost all the elections in Kashmir after 2014”, said the official at CEO’s office.

Not more than 34% voters participated when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti contested the by-election in Anantnag, after she was installed as Chief Minister following her father’s death, in June 2016. The by-election did not happen ever on the South Kashmir Lok Sabha seat that fell vacant after Mehbooba’s resignation from the Parliament. The Central Kashmir Lok Sabha seat of Srinagar-Budgam, which became vacant with the resignation of PDP’s Tariq Hamid Karra, witnessed the lowest ever voter turnout of 7% in April 2017 when as many as nine persons died in the attacks and the violence on the polling day.

The Panchayat elections of October-December 2018 witnessed a low-to-moderate voter turnout in Kashmir but it was no match to an average of 84% turnout in Jammu. Nearly 13,000 seats of Panches and Sarpanches went blank in the valley as there were neither voters nor contestants in as many segments. The turnout is a bit better but remarkably dismal even in the ULB polls in 2018.

<strong>Read also: </strong><strong><a title="" href="https://indianarrative.com/kashmir/jks-first-ddc-elections-to-redefine-democracy-development-in-the-valley-18177.html">J&amp;K’s first DDC elections to redefine democracy, development in the valley</a></strong>

Now the authorities are holding by-elections on all the 13,000-plus vacancies of Panches and Sarpanches and 235 ULB wards (231 in Kashmir) alongside the DDC polls from November 28 to December 22.

The CEO’s office refused to share the details “for security reasons” but senior officers claimed that the total number of the contestants in these elections would be “anything between 40,000 and 45,000” in the Kashmir valley alone. Around six million residents over the age of 18 years have a right to vote. “This is for the first time that the DDC elections are happening through universal suffrage anywhere in India. That way, J&amp;K can become a role model for all UTs and States across India”, a senior bureaucrat asserted..