Local polls mark restart of political process in J&K, which should soon return to statehood

The first District Development Council polls in Jammu and Kashmir had rivals, National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Peoples Conference, coming together on one platform, the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. The six-party platform consolidated votes in nine out of 10 districts in the Kashmir Valley and three districts of the Pir Panjal valley and the Chenab valley in the Jammu region. The alliance has won 110 seats out of a total of 280 seats and the BJP, with 75 seats has emerged as the single largest party. The Gupkar alliance and the Congress are likely to have their chairmen in 12 to 13 districts in J&K, out of a total of 20, and the BJP could be leading five to six. Independent winners, 50 of them, will be able to swing some districts in favour of the BJP or the Alliance. The Alliance sees the poll results as a verdict against the reorganisation of J&K into two Union Territories and revocation of its special constitutional status on August 5, 2019. This was the first electoral process after the Centre ended J&Ks special status, and the alliance had pledged to fight for its restoration. The fears of the regional parties that the polls may be rigged were allayed by the final results. However, the withdrawal of security to leaders and candidates of the Gupkar alliance and restrictions on their campaigning had raised concerns about the process.
The sudden moves against Valley-based politicians in the Roshni land scam, cricket scam and other cases by the Enforcement Directorate, and the arrest of PDP leader Waheed-ur-Rehmaan Parra, just days after he filed his nomination, all amounted to undesirable use of the state machinery with a political intent. The polls, however, came to be seen as the restoration of the democratic process in J&K, which saw arrests of most regional leaders last year and the suspension of political activities to a large extent. These polls also stand out for being a rare electoral process in the past 30 years where the militant outfits and the separatist groups did not campaign vigorously for a poll boycott. Frequent encounters and locals joining militancy in the past one year in south Kashmir did impact the turnout, where most segments saw less than 20%. The BJP, which had already made inroads during the previous panchayat and urban local bodies polls in 2018 when the regional parties boycotted, managed a win over three seats in Srinagar, Bandipora and Pulwama. The low turnout notwithstanding, this comes as a shot in the arm for the image of the party. The BJP has also maintained a tight grip in Samba, Udhampur, Jammu and Kathua in the Jammu region. The political process restarted through the DDC election must be given more space. The Centre must appreciate the role of regional parties in moving towards peace and stability in J&K. Restoration of statehood and holding of the Assembly election are vital.