New Delhi: The Congress party performed dismally in Jammu and Kashmir’s first-ever District Development Council (DDC) elections, results of which were announced Wednesday.
The Congress won just 26 of the 278 seats in which results were declared, lagging behind all major parties including the BJP, the National Conference (NC) as well as the PDP.
The seven-party Gupkar alliance, or the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), led by Farooq Abdullah won 110 of the 278 seats.
The BJP emerged as the single largest party winning 75 seats, including three in the Kashmir Valley. Among the Gupkar alliance partners, the National Conference (NC) won 67 seats, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 27, Peoples’ Conference (PC) eight, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) three and CPI(M) five.
While Congress leaders blame not being prepared for the polls, analysts say the party’s ambivalent stand on pressing matters such as Article 370 abrogation also caused its downfall.
The party saw some high-profile defeats. Naseer Ahmad Mir, the son of the J&K Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir, lost to Independent Peer Shahbaz Ahmad at the Verinag constituency in Anantnag district.
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The Congress’ J&K vice-president Ghulam Nabi Monga told ThePrint that the party was “caught unprepared” ahead of the polls.
“The seat-adjustment talks with the Gupkar alliance went on until very long. We wasted a lot of time there and we weren’t left with much time to prepare,” Monga said.
The Congress was, for the longest time, unclear on whether or not it was joining the Gupkar alliance, before chief party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala in November announced that it won’t be part of the alliance. The NC subsequently called off all talks of seat adjustment with the Congress.
However, the Congress and the alliance did later seem to have reached some understanding for the first and second phases of the polls.
The party is now contemplating supporting the Gupkar alliance “to keep the BJP out”.
“In many seats, we decided to not field candidates against each other. While in others, we did have competition,” said Ravinder Sharma, chief spokesperson of J&K Congress. “Now that we see that non-BJP parties are leading in at least 15 of the 20 districts, we can consider supporting the PAGD. We will do whatever it takes to keep the BJP out.”
Sharma, however, added that it is the party’s top leadership that will decide on whether or not it will support the alliance.
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No better in Jammu
The Congress’ poor performance wasn’t limited to Kashmir. The party won just 16 of the 140 seats in Jammu region, while even the NC was able to win 25.
Former J&K CM and vice president of the NC, Omar Abdullah, in a tweet Tuesday said the party’s wins in the Jammu districts shouldn’t be underplayed. “We aren’t Kashmir-based parties, we are political parties with strong support in both Kashmir AND Jammu,” Abdullah 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
Monga said the “polarisation created by the BJP” is what has led to the party making significant gains in the DDC polls. The BJP managed to win 72 seats in Jammu region.
‘Ambivalence, lack of clear stand’
Professor Noor Ahmed Baba, political science professor at Kashmir University, said the Congress’ decline has to do with its “refusal to take a clear position” on various issues.
“The Congress is declining overall at a national level. But in J&K, the issue has been the party’s ambivalence on a lot of issues including the abrogation of Article 370,” Baba said.
The Congress has so far not taken a clear position on whether or not it demands the restoration of Article 370.
After the abrogation of the article on 5 August, 2019, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) had passed a resolution, calling it “unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic” but did not explicitly demand its restoration.
The party also distanced itself from the Gupkar alliance saying it doesn’t agree with it ideologically.
“The Congress wants to keep its feet in both the boats at the same time,” Baba added. “It doesn’t want to identify with a clear position and can’t get itself to stand for something unequivocally.”
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Perhaps the Congress should show similar wisdom in Bengal, before the Assembly election.
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