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NC, PDP rhetoric after poll loss fails to cut ice

Voters at a polling station to cast their votes for District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir

There are no takers for allegations been raised by Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP of ‘rigging’ and ‘horse trading’ in the elections for chairpersons and vice chairpersons in the District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir after their poor performance. 

Their complaints are not cutting any ice mainly for two reasons: Many of the NC and PDP leaders 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. Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PUGD), won 108 seats out of 278. They have also in different avatars allegedly collaborated with the Congress party in  electoral manipulations and letting down democracy in the past.     

Elections for chairpersons have been completed in 14 of the 20 districts until Thursday evening. Out of the 14 districts, BJP has captured 6 and its valley-based partner Apni Party 2. Among the opposition parties, NC has grabbed 2 and one each has gone to the PDP, Peoples Conference (PC) and Communist Party of India (Marxist). One district has been captured by an independent councillor.

Allegations of ‘horse trading’ and ‘buying & intimidating members’ have been levelled by a number of the NC and the PDP leaders, including Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, NC’s Lok Sabha member, Justice (retd.) Hasnain Masoodi and Mehbooba Mufti. Masoodi has even submitted a memorandum to the State Election Commission (SEC).

The reservations of these parties have been strictly limited to the PDP youth leader Waheedu-ur-Rehman Parra’s detention in a terror funding case.

Parra, who contested the DDC elections and won from Pulwama during his detention, was arrested in the thick of the elections in Kashmir. Without regard to his detention and enforced absence, the NC as well as the PDP participated in the DDC chairperson elections in Pulwama on 10 February.

Significantly, there is no legal restriction on resigning or joining a different party during the course of the DDC 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.

Even as the NC has bagged the two districts of Ganderbal and Anantnag and the PDP has taken Pulwama, their leaders have not reconciled to their defeat in 11 districts. They have been particularly perturbed over the AP’s victory in Srinagar and Shopian districts.

NC’s vice president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has 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, 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.

In his Rajya Sabha speech on Tuesday, Farooq himself lamented that he was fraudulently dismissed after his MLAs were ‘bought’ in 1984. Then J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, NC dissident Ghulam Mohammad Shah and the AP founder Altaf Bukhari, along with his father, are known as the key characters behind Farooq’s dismissal. Mufti’s PDP is still mute to Farooq’s charge. However, GM Shah’s son and senior ANC leader Muzaffar Shah on Wednesday issued a statement critical of uncle Farooq’s parliament speech.

For decades, Farooq has been bitterly targeted by Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti for ‘rigging’ the 1987 Assembly elections and fraudulently defeating the Muslim United Front (MUF) candidates, particularly Syed Mohammad Yousuf Shah aka Salahuddin (Hizbul Mujahideen chief since 1991).

If the allegation of rigging in the 1987 Assembly elections has to be taken as the gospel truth, none other than the Congress and the NC were its engineers and beneficiaries. Farooq Abdullah was the Chief Minister. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the president of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee who was later inducted as Minister of Tourism in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet at the Centre.

Previously in 1984, it was none other than the Congress under Mrs Indira Gandhi which engineered a split and defection in the NC, got Farooq Abdullah dismissed as Chief Minister and Ghulam Mohammad Shah (father of Farooq Abdullah’s PAGD colleague Muzaffar Hussain Shah) installed as the CM. The PAGD leader Mehbooba Mufti’s and Muzaffar Shah’s fathers played the key role as collaborators with the Congress. It was a historic onslaught on democracy in Kashmir.

Even before that it was the Congress party with local leaders like Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Syed Mir Qasim, Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and DP Dhar, which allegedly rigged all the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir from 1953 to 1974.

The Kashmiris arguably saw their first clean elections for the Legislative Assembly in 1977 when Morarji Desai was Prime Minister of the Janata Party-led coalition at the Centre.