Jammu and Kashmir District Development Council election marks the resumption of a democratic electoral process in the union territory after the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019. But an ‘election’ isn’t necessarily democratic by default. At least that’s what the process so far suggests with several workers of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, or PAGD, like Waheed Ur Rehman Para, getting arrested or detained while canvassing for the DDC polls. Other candidates are given a fixed time slot in which to campaign. Multiple candidates are forced to travel in one car after first paying a visit at their local police stations, leaving them hardly any time to campaign.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, is not only having it easy, but is also going tooth and nail into its campaign knowing very well that the DDC election is a verdict on the Narendra Modi government following its Article 370 decision. The BJP wants to win this election at all costs.
Winning the DDC election presents both a domestic and international opportunity for Modi and the BJP. It vindicates the party which insisted that all was well in Kashmir after 5 August 2019, while international media outlets such as the BBC came out with reports of protests and deep anguish across the Valley. It signals the international community, especially the new Joe Biden administration in the US, to move on like Kashmiri voters have. A lot is at stake in this election nationally as well because the management of the post-Article 370 situation has Amit Shah’s stamp all over it.
Tarnishing Kashmir’s political elite
The impediment in the BJP’s plans is the “Gupkar Gang”, a misnomer coined by Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the PAGD, which marks the coming together of most of the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir — Abdullahs’ National Conference, Muftis’ Peoples Democratic Party, and Sajjad Lone’s J&K Peoples Conference.
So far the PAGD has been made out to be a bunch of militants masquerading as politicians who have come together to foil the BJP’s nationalistic plans for Kashmir. Predictably, the alliance and its efforts have been branded “anti-national”. Amit Shah went on a full-frontal attack on the PAGD and sent out tweets attacking “Rahul ji” and “Sonia ji” for associating with them.
Union minister Anurag Thakur, who is also among the BJP’s ‘star campaigners’ for the DDC polls, branded the Gupkar parties as “separatists”, thus seeking to relegate the already non-existent Mirwaiz Umar Farooqs, Syed Ali Shah Geelanis, Asiya Andrabis, and Masrat Alams useless.
But the DDC election, which is underway since 28 November, will loudly and clearly announce the voice of the people of Kashmir that has so far been stifled under systematically planned curfews, lockdowns and the absence of 4G internet. Which is why the BJP, just before the election, chose to change its tactics. Aware that attacking the Gupkar Alliance as ‘anti-national’ could work in favour of the PAGD owing to the reported disaffection the people of Kashmir feel towards New Delhi, the BJP has now unearthed the Roshni land scam to showcase the alleged corruption of the Abdullahs and the Muftis.
Although the Roshni land scam is mammoth, running up to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore, the BJP has only now brought it to the fore even though illegal land grabbing has been taking place in the Valley for long. Evidently, the corruption plank has always worked for the BJP, be it to tarnish the image of the Gandhis by way of Robert Vadra or to grab power in Bihar after putting Lalu Prasad Yadav behind bars in the fodder scam.
To show to the Kashmiris the disingenuousness of the PAGD, the names of the alleged ‘beneficiaries’ of the Roshni land scam — Farooq Abdullah’s sister Suraiya Abdullah, former finance minister Haseeb Drabu, Congress leaders K.K. Amla and Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya along with prominent bureaucrats and businessmen — are being publicised.
Under the J&K State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act, 2001, brought by then chief minister Farooq Abdullah, illegal occupants of government lands could buy those lands by paying the market price to the government. This was done in a bid to raise money for power projects, hence the name Roshni Act. But it was only the high and mighty who took advantage of this Act to buy government lands. The Abdullahs and the Muftis have allegedly amassed multiple stretches of land under this Act.
Parties vying for what’s left
The adding of a new layer of governance in Kashmir by the BJP is also up for question. By amending the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, the Modi government has effectively decentralised power in the union territory, further rendering the major political parties of Kashmir redundant. Which is why, unlike boycotting the 2018 panchayat and municipal elections in both Jammu as well as Kashmir, the PDP and the NC don’t want to leave the little avenue of power they can hold onto uncontested. Even the Hurriyat and the militants have not given any boycott calls, possibly a first in the Valley. And both the NC and the PDP are fighting the election together because, individually, their strength is flimsy in front of the BJP, which is doing everything in its power to win this election.
With the Kashmir division witnessing a voter turnout of 39.11 per cent in the first phase of polling, the people of the Valley are exercising their choice unlike previous times where turnout used to be extremely poor. They evidently want to choose who represents them. And the BJP is desperate to be chosen by the people of Kashmir because it will prove the party was right on its decision to abrogate Article 370, both nationally and internationally.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.
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