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

Candidates in all-women Wagoora constituency include PDP women’s wing chief, homemaker representing Gupkar alliance, ex-minister’s wife and a Kashmiri Pandit.

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Wagoora, Kashmir: Located about 50 kilometres from capital Srinagar, the Wagoora constituency in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district is home to one of the more interesting battles in the first-ever District Development Council elections in the union territory.

There a unique mix of candidates in this women-only seat — including those with a prominent political background, a first-timer, an ex-government employee and a Kashmiri Pandit. But the Valley’s larger political rivalries are also playing out in this constituency, with cracks surfacing in the newly formed People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), featuring the prominent regional parties.

The polls are the first 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. Elections are also being held for panch and sarpanch seats that have remained vacant due to the main regional parties boycotting the 2018 local body polls. Wagoora’s electorate voted in the third phase of the polls Friday, with the DDC chairperson and sarpanch seats up for grabs.

Also read: Gupkar Declaration turns into official alliance in J&K, but Congress skips crucial meet

The candidates

Among the women contesting the DDC polls from Wagoora is Safina Baig, president of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) women wing, and wife of former J&K deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig. But Safina Baig is actually fighting as an Independent against Shaheena Begum, a National Conference candidate supported by all the constituents of the PAGD, which includes the PDP.

Another candidate is Nasreena Firdous, a former government employee whose husband Ghulam Nabi Lone was killed in 2005 in an attack on his residence, when he was education minister in Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s PDP-led government. Their son Shoaib, a former Congress leader and one of dozens of politicians detained ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019, joined the newly founded Apni Party, which has given his mother the ticket.

Independent newcomer Rehana Begum is also in the fray, while Kashmiri Pandit woman Babli Devi, also an Independent, is one of three candidates for the sarpanch seat.

Also read: Fissures continue to deepen in Gupkar alliance as parties differ on district council polls

Wrangling within Gupkar alliance

Wagoora is part of Sangrama assembly constituency in the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat. The area was considered the stronghold of Muzaffar Baig, who won the Baramulla parliamentary poll in 2014, but in 2019, the seat was won by National Conference’s Akbar Lone.

Other prominent leaders in the area include former PDP leader Basharat Bukhari, who joined the National Conference in 2018, and the aforementioned Ghulam Nabi and Shoaib Lone.

Within the Gupkar alliance, seat distribution for the DDC elections was anyway a topic of contention between the constituents, who are all rivals that have come together to demand restoration of J&K’s statehood and special status. Just this week, the PAGD has been unable to reach a consensus on candidates for the next phase of DDC elections, but sources said Wagoora had become especially contentious.

“PAGD had received inputs that Safina Baig will file her nomination. Yet, it was decided that an NC candidate will fight from Wagoora,” a PAGD source said.

Soon, Muzaffar Baig announced his resignation from the PDP, while Safina Baig remained in the party. There is speculation that Baig — a 2020 Padma Bhushan awardee — was upset with the PAGD’s decision to field an NC candidate. However, Muzaffar Baig has been having problems with PDP leadership for the past two years — sources in the party said the leadership was also upset with him for meeting the visiting European delegation last year, and his position vis-à-vis Article 370.

“Naturally, PDP found a way to punish Baig even though the party could have asked for Wagoora in seat-sharing discussions,” a PDP source said..

Safina eventually filed her nomination as an Independent. And while she refused to comment on “anything political”, she said her decision to fight the DDC polls was a result of the people’s demand.

“If I would have not fought elections, it would have been a breach of trust,” she said, adding that the region had been mismanaged by former legislators, hinting at Basharat Bukhari, who is backing the official PAGD candidate Shaheena Begum.

The PDP also doesn’t seem to have helped the case of PAGD the candidate — not only has it not issued a statement on Safina fighting as an Independent, party workers ThePrint spoke to were unanimously rooting for her.

“She is the only one who can uplift the village,” said Parvaiz Ahmed, a local PDP worker.

On her part, the 45-year-old Shaheena said she did not want to comment on the candidates up against her.

“They are all big names. I am a poor person and want to serve the poor. I belong to an NC family and I felt it is my turn to serve the people,” said 45-year old Shaheena, a homemaker.

What the other candidates say

Apni Party’s Nasreena, Shoaib Lone’s mother, said her stint as zonal educational officer could give her the edge over others to develop Wagoora.

Rehana Begum, who owns a small business of medical equipment, did not comment on her rivals for the sarpanch seat, and said instead that her focus would be on youth and women.

“I want this place to develop as an entrepreneurial hub, which will eventually employ youth and women,” said Rehana.

But while all the others in the fray have made development their main election plank, Babli Devi, the candidate for sarpanch, said she has two priorities — helping the “neighbours” and protecting rights of Kashmiris.

“Everyone is a neighbour and I want to help them. It goes without saying that protection of the rights of Kashmiris is my priority as well. I am not sure if we will be able to bring back Article 370 but I can fight, and I surely will,” she said.

Also read: J&K parties’ DDC polls dilemma — boycott & get marginalised or contest & accept Article 370 move


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