India’s cleanest election in Kashmir after 1977

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Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR: In the results declared on Tuesday, the Kashmiris have experienced arguably India’s cleanest ever democratic process, after the Assembly elections of 1977, even as no political party reached close to the half-way mark of 140 seats in the first elections for District Development Councils (DDCs) in the Union Territory.
The eight-phased polling on 280 seats-14 in each district-concluded on December 19 across Jammu and Kashmir as a large number of the candidates and voters participated in an election with enthusiasm for the first time after the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections of 2014. These elections are particularly significant for being the first democratic exercise being conducted by the Indian authorities after abrogation of the Article 370 and 35-A and split of the erstwhile State into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh in August 2019.
A contrast to the highest turnout Lok Sabha elections of 1984 and the Assembly elections of 1987, the Lok Sabha elections of 1989 were a historic failure in the valley as only 3-5 per cent voters exercised their right to franchise in South Kashmir and North Kashmir and nobody even filed nomination papers against the then ruling party candidate Mohammad Shafi Bhat in Central Kashmir.
Allegations of massive rigging and unfair means had marred credibility of all the elections held in Jammu and Kashmir during the Congress regime for about 30 years. The people of J&K witnessed the first free and fair elections during Morarji Desai’s government at the Centre in 1977 when the ruling Janata Party all but two seats of Eidgah and Handwara to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) in the valley. The NC swept as many as 38 out of 42, excluding more in Jammu. Then Governor L.K. Jha is still remembered for building a trust in the Kashmiris for India’s democracy and institutions.
Immediately after the Congress party returned to power in 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi began pursuing her ambition of regaining power in J&K. A sequence of dubious developments culminated into alienation and loss of faith among the Kashmiris in the Indian democracy. It proved fertile for General Zia-ul- Haq’s Operation Topac and the valley landed into an abyss in 1990.
Notwithstanding an incremental turnout in the elections held after 1996, there were allegations of coercion from several quarters. Some high turnout elections were held between 2011 and 2014. However, the response was cool or lukewarm from the common people who didn’t come out in big numbers to exercise their right to vote during the PDP-BJP government. By the time the Centre in August 2019 abrogated Article 370 and 35-A, granting a special constitutional status to J&K, cynics and conspiracy theorists began asserting that nobody would anymore participate in the Indian elections in Kashmir.
Even on the eve of the declaration of results on Monday, leaders in NC and PDP were telling the Kashmiris that the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah would rig the DDC polls, jail the Opposition leaders and run the councils in an autocratic fashion. All this propaganda was laid bare by the first very results on Tuesday.
BJP itself did not fare well as the party won only 68 seats out of 280 in J&K till 10.30 pm when it was still maintaining lead on 6 seats. Four Union Ministers campaigned for the party extensively but still it didn’t get a windfall even in Jammu. The only solace same in the fact that the BJP, for the first time, opened an account in Kashmir where it scored victory on three seats. Even its friendly, Apni Party, did not get more than 11 seats.
This was, nevertheless, significant that even the opposition parties did not achieve much in the asymmetrical all-versus-BJP. Congress cut a sorry figure with just 20 seats, even as it maintained lead on six more.
The anti-BJP alliance of six regional parties and the CPI (M), known as the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), got a total of 90 seats in addition to lead on 22 more seats. The BJP surfaced as the single largest party with 68 seats, followed by the NC which got 55 in addition to lead on 16 more seats. The PDP had to be content with just 24 seats. It has still lead on three more seats. The Peoples Conference won 6 and maintained lead on three more while the CPI (M) scored victory on 5 seats. Even after counting the trends, PAGD’s tally is not more than 112.
In other others, no political party or alliance has been able to get the simple majority of 140 seats. However, equally significant is the fact that as many as 44 independent candidates have been successful, even as 10 more of this tribe were maintain the lead over others.
The PAGD in particular suffered two major setbacks. Its performance in all the ten districts in Jammu remained abysmal. Even in its stronghold of Srinagar, where the NC and the PDP have retained monopoly, the PAGD got a total of 4 seats out of 14. The NC and the PDP got just one each. As many as seven seats went to independent candidates besides one to the BJP.

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