Imprints of Kashmir Polls: ‘Welfare, Restoration, Tunnel…’

A voter displaying his inked thumb after voting. KO Photos by Abid Bhat

For the first time since the abrogation of Article 370, District Development Council (DDC) polls saw return of the major electoral exercise in Kashmir for a triangular contest being fought for “development” versus “restoration”.

LAST time when Riyaz Dar of Shadipora, Sumbal in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district fell in line to cast his ballot, the fight, he said, was bigger and crucial.

“The motive was to keep the saffron party’s Mission 44 at bay,” Dar said. “But now, we are merely voting for our basics.”

On icy-cold Saturday morning, 34-year-old Dar was out to vote for “development and peace” in the District Development Council (DDC) polls in his village polling centre layered by security cover.

A Contrast

Despite the likes of Dar snubbing a new alliance in Kashmir promising to fight for the restoration of Article 370, many voters had come out in support of PAGD—People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration—candidates for keeping the “right-wingers away” from the valley.

“I cast my vote to a PAGD candidate,” said Firdous Dar, who had turned up at Shilwat Middle School polling centre.

“We’re sure that most of their candidates will win so that BJP will get a lesson that whatever they did last year was a political blunder unacceptable to the people of Kashmir.”

Dar’s entire family of over 11 members including his 82-year old grandmother voted for PAGD nominated candidate, he said.

A Triangular Contest

DDC elections are being held in eight phases in Jammu and Kashmir, starting from November 28 till December 19. The counting will take place on December 22.

KK Sharma, State Election Commissioner (SEC), told reporters on Saturday evening that over 51.7 percent voting was recorded for the phase one across J&K.

The elections are seen as a triangular contest among the PAGD, the BJP and the Apni Party.

An amalgam of several mainstream political parties, the PAGD has been accusing the Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party of being the BJP’s B-Team, the allegations repeatedly turned down by the merchant who’s swelling his ranks with the inclusion of “defectors and turncoats”.

Earlier, National Conference patron, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, in a video appeal, urged the people to ensure the victory of the PAGD candidates by huge margins “so that it succeeds in its aim of restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir” which was revoked by New Delhi in August last year.

Altered Landscape

However, things have not been easy for unionist politics in J&K.

To keep the BJP at bay, they’ve come together in these polls.

Earlier, the PAGD alleged that the BJP is not allowing its candidates to campaign freely and is trying to hijack the elections.

Just before the polls, PDP’s youth wing leader, Waheed Parra was detained by National Investigating Agency (NIA) for allegedly conspiring with Hizbul Mujahideen militants to get their support during the 2019 parliamentary elections.

Most of these political leaders along with their workers were behind bars after they opposed the August 5 move.

Many, however, believe this election is different from the earlier ones, as it is not being fought on the previously known political issues.

“But how will DDC elections help the PAGD to restore Article 370,” asked Mohammad Nisar from Kalaroos, Kupwara, a first time voter. “I believe everyone knows their fraudulent nature now.”

Many voters in Kupwara said the PAGD didn’t consult people before taking any decision and they are the same people who in power made them suffer.

“They (PAGD) can’t decide our future always,” Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Lone, a resident of Thayen Kalaroos, said. “Today we’re suffering because of these people. So we have a hope in this DDC election that the candidate will work for our welfare.”

Vote to Break Ice

In north Kashmir’s Gurez, Abdul Rahim braved a sub-zero temperature to vote for a local candidate who, he believes, could help them to construct an all-weather tunnel from Bandipora to Gurez.

“We’re living in a frontier area,” Rahim, who voted at the Government Boys School in Dawar, said.

“The road remains cut-off for six months due to snow. It’s very important for the people to have a tunnel.”

It’s the responsibility of the government to address the long pending issue, as people are coming out in large numbers to cast the vote in 3-feet snow, Rahim said.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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