The best way to comprehend the real mood of a vibrant society, with keen eyes and ears like ours in J&K, is through free and fair elections. By the electoral process Govt learns a great deal about its popularity or otherwise as well as strength of other political parties in the field particularly their main political rival(s), which are no less in numbers and strength in J&K. In the case of 22nd December results of J&K DDC election 2020, first time ever, this was the hidden agenda over and above what has been spelt out. The word on the streets was that sudden announcement of DDC election was to elbow out Gupkar Alliance altogether from the political scene in J&K after their self afflicted acclamation of not participating in any election till Article 370 was restored. Sensing an impending doom, Gupkaris made a volte-face, entered into the fray unceremoniously and created confusion in public mind. At the face of it, the hidden agenda was to show the Gupkar Allaince in dim light at the very hustings. The so called Gupkar Alliance, if one doesn’t know yet, is a conflicting conglomerate of 6 diverse political parties, hurriedly cobbled up by post 370 political detainees after their release, to take on the centre collectively on political issues such as restoration of special status snatched on 5th August 2019. At the end of day, it was their survival which was at stake and hence they formed a coalition for contesting the DDC election. On the other side of the political spectrum was the BJP looking at its entry in the valley in a big way.
Any election in J&K, no matter at what level, gets unprecedented media attention because over the last three to four decades, J&K has been most corrupt state with its Kashmir valley ridden by religious fanaticism and Pak sponsored terrorism. There was a loud voice of alienation in Srinagar with clear cut ambitions of ‘an independent entity’ through terror and intimidation. Many elections were held in this long period of turmoil on various contentious political and constitutional issues, popular govts formed, but nothing much changed on the ground. But this DDC election, for a change, was seen to be different in many ways because 370 became the main issue for Gupkar Alliance and development for the BJP. Since BJP had been riding on ‘sab Ka sath, sab ka vikas and sab ka vishwas agenda’ nation-wide, it was expected to reap a rich harvest in the valley by the DDC mandate.
Article 370 of the Constitution had empowered the state to ‘an autonomous entity’. It was very dear to Kashmiris. But it was the cause of all the past ills. It was the cause of corruption and alienation. It was the trigger that people held for realising their ambitions and dreams. Once the Article was abolished on 5th August 2019, valley lost the motivating energy for seeking Azadi by terrorism and intimidation. A void was created. The vacuum had to be filled with an alternative dream. Article 370 and revocation of J&K’s special status became the issue. The mandate, more or less has gone in favour of this issue in Kashmir with Gupkar Alliance winning 110 seats as against 4 in favour of BJP. Whereas in Jammu the mandate, though a mixed bag, (BJP 70 out of 140) has by and large gone in faovour of development. Ironically decades long development starved Jammu had no other option.
Massive turn out of voters and peaceful conduct of the election is indicative of changing political perceptions in the UT. Ground swell of voters in the valley was indicative of ‘love for special status under 370’. Restoration of Article 370 rhetoric did galvanise the voter and the results also carry the day. At the end of it, it is the voter who have given a clear message by their mandate. What is the message is for political analysts to decipher. Since Delhi was keen to know it soon, the snap DDC election has done it clearly. (It is now for Delhi to analyse it realistically). Whole election exercise was a significant step in the direction of integration of the erstwhile state with the national mood but the question mark has come up again! (This election therefore was not a much needed political process so soon after the abrogation of Article 370, which was so fresh in public mind).
My intake from the election results is. (i) Biggest gain is re-establishment of public faith in the Indian democracy through the election process. (ii) Kashmiris have rejected the Delhi’s decision of revocation of special status of J&K. (iii) DDC poll, no matter what the result is, should be an eye opener for the Centre. (iv) Kashmir will view the election outcome as referendum against 2019 Parliament decision. Voices for respect for the verdict of the people and reversal of 5th August 2019 decision will certainly rise. (v) Within the UT, with two diverse regions, domination of one over the other will remain. (Kashmir will dominate Jammu as before).
Silver line of the DDC poll is that BJP has opened its account in the valley by winning 4 seats. This is an indication of rise of nationalism in the valley even though abrogation of the special status of the erstwhile State has been fully resented. It could create pro-Delhi sentiment in the valley if the other contentious political and corruption issues are handled properly. But the mistrust between Jammu & Kashmir will remain, thus increase difficulties for the govt. The election result could also lead to loud outcry in Pakistan for restoration of special status being Muslim majority UT. Hence Gupkaris will remain relevant in political landscape of J&K and favorite of Pakistan. Jammu having endorsed abrogation of Article 370 will strive to fully integrate with the Indian Union.
Now that the process of bringing of basic democracy at the public doorsteps through DDC elections is complete, the focus must out-rightly shift on development process for which the DDCs were mandatory as per Panchayat Raj Act. After the formalisation of DCCs, development plans must be formed and executed under the directions of Central Rural Development Ministry so that the development as intended to by the Centre is carried out.
Various development models were tried out earlier in J&K. Most talked about is Bhomag Development model of Reasi Dist designed and executed by former Reasi MLA late Sh. Bansi Lal Kohstani during Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s rule. Impressed by Kohstani Sahib’s development model, Bakshi Sahib made BDOs resign from govt job to contest Assembly elections to frame laws which were rural development oriented. Newly elected Councilors could be sent to Bhomag to see the development undertaken by the Veteran leader and asses their constituency applicability. Let development and development alone be the outcome of this election.