Under a harsh security crackdown, India conducted the DDC elections polls in the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir, more than a year after the erstwhile state was stripped of the special status after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019.
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The BJP government hailed the high voter turnout as a testimony to the ‘return of democracy’ in the restive Union Territory. Home Minister Amit Shah said the mass participation in these elections reflected people’s ‘faith in democracy.’
However, the claim of conducting such ‘democratic’ elections was challenged widely with the Kashmiri opposition leaders having been detained indefinitely by the central government, with BJP’s own leaders left to freely campaign in the various parts of Kashmir.
The BJP celebrated the fact that it had emerged as the single largest party in the DDC (District Development Council) elections winning 75 seats, although Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of seven political parties, claimed victory since it clinched the highest tally of 110 seats.
The claim that the Union Territory had given a tacit endorsement of the Article 370 abrogation by registering voting overwhelmingly in these elections is false since the Kashmir province reported a voting percentage of only 34%, and India made sure it faced no resistance from the local population by deploying a huge number of armed forces personnel in the valley.
Amid the widespread calls for the boycott of the elections, the candidates in the separatist hub Pulwama had to reportedly coerce their relatives and neighbors to vote for them, with many candidates gaining as low as 294 votes, enough to win a seat because a boycott was in place.
What came as a shock was one BJP candidate Minha Lateef winning from a Pulwama constituency of Kakapora who got 364 votes while there was a stringent boycott in the area, ultimately benefiting the BJP.
One opponent of the BJP candidate, Rukiya Jaan accused the Jammu and Kashmir administration of favoring the BJP by placing the polling station just outside their homes, while the location for her was set more than five kilometers away from her village, Free Press Kashmir reported.
When EurAsian Times asked one village elder in Kakapora about why some people were shunning the boycott and voting, he said the candidates were getting some votes mainly from relatives and their neighbors who they pleaded to vote for them.
“The average voting has remained below 10 percent in all of Pulwama, and greater the number of relatives a candidate has greater their chance to win,” he added.
The claim did not seem to be an exaggeration since all the candidates received only a few hundred votes, indicating that people had majorly boycotted the polls.
The fear of BJP candidates ending up winning had also been a factor in a majority of people choosing to head to the polling stations and voting for the rival candidates, EurAsian Times learned.
To relate this low percentage of voting to the ‘return of normalcy’ in the valley is an ‘absurd fallacy,’ said Ajaz Lone (name changed), from one of the villages in Pulwama. He said the few people voting were doing it out of various compulsions, including gaining favors later from the winning candidates, and of course, under great fear of ridicule from the community.
One candidate from PAGD Waheed Ur Rehman Para who has been jailed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for an unknown charge ended up as the winner from one Pulwama constituency.
Many political leaders from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC) remain incarcerated after an indefinite lockdown was imposed in the valley on 5 August 2019.
The parties in the erstwhile state have had immense difficulties campaigning while they were being hounded by the BJP-led government at the center. NC supremo Farooq Abdullah’s ancestral properties worth crores were attached by the Enforcement Directorate as recently as last week, which has been condemned by the party.
Amid the bone-chilling cold, the small percentage of voters in district Pulwama sneaked into the polling booths under the cover of a heavy security cordon trying hard not to be noticed.
Nonetheless, around one-third of the electorate in Kashmir voted in the DDC polls, with district Pulwama registering the smallest percentage of less than 15 percent.
The winning candidates received votes as low as 246 (Avtar Singh-Independent), 364 (Minha Lateef-BJP), 294 (Mehmooda Akhter-Independent), with the highest votes in the district polled for 1452 (Harbaksh Singh Sassan-PDP).
The anti-India sentiment in this South Kashmir district remains the highest in the valley, with some wondering whether there was a possibility that article 370 could be restored.
The sentiment reflects the lost hope and broken dreams that followed after India, under the BJP-led government, crushed all forms of resistance to the Indian rule, jailing separatists and even pro-India politicians indefinitely and stripping the erstwhile state of its special status guaranteed under the Indian constitution.