Nobody complained of rigging; there was hardly any violence; no complaints of police-high-handedness, either. By itself, in the context of Jammu and Kashmir, such a peaceful electoral exercise was extraordinary. Barring a solitary poll to the State Assembly no other state or local level poll has been free from complaints about large-scale violence and state-sponsored rigging.
To begin with, the decision to hold the polls to the district development councils in the extraordinary post-Article 370 situation was an act of faith, particularly given the fraught situation on the ground. Happily, the Centre’s faith in the sagacity of voters was not misplaced. Of course, much of the credit for the peaceful DDC poll must go to the leaders of the regional parties, who together decided to take part in the grassroots participatory exercise.
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, abandoning the boycott of the political process, decided to put their faith in the ordinary citizen --- and came up trumps. Without the participation of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, the poll would have been a sham.
Expectedly, the People's Alliance has done well, particularly in the Kashmir region. Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference not only won more seats than Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP in the Kashmir Division, but, unlike the latter, it also won a considerable number of seats in the Jammu region as well.
Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference, part of the People’s Alliance, too picked up a few seats in the Kashmir Division. However, the J&K Apni Party, which had the blessings of the Centre, failed to make headway. The BJP itself managed to win only a couple of seats in the Kashmir Division, though it scored big in its traditional Hindu-majority Jammu strongholds.
In some way, the poll reflected the old religious fault-lines, with the Muslim-majority Valley spurning the BJP and the Hindu-dominated parts of old Jammu voting overwhelmingly for it. At least six DDCs are now under the control of the BJP in Jammu, the PA controls nine, all in the Kashmir Division, whereas no party has gained majority in five and the matter will be decided by Independents, whose participation in the polls too vindicates the decision to resume the democratic process after the extraordinary decision to nullify Article 370 in August last year.
Hopefully, the successful conduct of the DDC polls will soon be followed by the one for the assembly in the newly-constituted Union Territory. Return of normalcy in J&K after the recent restoration of civil rights and end of curbs on political activity post-Article 370 abolition depends crucially on the people freely electing their own rulers, instead of being ruled long-distance by New Delhi.