DDC elections complete the 3-tier Panchayat Raj System in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time. While the local polls are usually benign affairs, the DDC elections were different. It was the first political exercise in the erstwhile state since 5 August 2019 when the government of India effectively revoked the special status and downgraded the Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
There was thus reason to view the outcome as an expression of the people’s opinions on the Centre’s interventions, especially on poll planks used by the parties. The elections saw coming together on one platform of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration which included seven parties including arch-rivals National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Since then, one among the parties, Peoples Conference headed by Sajad Gani Lone, parted ways even though it claimed to continue its allegiance to the PAGD’s objective.
The amalgam, formed to fight for Article 370 restoration, consolidated votes in most of the 10 districts in the Kashmir Valley and three districts of the Pir Panjal and the Chenab in the Jammu division. The grouping won at least 110 seats out of a total of 280 seats while the BJP emerged victorious on 75 seats. Given the verdict, the PAGD and Congress were likely to have chairmen in around 13 districts out of a total of 20 districts while the BJP chances were bright on remaining districts. The DDCs are a kind of mini-assemblies and thus their role is profoundly significant. However, for the past few days, there have been complaints from the parties, especially the National Conference and the PDP, that there has been a betrayal of people’s mandate in light of what transpired in Shopian and Budgam. In the south Kashmir district, one of the candidates of the National Conference voted for Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, launched six months after the J&K split. The JKAP won five seats in the Valley but heads two districts—Srinagar besides Shopian. The grievance in Shopian context is non-application of anti-defection law while “mode and manner” is under question in Budgam. The National Conference has petitioned CEC J&K, claiming that the defection has been ruled by the top court to be in violation of the mandate and should apply to the process of election of DDC Chairpersons. The CEC J&K need to respond and clarify especially when elections to DDC seats were conducted in a free and fair manner as accepted by all the contesting parties.