Srinagar: The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of seven mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, is set to participate in the upcoming District Development Council (DDC) polls notwithstanding the ethical dilemma in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 and subsequent decisions taken unilaterally by the BJP-led government at the Centre.
The Congress party, which had skipped earlier PAGD meetings, also participated in a joint meeting held in Srinagar on Friday following which Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Monga renewed his commitment with the alliance and expressed the party’s decision to be the part of the “seat-sharing arrangement.”
The mainstream parties which form the PAGD have decided to put a united fight against the BJP and its allies. The parties are fighting with respective symbols but, will be contesting jointly on the seats to thwart the Right-wing party in what is the first major electoral process in the region since the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
The Gupkar alliance, which was formed to restore the pre-August 5 position, has fielded as many as 27 candidates, mostly from National Conference. (21 seats). Its president Farooq Abdullah heads the alliance. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Sajad Lone led People’s Conference (PC), both former allies of the BJP, will be contesting on four and two seats respectively in the first phase.
The Election Commission announced the DDC polls to be held in 280 seats across the union territory of J&K in eight phases beginning from November 28. The counting of votes for all the phases of these polls would take place on December 22, according to the EC notification. The DDC constituencies were notified following delimitation across the region with each district carved into 14 DDC constituencies.
The DDCs -- to be elected for a term of five years will complete the three-tier Panchayat system in the region and make way for the first time to a new political representation in Jammu and Kashmir -- the BJP has said, would act as an alternative to traditional mainstream parties and the political system.
The participation in DDC polls by the mainstream parties, who boycotted the previous BDC polls held last year as a part of their rejection to moves taken subsequently post-August 5, is seen by many as a “double-edged sword”. The PAGD’s participation in the polls reinforces the claims made by BJP leaders that the mainstream parties need to move beyond 370 and participate in the electoral processes in its aftermath, something that seems to have begun.
The PAGD members, in their defence, say that the objective of the alliance is not to acquire DDC positions, but their participation is rather necessary to make a “symbolic point”.
Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson of the NC, who has termed the situation as a “double-edged sword”, said that the alliance cannot leave the DDC space open for the BJP party.
“Tomorrow, they can say that they have a universal acceptance and that is a problem. Our main objective to participate in these elections is to send a message to a greater audience in India that whatever was done on August 5, 2019 will not be accepted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir and which is why there is an alliance. We are hopeful that people in Kashmir will send a resounding message to the leaders in New Delhi and all people that measures were taken unilaterally and they are not accepted,” Imran told NewsClick.
The alliance, Imran says, has not employed any “grand-strategy” on the lines of Mahagathbandhan during Bihar polls. “The end point is that the parties in Jammu and Kashmir are united and that there is consensus. We are all standing together to make a point,” he adds.
Ibrahim Wani, Assistant Professor at Institute of Kashmir Studies, says the DDC polls “mark a key point where mainstream Kashmir parties, under PAGD, re-enter the electoral arena, albeit at a lower level which is relatively powerless compared to the Assembly”.
This “re-entry”, Ibrahim says, has to be seen alongside two factors; the pressure of new formations promoted ostensibly by the Centre, and an attempt by established political parties to “preserve their patronage networks”. But this re-entry, he adds, can also prove to be a “double-edged sword” for them.
“Clearly, this is a sort of a compromise signal to the central government, as an idiom of defiance has not registered in any power circle, let alone create any traction. If PAGD is not able to pull voters to the elections, or register a good performance, its existence will come under a lot of tension,” Ibrahim says.
Since the abrogation of Article 370, the BJP has been at least successful in changing the goalposts for the political parties in the region. The party has been continuously throwing challenges at the regional parties including its former allies here. The challenges came in the form of announcement of local body polls, introduction of new laws like on the issue of domiciles and land laws. The mainstream parties in the form of PAGD have since been only caught up in reacting to these measures often termed by PAGD as an “assault on the region and its people”.
PDP leader Waheed ur Rehman Para said that their participation is an “act of self-preservation.”
“We are saving whatever space is left and available. We saw a new pattern of violence of keeping locals away from institutions with an intention to disempower us. We want to fight this through the system and not use any unlawful way. We know that this is not an important process politically but, still we have to ensure that BJP doesn’t take any space,” Waheed says.
For now, the BJP seems to be in a “win-win” situation. With the decision of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of the status of being a state, the BJP has not only disempowered the state legislation but decentralised the entire political system and the PAGD with its participation is complying to these changes being made -- an act of self-preservation.
Also read: Muslims and Mental Health: Talking About Discrimination and Violence