Old rivalries take back seat as six Jammu & Kashmir parties join hands to contest local polls
Saifuddin Shah, 70, and his family from Kakroosa village in Jammu & Kashmir’s Kupwara district have been staunch loyalists of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference (NC). He says they have always voted for the NC, which ushered in transformative land reforms in the 1950s and negotiated the erstwhile state’s special status that was revoked last year.
The family credits the NC for playing an important role in Jammu & Kashmir’s “development and empowerment” and says it would not have voted for the party’s rival-turned-ally Peoples Conference (PC) on Tuesday in the District Development Council (DDC) elections had not they been contesting the polls together. The two parties are part of a six-party alliance called the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). The grouping was formed in October to fight for the restoration of the special status.
The NC and PC leaders have been jointly campaigning for their candidates as the bitter rivalry between them appears to be a thing of the past.
“Our family always voted for the NC. It has been a relationship of generations with this party. This time, we voted...for [PC]... After the special status was removed, the old rivalries have ended automatically, especially when all the mainstream leaders were detained. I could have never thought of voting for the PC candidate but for the future of Kashmir, there was no other option...,” said Shah.
Three former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti were among hundreds of people, who were detained to prevent protests against the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 that stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its special status. PC chief Sajjad Lone was also among the detainees. A protracted communications’ blackout and a lockdown were also imposed in the aftermath of the nullification, which means outsider can now buy properties as well as get government jobs in the region.
Umar Farooq, a first-time voter, echoed Shah saying his family, too, is an NC supporter but decided to vote for a joint PAGD candidate. ”Kashmir has been betrayed by leaders of all the parties. This is the first time when the leadership has come on a single platform. So, let us give them another chance. We lost everything when these people were divided and hope now with the unity, they could get us something back.”
Mohammad Maqbool Khan, a local village head, said the alliance is helping both the NC and PC. “Both the parties have strong vote banks in Kupwara...”
PAGD is contesting most of the 280 DDC seats. So far, voting has taken place for 50 of the seats in the Kashmir division in the first two phases of the polling.
Umar Maqbool, a political analyst, said PAGD looks strong on paper but it remains to be seen whether votes of big parties like the NC, PC, and Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party are transferable. “At many places, votes are getting transferred and the alliance looks strong. But at many places local rivalries are becoming a big impediment to this vote transfer which could hurt the PAGD candidates... many independent candidates, who are actually proxies of political parties, could also win.”
PC spokesman Adnan Ashraf said many disgruntled candidates of different parties are contesting as independent candidates. He acknowledged that could hamper the vote transfer among the PAGD allies. “The leaders are making all efforts to win the seats. We are campaigning in areas which are our strongholds...we want the alliance to win maximum seats.”
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