A newly formed grouping of six parties made significant political gains in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and was on course to winning over 100 of the 280 seats in the recently held District Development Council (DDC) elections — the first major direct polling exercise in the region after the scrapping of its special status in August last year, trends and results showed on Tuesday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which fielded central ministers such as Jitendra Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for campaigning in the eight-phase polls, was set to grab the second spot. The Congress was poised to become a distant third.
The outcome was on expected lines: while the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) comprising two Kashmir powerhouses — the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — and four other parties swept the Muslim-majority Kashmir region (140 seats), the BJP advanced another step towards cementing its political clout in the Hindu-dominated Jammu (140 seats).
The PAGD was “deeply indebted & grateful to the people of J&K”, NC leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Twitter, reaffirming the grouping’s “commitment to use all democratic & legal weapons at our disposal to continue to fight for our rights”.
“The BJP had made this election a prestige issue about Art 370 & J&K’s special status. The people have now spoken & it’s for those who believe in democracy to pay heed to these voices,” he posted.
On August 5, 2019, the central government nullified Article 370, which accorded special status to the then state of J&K, and bifurcated it into two Union Territories – J&K with a legislative assembly and Ladakh without one — triggering widespread protests.
The PAGD, which also comprises the Peoples Conference, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Peoples Movement and the Awami National Conference, took shape in October 2020 to demand the restoration of the erstwhile state’s special status.
“Today’s DDC results have made it clear that people of J&K voted en masse for @JKPAGD, thus rejecting the unconstitutional decision to abrogate Article 370. They have overwhelmingly supported @JKPAGD, which stands for restoration of J&K’s special status,” Mehbooba Mufti, PDP leader and another former chief minister, tweeted.
PDP chief spokesperson Suhail Bukhari, however, said the alliance had expected to do better.
In the BJP camp, the party’s J&K spokesperson Anil Gupta termed the results a “victory for democracy” and a “slap” for those who were saying Kashmiri people had lost faith in democracy after the Centre’s Article 370 move. “The BJP did well all across J&K…,” he said.
J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina said: “We would win 70-80 seats on our own, and we also hope that 30-40 independents supported by us will emerge winners. Therefore, we anticipate a bumper win.”
Of the 231 seats whose results were declared by 10pm, PAGD won 92, the BJP 59, the Congress 19, and former minister Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party eight seats, according to official figures of the State Election Authority of the UT of J&K. The other seats went to independents and smaller parties.
While the PAGD contested 220 seats, the BJP 183, the Congress 118, and the Apni Party 134 seats.
Wins or trends were available for 278 seats, while counting was underway in many places late into the night. The Election Commission stopped counting in two seats, in which a contestant each was found to be from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, according to polling officials. Final results were expected by or after midnight.
In Jammu, the PAGD won or was leading in 26 seats, the BJP in 72 seats, and the Congress in 17 seats as of 10:15pm, according to provisional numbers. And in Kashmir, the PAGD won or was leading in 84 seats, the BJP in three seats, and the Congress in nine seats.
While PAGD candidates performed exceptionally in south, central and north Kashmir, the alliance missed the mark in the Srinagar district (14 seats), where BJP nominee Ajaz Hussain registered a significant win in the Kanmoh II seat. Apart from this, the other seats the BJP won or was leading in the Kashmir Valley were Tulail and Kakapora in Pulwama.
Another highlight of the results was PDP leader Waheed Para, who is under house arrest for his alleged links with militants. He won in his Pulwama constituency by a huge margin.
J&K state Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir said the results meant defeat for the BJP. “They brought top Union ministers and top leaders for election campaigning. Still, they could not win more than 50-60 seats. This shows that people have rejected their slogans,” he said.
Held under the shadow of Covid-19, the elections witnessed a turnout of 51.76% over the eight phases from November 29 to December 19, and were the first major direct polling exercise since the nullification of Article 370. Last year in October, Block Development Council elections were held in J&K, though the NC and the PDP boycotted them.
Political analyst Pervaz Majeed said the PAGD should have won more seats in the DDC elections.
“In the backdrop of the August 5, 2019 situation, the enthusiasm of people in these elections must be surprising to many. After the panchayat elections of 2011 and assembly elections of 2014, this was an electoral exercise that saw good involvement of people.
“Moreover, it is a huge political development that the BJP found candidates in Kashmir who fought on its ticket and in fact ran the party’s campaign,” said Majeed, an assistant professor of journalism at Kashmir University.