Jammu and Kashmir is heading for District Development Council (DDC) elections starting from November 28. The polls will be held in eight phases running until December 19.
Along with polls for 280 DDC seats, people will also vote in by-elections to panchayats and urban local bodies. Bypolls for panchayats will be held to elect 12,153 sarpanches and panches. Counting of votes will happen on December 22.
In the first phase on November 28, 43 constituencies will go to polls – 25 in Kashmir and 18 in Jammu.
The elections assume significance as it is the first major electoral exercise since the Centre abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019. The constitutional provision had granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. On the same day, the central government had also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
The administration had amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act in October to set up DDCs in each district. These councils will have directly elected members.
Polling will happen between 7.00 am and 2.0 pm in all eight phases. While general voters will vote through ballot boxes, COVID-19 patients, those under isolation and people who are unwell will be able to vote via postal ballots.
Gupkar Alliance vs BJP
Jammu and Kashmir’s mainstream political parties including Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Farooq and Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Sajjad Lone’s People's Conference (PC) are fighting the polls under a unified banner of the People’s Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).
The alliance was formed following a series of meetings between these leaders at former chief minister Farooq Abdullah's residence at Gupkar Road, Srinagar. Mufti also resides in the same area. That’s where the alliance’s name came from.
The political formation also includes the Awami National Conference (ANC), Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The alliance, whose key agenda is seeking restoration of the pre-August 5 status for Jammu and Kashmir, is being challenged by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While Congress was also originally part of PAGD, it later distanced itself. This came at a time when BJP leaders including Amit Shah asked Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to clarify if they “support such moves of the Gupkar Gang” and if they “want to take J&K back to the era of terror and turmoil”. Shah had alleged in a series of tweets that the “Gupkar Gang” wants “foreign forces to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir.”
PAGD candidates have claimed that they have been "locked up" in guesthouses and hotels in several places and that they have not been able to canvass freely. But, a report by The Indian Express has cited senior officials in the administration as arguing that only those seeking protection were being housed in secure designated spaces.
Thus, the union territory is witnessing frenetic political activity after a long time. Both NC and PDP had boycotted the Block Development Council (BDC) polls in October 2019. Those polls came shortly after abrogation of Article 370. Independents had won 217 of the 307 blocks up for polls.