Test of Democracy

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WITH independents securing 49 seats in the just concluded District Development Council polls, every party will try to get them on to their side to shore up their strength in the district councils. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has even alleged that the administration has been trying to “collect” independent candidates who had won the elections for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It is also not known yet what are the political allegiances of these independents. And whether they were fielded as proxies by different parties. This will be clear in the coming days. The shape of the DDCs and which party or the alliance controls them will depend a lot on which outfit or the political combine these independents join, and under what circumstances they do so. For the health of the post-Article 370 democracy it is important that no attempt is made to buy out the independents. And they are allowed to make their decision in an environment free of coercion or inducement. This alone will make it possible for the DDCs to contribute productively to the development of the former state.

The DDCs will act as a third tier of Panchayati Raj system. The elections to these councils mark the implementation of the entire 73rd Amendment Act in the union territory. However, there is a vital difference between the Panchayat Raj system elsewhere in the country and Kashmir. The members of the DDCs in J&K have been directly elected from 14 territorial constituencies of the district. And they alone will exercise power in the DDC and can appoint and remove the chairperson and vice chairperson of the council. This makes it important that the sanctity of the DDCs is maintained.

The centre has held the DDC polls in a largely fair manner, if not in a freer environment. Despite the apprehensions among the political and social circles that the election might be rigged, the results have come as a pleasant surprise. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration has expectedly done well in the Valley and the BJP in Jammu. If we go by the numbers, the PAGD should control around 14 DDCs and the BJP five. But the support of the independents could change this. There should be no problem if the independents choose of their free will and based on their convictions. This would strengthen the newly restored democracy. And it is towards this end that the centre should work towards in the union territory.

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