December 24, 2020

Kashmir DDC Elections : A Game Changer?

The recently concluded DDC elections in the newly created union territory of Jammu & Kashmir have managed to garner a lot of interest despite the ongoing farmer agitation, which is dominating national news headlines these days. Most political analysts have been keenly watching how the people of Kashmir valley will respond to these elections in light of the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the constitution of India. I have had the first-hand experience in these DDC elections, since I myself fought from Beerwah in Budgam DDC in Central Kashmir. The results were out yesterday and even though I did not win my DDC ward, I managed to garner a significant electoral support in a tightly fought contest that witnessed an immense political activity not only in my constituency but also in most of the constituencies of Kashmir valley. As expected, the Gupkar Alliance, a conglomeration of Kashmir valley based regional political parties like the National Conference, PDP, People’s Conference emerged as a dominant political force in Kashmir valley and Muslim majority regions of Jammu, where as BJP made its presence felt in Hindu majority districts of Jammu region. What was however not expected was BJP’s rather noteworthy performance in Kashmir valley, where it managed to win as many as 4 seats across north, central and southern parts Kashmir valley. So, what does all this mean? Is this a game changer for the way that things will unfold in future elections in Kashmir valley? And most importantly what does it say about the people of Kashmir valley and their grievances with the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the constitution of India and division of Ladakh from J&K and its demotion from a state to that of the UT? These are very complex questions and no straightforward answers can truly capture the real essence of the feeling and aspirations of the people of J&K on ground, but the successful holding of DDC elections and its outcome does give us a glimpse into the collective thinking and consciousness of the people of J&K, especially those in Kashmir valley. One thing that has clearly emerged from holding of these elections is that the people of Kashmir valley are completely fatigued of the complete destruction of their lives in last three decades and there is a desperate yearning for the return to life as it existed before the onset of separatist militancy. While the need of the state and the government machinery to answer for its acts of injustice remains very high among the people of Kashmir valley, a realization has also dawned upon the people of Kashmir that in the pursuit of a set political goal, Kashmir valley and the people of Kashmir valley actually have lost even that which they held at the onset and in the bargain bestowed a violent, instable and destabilized Kashmir to the younger generation. This explains to a great extent as to why despite the common perception of most political analysts, who expected an indifferent response and rejection by the angry folks of Kashmir valley to the holding of DDC elections, especially after the abrogation of article 370 and demotion of the state of J&K to a status of UT, the people of Kashmir still came out and voted in DDC elections, thereby reigniting the hopes of the start of electoral politics in Kashmir valley, which many political analysts thought would not happen now in changed circumstances. While political analysts are still analyzing the outcome of DDC elections, one thing is clear that the people of Kashmir valley, especially the majority community of Kashmiri Muslims (who are among the most literate Muslim communities of South Asia after Kerala Muslims) are actually not the violent, terrorist and jihadi stereotypes as most Kashmiri Muslims are perceived to be by the outside world. On the contrary, Kashmiri Muslims are actually very pragmatic, progressive and intelligent Muslim community that has unfortunately been caught in the storm of violent geopolitics of South Asia but which otherwise remains very forward looking in its thinking.
As a senior leader and candidate of a sub regional Central Kashmir based political party, I have had the actual experience of interacting with the ordinary Kashmiri people in villages and small towns of Kashmir valley, especially the rural youth of Kashmir, who is both aware of and saddened by the negative perception that has been conceived of Kashmiri Muslims. The fact however is that a typical Kashmiri youth is as aspirational as youth from any other part of the world. The youth of Kashmir is aware that he or she had no choice in taking birth in a conflicted region like Kashmir but now that he or she is born in Kashmir, their vision of a future blissful and peaceful Kashmir is just like that of any other global youth. The lesson for the policy makers from the outcome of DDC elections is that, the people of Kashmir have repeatedly shown their trust in modern and civilized norms of governance though elected representatives and rejected the commonly held and misguided belief of Kashmiri Muslims desiring a religiously theocratic governance model and therefore time has come that the outside world also starts to change its perception of Kashmiri people and restore the dignity that the people of Kashmir valley have been deprived of and which they truly deserve. The enthusiastic participation of the people of Kashmir valley in DDC elections, dominance of Gupkar Alliance in Kashmir valley and BJP in Jammu region and surprising victories of BJP in Kashmir valley all these varied outcomes means that J&K is once again back to good old political maneuverings and shenanigans, which are hallmark of a typical electoral democracy. It is therefore high time that the world also changes its preconceived negative notion of Kashmiri people and help its educated, and politically mature younger generation to once again integrate in the cultural, economic and intellectual mainstream. The DDC elections can truly become the game changer for the people of Kashmir valley by having them allowed an opportunity to once again re-establish the forgotten, torn and destroyed norms of normalcy, provided the world also lends it’s helping hand.
(The author a former PRP of Omar Abdullah as Chief Minister of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state recently contested DDC election from Beerwah Budgam . Views are exclusively his own)
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