- 20 Jan 2021
Since articles like 370 and 35A have been abrogated into oblivion, the BJP has emerged as the single largest party in the DDC polls. This may reverberate as a public mandate for the Saffron party in the J and K polls and a belief in Prime Minister Modi’s new India. Even a grand alliance of Gupkar Gang couldn’t hinder the rise of BJP riding on Jammoriyat, Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat.
As a landmark event after the abrogation of articles 370 and 35(A) in August last year, the current District Development Council (DDC) elections in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir have gained much popularity. What is at stake for the common public of J&K and which parties have gained ground there? Let us break open the polls and understand them bit by bit.
This year, on October 17th, Ministry of Home Affairs amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act-1989. This tweak paved way for introducing “District Development Councils” and “District Planning Committees (DPC)” in each of the twenty districts of the UT while it did away with the erstwhile “District Planning and Development Boards (DPDB)”.
The amendments, which were a precursor to the current elections decided the fate of 2178 candidates contesting in a total of 280 seats and also the Kashmiri “awaam”. Moreover, the amendment was badly needed to infuse democracy in the form of separately elected representatives which the DPDBs failed to ensure.
What are District Development Councils?
District Development Councils have been established as the third tier of the “Panchayati Raj System” to help democracy and development percolate till the most sequestered places in the union territory. Elaborating on the notion, DDCs have been brought in for nimble preparation and approval of district plans and also to deal with capital expenditure so that the union territory catches-up with mainstream India in its story of development. They are also expected to work in sync with Block Development Councils (BDCs) and District Planning Committees.
Jammu & Kashmir has 2 provinces and 20 districts. Each district has further been divided into 14 constituencies by the amendment. So, 14 elected representatives from a district would form a District Development Council which shall have a term of five years and each DDC would comprise of a Chairperson and a Vice-Chairperson- to be elected by the council members.
Not to forget, DDCs are entitled to have jurisdiction over the entire district excluding such portions which are included in a Municipality or Municipal Corporation. Also, the DDCs are expected to hold at least four general meetings each year (i.e., one each quarter) and provisions have been ratified for at least one-third representation of women belonging to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.
Unlike the DPDBs which functioned under the leadership of a cabinet minister with MPs, MLAs and MLCs as members, the DDC will be headed by a chairman from among the directly elected representatives.
Elections and Voting
The highly peaceful DDC elections were held in eight phases from November 28 to December 19 in 280 constituencies. They collectively witnessed about 57 lakh eligible voters exercising their franchise. The polls recorded 51% voting but the vote balance bent towards the Jammu division. It saw 68% voting whereas the Kashmir division saw an abysmal 34% figure. Albeit numerically Kashmir performed below par in terms of voting, it has done extremely well considering its past record.
The polling percentage during the DDC polls in the notorious terrorist hotspots witnessed a considerable increase in comparison to the previous elections.
While Ganderbal, Kulgam and Shopian saw 43.4%, 28.9% and 17.5% voting respectively,
Pulwama, which had seen voting of just 1.1%in the 2018 panchayat elections, surprisingly witnessed 7.4% in the DDC polls. Similar is the case for Sopore, where the voting was 7.6% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but grew approximately 3 times in the DDC elections. Apart from these districts, Bandipora in North Kashmir saw 51.7% voting in the DDC polls, a 7% and 27% upsurge from the panchayat elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections respectivelty.
After the results were declared on 278 seats on 22nd December, the Bharatiya Janata Party emerged to be the single largest party with 75 seats followed by the National Conference which secured 67 seats. (The counting of two seats was put on abeyance as candidates from those areas were allegedly from PoK.)
However, the newly forged Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD, shown in green below), came as an impediment to the BJP’s success as it managed to collectively score 110 seats. In spite of this, the BJP pulled over 4.87 lakh votes , whereas the PAGD could elicit only about 3.94 lakh of them.
In another historic feat, the BJP, for the first time ever managed to make small, but important inroads into the valley. It won three seats, one each from Pulwama, Srinagar and Bandipore.
Even though the BJP has had quite a few positives from these polls, its strike rate as compared to others still remains a matter of concern (refer the table below).
(credits: TOI 25th December)
Another aspect which the saffron party should be wary of is its grim vote share in the Kashmir division as compared to the Jammu belt (refer the pie charts below). This discrepancy is largely due to the demographics i.e., the predominant Muslim majority in the valley, but in order to firm its grip over the union territory, the BJP will have to learn to entice them as well. The Gupkar factor however was seen totally ineffective in the Jammu belt which stood firmly with BJP and their core voter base was unharmed.
(credits: TOI 25th December)
PDP dissident Altaf Bukhari’s newly formed Apni Party didn't fare satisfactorily except north Kashmir's Baramulla and Jammu, where it won two seats each. Even though it couldn’t lure more voters, the party’s presence created a dent to the PAGD vote base which implicitly made it the BJP’s B-team.
More interesting charts published in The Times of India’s 25th December edition show how the formation of DDCs in each of the 20 districts of J & K could pan out post results:
Now coming to results the ‘famous’ candidates-
1. PDP youth president Waheed Para, who is in custody of the National Investigation Agency for terrorist affiliations, won the DDC elections from Pulwama.
2. Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) president Ghulam Ahmad Mir's son Naseer Ahmad Mir lost the DDC polls from Anantnag.
Reactions of the political spectrum:
In a litany of tweets, HM Amit Shah thanked all the voters, chest thumped BJP’s victory and assured each Jammu Kashmir resident, a better fortune.
PDP supremo Mehbooba Mufti kept on blaming the government of India for its wrongdoings on Kashmir and kept up her ante.
I heartily thank our sisters and brothers of J&K for voting BJP as the single largest party in the District Development Council elections. BJP under the leadership of PM @narendramodi ji will continue to work relentlessly towards the prosperity and development of the J&K region.— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 23, 2020
Amidst the counting of votes, while addressing his party cadre, Omar Abdullah took a jibe at BJP and said, “I congratulate them (BJP) for their 3 seats (in Kashmir) but what about our 35 seats in Jammu. Admit that we’ve pan J&K presence. BJP keeps calling us Kashmir based party. If we are Kashmir based with 35 seats in Jammu, then they are not even fully Jammu based.”
آج کے ڈی ڈی سی انتخابی نتائج سےواضح ہوگیا ہے کہ جموں کشمیر کے لوگوں نے دفعہ ۳۷۰ہٹانے کے حکومت ہند کے غیر آئینی فیصلے کو یکسر مسترد کر دیا ہے ۔عوام نے ایک جذبے کے ساتھ پی اے جی ڈی ،جو خصوصی پوزیشن کی بحالی کے لئے جدوجہد کر رہی ہے،کو کامیابی دلائی ہے— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) December 22, 2020
Adding to the narrative, former union minister P. Chidambaram tweeted:
I understand the temptation to over play the 3 seats the BJP has won in the valley but why underplay the 35 wins/leads of the @JKPAGD in Jammu province. We aren’t Kashmir based parties, we are political parties with strong support in both Kashmir AND Jammu.— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) December 22, 2020
A content Altaf Bukhari said, “Apni Party is overwhelmed with the support of people which gets reflected in massive voter turnout in favour of our candidates in all districts of J&K. I am highly indebted to the people for reposing their trust and confidence in the Apni Party which believes in peoples’ welfare.”
Undeterred by the denial of democratic rights, the voters of the Kashmir valley have firmly rejected the BJP and its misguided Kashmir policy. I compliment the voters for their courage and resolve— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) December 22, 2020