New Delhi: Kashmir’s Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), headed by the National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah, which was formed to take on the BJP, has evaporated after just four months of its effervescent formation on 20 October 2020.
Although there is just one day left for the election of chairpersons of the District Development Councils (DDCs), Abdullah is away in New Delhi to attend the winter session of Parliament while his second-in-command in Gupkar, PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, is busy touring Jammu.
Until late on Friday, there was no indication of any talks between the PAGD constituents to stop the BJP and its valley-based ally, Altaf Bukhari's Apni Party (AP), from occupying four of the five districts where polling is being held on Saturday to elect chairpersons and vice chairpersons. These include Srinagar, Shopian, Kulgam, Jammu and Kathua districts.
The PAGD's third key constituent, Sajad Lone's Peoples Conference (PC) has already broken away from the alliance and, reportedly, begun efforts to reclaim its liaison with the BJP government at the Centre.
Elections for all the 20 DDCs-for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir-were held in November-December 2020. With 14 constituencies in each district, polling was held with massive participation on all the 280 seats-140 each in Kashmir and Jammu-but the results on 22 December were declared for only 278 seats.
Results are still pending due to a legal hitch in two constituencies in Kupwara and Bandipora districts as two of the contestants there are domiciles of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) married to two rehabilitated militants.
The PAGD was an alliance of 7 mainstream opposition parties which was formed with the objective of contesting the elections jointly in order to prevent the BJP and the AP, from occupying key positions in the DDCs and other democratic institutions in the Kashmir valley.
In the very beginning of the DDC elections, the PAGD was ditched by the Congress party which fielded candidates without a seat arrangement with the alliance. It suffered the second major setback in January 2021 when Sajad Lone's Peoples Conference (PC) moved out of it over the issue of NC's 'proxy candidates' in the DDC elections.
Even as the PAGD bagged 110 seats-NC (67), PDP (27, PC (o8)-and it claimed a majority of votes across the Union Territory, it stood 30 seats short of the prestige mark of 140. However, the NC ended up as the first runner-up with 67 seats, leaving the top slot to the BJP which emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats. It's friendly-but not a formal electoral ally-AP got 12 seats. While the Congress got 26 seats and the PDP 27, those returned included 50 independent candidates.
In this situation, the independent candidates are holding the key for at least 4 districts in Jammu and one in Kashmir.
As the process of reserving 10 DDC chairperson seats for the women, the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes has been completed, notifications have been issued for election of chairpersons and vice chairpersons. It will be a secret vote by ballot with no restriction of defection or party whip. Attendance of 10 out of 14 elected councillors makes the quorum.
The united PAGD had an advantageous position in all districts in Kashmir, excluding Srinagar, as also in Kishtwar and Ramban districts in Jammu. As there has been no meeting or a joint statement from the PAGD, some aspirants for the DDC positions are approaching the councillors separately.
Farooq Abdullah's NC, which had swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls getting the majority vote in 41 0f the 46 Assembly segments in Kashmir, is ending up the biggest loser.
"Had we not formed or joined this PAGD, we would have won all 10 districts in Kashmir and 4 more in Jammu. By this mistake we have only created a lease of life for the PDP and the PC which had been finished in the Lok Sabha elections. And our relations with the Centre and the BJP wouldn't have turned sour'', said a senior NC leader and a former Minister. If he is to be believed, there is no possibility of a tie-up with the PDP or the PC.
"In some districts, we have silently managed some votes from the individual councillors of the Congress, the PDP and the BJP but we have no formal arrangement with any party until today", said the NC leader. He also claimed support of some independent councillors to the NC.
However, in the core district of Srinagar, in Kashmir, NC's defeat is the writing on the wall. According to well-placed political sources, all the seven independent councillors had decided to support the BJP's only councillor, Aijaz Hussain Rather. But the BJP has asked its councillors in the valley, as also the independent councillors close to it, to support the AP. With this arrangement, the AP is sure of getting the three districts of Srinagar, Shopian and Bandipora.
Results are a foregone conclusion in Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur, Doda and Reasi districts of Jammu division where BJP has secured a thumping majority.
In the rest of the 7 districts in Kashmir, the PC has an edge in Kupwara and the NC in at least 2 districts. Pulwama has a clear edge for the PDP. The most interesting contest would be witnessed in Baramulla where the PC has 3 seats and the NC, the PDP, the Congress and the AP 2 each. There are also 3 independent councillors.
Former Deputy Chief Minister and senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig's wife, Safeena Baig, who is continuing as the head of the PDP's women's wing, is a strong contender for the post of chairperson in Baramulla which stands reserved for women. Mrs Baig has contested and won as a rebel, independent candidate from Wagora. PDP's Razia Hassan, an engineering student, and advocate Qurratul Bashir are also contenders for the same position. PC's contender is a Sikh lady from Rafiabad. As of now, no party or candidate has been able to garner the support of 8 councillors.
Even as all these 20 DDCs will be functioning independently and there is no common platform, the party getting the maximum number of districts would be seen as the winner. It will have an impact on the future Assembly elections. That fight is clearly between the NC and the BJP along with its ally, the AP. The elections have to be completed before February 20.