Recently, Home Minister Amit Shah went on a bitter Twitter rampage, hitting out at the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) for what he thinks will take Jammu and Kashmir “back to the era of terror and turmoil” and shaming the Congress for supporting the alliance.
Political observers say what Shah or the BJP is really angry about is the PAGD’s decision to contest the District Development Council (DDC) elections slated in November-December.
What is District Development Council?
The Centre on October 17 amended the Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 to enable the setting up of DDCs, the members of which will be directly elected by voters in the Union territory.
The DDC replaces the District Planning and Development boards in all districts and will be responsible for chalking out and approving district plans and capital expenditure.
However, unlike the planning boards, each DDC will have 14 elected representatives, with the chairman’s position being on par with an MLA.
The DDC elections are slated to take place in eight phases from November 28 to December 22.
What was the BJP’s plan?
The Centre which had repeatedly stressed about ‘normalising’ things in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 last year, had been eying to consolidate the BJP’s position in Kashmir where it is not as strong as in Jammu, by installing its own representatives. The DDC elections was a means to achieving that and an earlier boycott of elections by the key political parties in Kashmir would have cleared the Centre’s way in getting a hold over districts. The Centre’s win in the election, which would allow most citizens in Kashmir to vote, would also have secured an indirect approval of its revocation of the special status.
“It would be seen as a huge success for both Modi and Shah. No one from inside or outside the country would any longer be able to question those events,” The Indian Express quoted a senior BJP leader as saying.
The central government has called the elections a measure to ensure grassroots democracy, but really had plans to rope in the winners later and make them representatives of the party or the Centre (as anti-defection law does not apply in Jammu and Kashmir), the report said.
Quoting the senior BJP leader, IE said the Centre had plans to provide funds directly to these representatives, who through constant grassroots mobilization would have tried replacing the local leadership.
This, in turn would have weakened the call and need for Assembly elections.
The BJP reportedly has its eyes on smaller parties and ‘vulnerable’ candidates from state parties and party leaders are already in touch with many who have filed nomination papers for the DDC elections. The BJP may also approach the Altaf Bukhari-led Jammua and Kashmir Apni Party which may have resources to ensure its party’s victory, the IE report said. Bukhari too had criticized the PAGD’s decision to contest the elections.
As far as the ‘Gupkar gang’, a slang coined by Shah for PAGD, is concerned, the BJP had thought that major local parties would not go to polls until their demands of reinstating Article 370 among others are not met.
Googly by ‘Gupkar gang’
The PAGD’s sudden decision to contest the elections, even though it had shunned the panchayat and block-level elections earlier, has come as a bolt from the blue for the BJP and in a way spoiled its plans for the Union territory.
The Gupkar alliance is a collective of regional parties including National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, CPI, CPM, and four other smaller parties.
The BJP fears the alliance’s participation in the election along with the support of the Congress will strip it of a large share of seats and foil its plans to install a new leadership in the valley.
A strong contender against a weak BJP in Kashmir, the Gupkar Alliance is likely to win DDC elections in most of the Chenab and Pirpanjal sub-regions, said a report in The Print.
The report said the BJP despite its tolerable voter strength may also find hiccups in garnering votes in Jammu, given the “people’s unease with the big changes in land, job, business and internet access laws and rules”.
But if the Gupkar alliance establishes a good presence at the DDC level now, it would easily be able to re-establish its presence at the panchayat level, the report adds.