The D in DDC


 KO File Photo by Abid Bhat

By Haris Rashid

As the name of the DDC elections itself suggest, they are being held around the discourse of “development”. The abrogation of Article-370 was itself done around the same narrative.

THE ongoing District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir are an exercise in political liberalization and replacement of the political elite at the same time. Being the first after the abrogation of Article-370, the elections serve as an opener to the political and democratic process in J&K. Though the elections are being held around the claim of democracy and development, but to take them for this face value would be a mistake. From the discourse that is surrounding the election campaign of DDC polls, it can be discerned that there is a larger game of transforming the politics of J&K at play. These elections seem an extension of the process that began with the revocation of the special status.

As the name of the DDC elections itself suggest, they are being held around the discourse of “development”. The abrogation of Article-370 was itself done around the same narrative. Prime Minister Modi had then claimed in his first address to the nation after the revocation, that the special status was a “big obstacle” to the development in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The DDC elections are the continuation of that very narrative.

At the same time, any reference by mainstream politicians to the Kashmir issue or the restoration of special status seems under attack from the government. The PAGD, an alliance of several mainstream political parties that seeks restoration of special status and statehood, constitutes all those political parties like National Conference (NC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), People’s Conference (PC) and others who have been contesting their elections around the narrative of Kashmir-issue including the issue of special status. These political parties are not compatible with the new politics of development that is being touted in Jammu and Kashmir by the political dispensations in power at the moment. In fact, Home Minister Amit Shah had recently attacked the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), calling it an “unholy global gathbandhan” which would no longer be tolerated by the people of India for their “anti-national” activities.

Regarding political liberalization, there is an attempt to decentralize power in J&K. The elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies were held in 2018 which the PDP and the NC had boycotted due to the situation concerning special status at that time. Two months after the revocation of special status, there were elections to Block Development Councils (BDCs) in October 2019. The BDCs form the second-tire of Panchayati Raj Institutions while the ongoing DDCs form the third-tier. In the BDC elections, there were 217 independent winning candidates while the BJP had emerged as the largest party with its 81 candidates winning the elections. With the election to DDCs going on, J&K would for the first time have all the three-tiers of Panchayati Raj Institutions. This would decentralize power and authority, leading to the dilution of the power of the legislative assembly. It will make sure that nobody has absolute authority in J&K so that no politician matters in the larger scheme of things.

Parties belonging to the PAGD are being marginalized in the polls for sticking to their previous political language surrounding the Kashmir-issue and autonomy. Adapting to this new language of politics of development will not be easy for them as they have created their vote banks using their ideologies, which do not necessarily seem to encompass development, or at least, are not restricted to development. Hence, it is in replacing these parties that the politics of development can be attempted to be the only feature of the future elections in J&K.

This is, however, a challenge for all, as the discourse of development will not find many buyers in Kashmir. Unlike elections held before the revocation of special status in Jammu and Kashmir, DDC elections do not seem to matter at any level and are unlikely to aid any narrative that validates or invalidates the aspirations of Kashmiris. It is too early to truly assess this new landscape of politics in Kashmir but as political process is opened up gradually, we’d be in a better position to see the duel of narratives and identify its refurbished peddlers.

Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent that of Kashmir Observer

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