The Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration took a big lead over the BJP on Tuesday as votes were counted in the first District Development Council (DDC) election in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the first election in Jammu and Kashmir since its special status was scrapped last year and it was downgraded to a Union Territory.
In the latest leads, the Gupkar alliance — a grouping of regional parties including the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – is ahead in 81 seats; the BJP is leading in 47 seats.
The Congress is ahead in 21.
In Jammu Province, the BJP is ahead in 44 seats while the Gupkar alliance in 20. In Kashmir, the regional grouping is leading in 61 seats with the BJP far behind at three.
Votes are being counted for 280 seats – 14 in each of the 20 districts of the union territory – and the process may take longer than usual because ballot papers were used instead of electronic voting machines or EVMs. Polling was held in eight phases over a period of 25 days.
The Gupkar Alliance, which was formed in protest against the massive constitutional changes — in which Article 370 on special status to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated and the state was turned into two union territories — was largely missing during the campaign. Many of its leaders, like former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and others were detained in August last year, soon after the changes, as the centre imposed security restrictions to prevent protests. The Abdullahs were released in March while Mehbooba Mufti was freed after over a year in October.
The results of the election may be used as a sort of referendum by both political ideologies — for and against the changes in Jammu and Kashmir.
Anurag Thakur, the BJP’s in-charge for these polls, earlier said he was confident of his party’s win. “The results will be out today and I am confident of Bhartiya Janata Party’s performance. People want to see new leadership take charge in J&K that will help resolve issues in their constituencies,” he was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
“Even though people were threatened, they came out in huge numbers to cast their vote. This is the victory of democracy. PM Modi’s dream that at grassroots level- panchayat, BDC & DDC elections should be held in J&K – has been fulfilled,” Mr Thakur added.
The announcement of the DDC polls was so sudden that it took political parties by surprise. The regional leaders emerging from long detentions and restrictions were caught in a Catch-22 situation. The decision to fight the election was just not easy for the new political amalgam, named as People’s Alliance for Gupkar declaration or PAGD. The BJP calls them “Gupkar gang”.
The alliance by arch rivals, National Conference, PDP, People’s Conference and other groups was stitched to fight for restoration of Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. But that premise may have taken a backseat.
The Gupkar alliance announced it will field joint candidates and even issued list of their “unanimous” candidates for first five phases. The bonhomie, however, was short lived as the tussle over seat sharing forced them not to release subsequent list for last three phases.
Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti did not campaign even once for their candidates. No one knows the exact reason why they completely abandoned the fight.
Farooq Abdullah is battling a money laundering case in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association that is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate. The agency recently attached his properties including two houses in Srinagar and Jammu region.
The alliance leaders also alleged that their candidates have been kept in security enclosures and not allowed to campaign on the pretext of security concerns.
The BJP, on the other hand, drafted central leaders, including union ministers, to campaign across the regions in Jammu and Kashmir.
In temperatures at around minus 6 degree Celsius, people came out in large numbers to vote.