Finally elections have been announced to District Development Councils (DDCs) as to the bypolls which could be held for a long time, even during times considered to be comparatively peaceful. The announcement comes little over a month after the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act 1989, to provide for elections to the DDCs.
While each district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies for which elections will be held, the winners will elect a chairperson and a vice-chairperson from amongst themselves. The DDCs will replace the District Development Boards, which were earlier chaired by a Cabinet Minister or a Minister of State and included MLAs, MLCs and Members of Parliament when J&K was a state.
As per the amendment, the DDCs will have jurisdiction over the entire district excluding those areas designated as municipality or municipal corporation. The decision to amend the Panchayati Raj Act comes amidst the forming of an alliance by six major political parties including the National Conference and PDP, the two parties who were arch rivals ever since the creation of the latter. The new alliance, they say, has been solely made for the restoration of Article 370 and 35A, effectively annulled by the centre on 5 August last year. The decision still awaits adjudication by the top court of the county, more than fifteen months on. The coming together of all these parties brought about the restoration of some kind of political activities In J&K even though the outcome of their demands—“restoration of the rights held by the people of Jammu and Kashmir prior to 5 August 2019”— would depend on how they will go about it and more so on the centre’s willingness to accept their means to undo what has been done more than fourteen months ago.
The announcement to elections comes amid an announcement by the lieutenant governor that parties in J&K were free to engage in political activities and there was no other prescription. He also stated that it was up to these parties which direction their politics take. While time will tell about the success of ensuing elections, restoration of political activities is necessary as also allowing it to thrive. It was perhaps time for the government of India to start a sincere dialogue to restore normalcy. The government also needs to be responsive to public demands for politics to thrive.