India has termed the first local elections in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 as a victory of democracy even as The New York Times describes it as “a place still struggling under the heavy-handed rule”. In August last year, India revoked the special status granted to Jammu and under Article 370.
The District Development Council (DDC) elections were conducted for 280 seats, 14 in each of the 20 districts of the union territory. The Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s ruling party at the Centre, has emerged as the single largest party. The ‘Gupkar Alliance’, a coalition of seven parties, has emerged victorious with more than 100 seats.
— Rupa Kumari (@TheRupa26) December 23, 2020
The eight-phase elections had begun on November 28 and concluded on December 19 with an overall voter turnout of approximately 51%. While officials have hailed it as a “solid turnout” due to restoration of democracy, the NYT report says “little in Kashmir feels normal”.
Govt Organised Media Visit
India’s federal government has recently allowed the entry of foreign reporters to the newly created union territory of Jammu and Kashmir more than a year after the abrogation of Article 370. NYT reporters were part of “a tightly controlled, government-organized trip to cover the polls”.
The voting trend shows that democracy is alive at the grassroots, BVR Subrahmanyam, a civil servant, told the reporters. Union Minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad also said that the polls in Jammu and Kashmir can be surmised as a victory of democracy and a victory for the locals.
However, according to the NYT report, “the voter engagement appeared to stem more from defiance than satisfaction”. The report quotes a 21-year-old Kulsoom Chopan, who says, that they’d never want BJP in power, they’d never vote for India.
— Waseem Andrabi (wasu) (@waseem_andrabi) December 10, 2020
It underlines that with the economy on the verge of collapse due to lockdown, lack of private investment in the region, and rise in recruitment by militant groups, “BJP has made a big push into the Kashmir Valley”.
BJP Vs Gupkar Alliance
The NYT report states that even in the middle of a separatist struggle, the BJP has managed to bring Muslim politicians in Kashmir into its fold for the first time with 300,000 party workers.
Ghulam Mohammad Mir, BJP’s Kashmir spokesman, told NYT that they are in a takeoff stage and they have thousands (of workers) in every nook and corner of the valley with flags in their hands.
On the other hand, Mohamed Bhat, an independent candidate in Bandipora who ran as a candidate of the Gukpar Alliance, believes there was democracy in Kashmir before the abrogation of Article 370 and now they (major Kashmiri parties) have united to bring back the special status.
People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah — both of whom are part of the Gupkar Alliance — alleged that they were not given a level-playing field in the elections as they were denied permission for campaigning or their members were confined.
Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbag Singh, however, rejected this allegation.
After winning the elections, Mehbooba Mufti has said the poll results indicate that people reject the decision to abrogate Article 370.
Todays DDC results have made it clear that people of J&K voted en masse for @JKPAGD thus rejecting the unconstitutional decision to abrogate Article 370. They have overwhelmingly supported @JKPAGD which stands for restoration of J&Ks special status.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) December 22, 2020
The DDC would focus on development through direct funding from the Centre and form a link between the people and the government in the absence of an assembly. The Gupkar Alliance had led its campaign on restoring the UT’s autonomous status.