Kashmir polls: BJP to build alternative to dynasties
The maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir, being held in eight phases, are no doubt historic but they are also of existential consequence for the entire political spectrum in the Valley
The maiden District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir, being held in eight phases, are no doubt historic but they are also of existential consequence for the entire political spectrum in the Valley. The regional parties, which have dominated Valley politics for decades and have been finding themselves on a sticky wicket since the abrogation of Article 370, are trying to reclaim their ground. For the BJP, the elections are no less than a mission to break free Jammu and Kashmir politics from the Valley's dynasties and carve out an alternative reckoning.
Finding a mission in the local body elections may seem far-fetched. But for the BJP, the first DDC polls in Jammu and Kashmir are like one. For some time now, the party has been desperately trying to build an alternative to the two prominent dynasties - the Abdullahs and the Muftis. A couple of years ago, it tried to push Sajjad Lone, Engineer Rashid, and now this is an open secret that it is backing Altaf Bukhari's Apni Party. The Apni Party is being projected as a third front initiative while the opposition in the Valley refers to it as the 'King's party'.
The local polls are an opportunity for the BJP to spring up new faces that can then be groomed for the Assembly prospectus. The conditions for this are not unfavourable. Compared to just a few years ago when it was unimaginable that the BJP could have a cadre in the Valley, the party has been gradually getting members into its fold. Even though some have been targeted by the terrorists to instil fear, new ones are not hard to be found.
The Panchayat elections, which were boycotted by the regional parties - the National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) - provided the much-needed opportunity for the party in the Valley. It could install its Sarpanches at some places.
In the DDC polls, the BJP wants to get as many berths as possible. It is fielding its own candidates and at places is backing independents as well. Former Chief Ministers and alliance partners Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have alleged that their candidates are not being allowed to campaign freely and are being locked up on the pretext of security.
Parties allege that in the name of security the candidates have been put up in hotels and are being allowed to campaign between 12 noon and 3 p.m. only. While the administration says security of the candidates is paramount, Omar Abdullah has said the administration is helping the BJP.
Formed a day before the abrogation of Article 370 was announced on August 5, 2019, the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) - an alliance of six regional Valley-based parties formed to seek the restoration of the erstwhile state's special status - sprung a big surprise when it decided to participate in the local body polls. In fact, it disrupted the BJP's strategy to get its people elected in the absence of any contest.
The NC and the PDP had boycotted the Panchayat elections in Kashmir, which had given a walkover to the BJP. Both the NC and the PDP realized the mistake, and hence, the decision to fight the DDC polls.
The sole aim of the PAGD is to prevent the BJP from recording a facile win in the upcoming elections in the UT, valley in particular. And the BJP, which changed the face of Jammu and Kashmir, wants to dig in its heels.
After the BJP's high noise about Congress's links with the 'Gupkar Gang', the Congress has officially chosen to distance itself from the PAGD. But on the ground there seems to be a tacit understanding between the two. For instance, PAGD is not contesting in Anantnag as the Congress has put up its candidate there.
Similarly, in Jammu the Congress is not making much headway among the people. The Congress is silent after its flip-flop on its alliance with the PAGD. Many of its tall leaders, like Ghulam Nabi Azad, seem to be absent from the scene.