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Fissures hit Gupkar alliance’s J&K local poll campaign, but parties blame govt ‘intimidation’

Top leaders in the alliance have given the campaign a complete miss. NC, PDP leaders say J&K administration ‘scuttling’ their campaign.

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Srinagar: The Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which was formalised to demand the restoration of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, has been largely absent from campaigning for the ongoing District Development Council (DDC) elections, and this is expected to affect their poll prospects adversely, according to alliance leaders.

The conglomerate, comprising eight prominent regional and national political parties, had planned a host of activities as part of their election campaign, including joint rallies and video addresses. 

However, differences among alliance leaders and “intimidation” by central and UT administrations through arrests, detentions and releasing names of alleged beneficiaries of the now-scrapped Roshni Act hindered the campaigning, said PAGD sources.

They also said the alliance’s second and third rung leaders not only have a problem over seat sharing, but also with campaigning jointly.

Top leaders in the alliance have given the campaign a complete miss even as four phases out of the total eight are over. It was only the People’s Conference, which has held multiple rallies in its bastions in north Kashmir. 

PAGD sources said they had done an internal assessment initially based on which they had estimated winning between 100-120 seats of the 140 seats in Kashmir, where an uneasy consensus was reached over seat sharing. 

But differences between second and third rung leaders of the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Congress over joint campaigning might restrict the alliance well short of that, said a PAGD leader, who didn’t want to be named.

“This is an early assessment. Four more phases of the polls are yet to take place, but initially we were comfortable about winning around 120 seats in Kashmir with the rest going to Independents, Apni Party and may be the Bharatiya Janata Party. Now the number (of seats) that we think we will win will be lesser,” said the leader.

No consensus was, however, reached on the 140 DDC seats in Jammu division.

The DDC polls are the first elections to take place since the scrapping of J&K’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories — J&K and Ladakh.

Also read: How Gupkar alliance cracks have surfaced in small Baramulla hamlet in J&K DDC polls

‘Trying our best to go out to the people’

NC spokesperson Imran Dar told ThePrint party leaders have been holding rallies and a series of public meetings are lined up in the coming days. But the campaigning did get affected due to the administration, he said.

“They are not allowing PAGD candidates to campaign, citing security threats. But we are still trying our best to go out to the people,” Dar said. 

PDP spokesperson Najmu Sakib, meanwhile, launched a scathing attack on the administration for not letting party president and former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti to move out of her home. 

“It is a deliberate attempt to scuttle our campaign. Mufti has been illegally detained for the past three days. It is a people’s election and they don’t want us to meet the people” .

Mufti Wednesday tweeted she was “illegally detained today for the third time in less than a fortnight”.

But a senior government official told ThePrint: “There is no detention order. We have consistently been maintaining that there is a serious security threat in the area Mufti wants to visit.”

Asked about PAGD candidates not being allowed to campaign, the official said: “About candidates not being allowed to campaign, that is not correct. We have sent police teams along with candidates who wanted to campaign.”

Also read: Why DDC election in Kashmir is the report card BJP is waiting for

‘PAGD spirit did not reach the ground’

NC and PDP leaders fear that the alliance, rather than achieving its goal of restoring Article 370, will only end up disturbing the election arithmetic of Jammu and Kashmir, causing unprecedented strain in the political ecosystem, as is being witnessed currently.

“The PAGD spirit did not reach the ground. In the last week of November, a consensus was reached to hold joint rallies in some districts of Kashmir, including Srinagar, Ganderbal, Baramulla and Anantnag, but it didn’t happen,” said the PAGD leader quoted above.

“Second and third rung leaders were uncomfortable in sharing their bastions and territories with candidates of other parties in the alliance. Their argument was they had cultivated a constituency of voters for years and giving it up now would mean a jolt to their political careers,” added leader.

A second PAGD leader said differences between political parties were a major reason for the alliance not campaigning, but added it was the Centre and the BJP that had forced this “phenomenon”.

“It was the time to rise above party differences, but that hasn’t happened. Partly we are to blame, but if you see it is the difficult position that regional Kashmiri parties have been put into. These induced insecurities, ego clashes etc. would have not been there had regional parties not been forced to take this course after the scrapping of Article 370,” said the leader.

“There is a belief within regional parties that anyone too weak or strong will face the music from the Centre. What shall we do?” he added.

‘In a climate of repression, how are we supposed to campaign?’

A third PAGD leader, who didn’t want to be named, said a “prime factor” behind the alliance not campaigning for the DDC polls is because of the actions taken by the central and the J&K administrations.

“PDP leader Waheed Para was arrested by NIA. Taj Mohideen, a senior Congressman and former minister, was booked by CBI. The government has been running a false campaign by releasing so-called Roshni (Act) lists, accusing politicians of fraud even though now they have done a U-turn,” said the leader.

“Candidates were lodged in government facilities and hotels on the pretext of security and not allowed to campaign. Mufti has been repeatedly detained at her home. In such a climate of repression and crackdown, how are we supposed to campaign?” he added.   

“Mr Omar and Farooq Abdullah quarantining themselves after their secondary contacts tested positive for Covid also came at a bad time,” the leader added.

They’re not used to working hard: BJP

The lack of PAGD presence in the DDC poll campaign has, however, provided impetus to the BJP, which has been calling the alliance a “gang” and accusing it of non-performance and corruption when the parties associated with it were in power.

“The only reason for the gang to not campaign is because they are not used to working hard,” BJP national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told ThePrint. 

“The weather is also very cold so they (PAGD) don’t come out,” said Hussain, who is the party’s star campaigner in Kashmir. 

Also read: Pakistan is China-occupied, they beg for bombs to throw in J&K, says BJP leader in Srinagar


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