J&K DDC Elections: The Projection of BJP as a Harbinger of Democracy

The BJP’s set of narratives around the elections reveal a pattern of glorification of its presence in areas where it has had trouble making in- roads.

BJP

The  District Development Council (DDC) Elections that started on November 28th in Jammu and Kashmir, came to an end on the 23rd of December.

The results show a win for the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance of mainly local parties including the National Conference (NC), The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the People’s Conference. The win, however, is complicated by the high vote share of The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). With no definitive winner insight, both parties claim victory. While the BJP spins a narrative of finally bringing democracy into unchartered territory, the local parties maintain that the win marks the resistance of the people of J&K to the Indian State. 

Questions arise as to the exact role of DDCs in the first place; What political agendas do they serve? What are the prominent narratives around these elections by contesting parties? 

The Role of the DDCs?

The DDC is an elected council of 14 members, acting as the third level of local government, after the Halqa Panchayat (at the first level), and the Block Development Councils (at the second level). The members of the DDCs are directly elected from 14 constituencies of each district. The council is meant to create plans for development and economic upliftment, and direct government funding into the same.

 The introduction of the DDC has been heavily challenged by local parties with the PDP emerging as a strong voice of critique. Many argue that they act as a means of disempowering the regional politics of Kashmir. The DDCs have been framed as empowering grassroots politics by the administration; but such an offering of so-called democracy comes with the denial of autonomy of the people to shape their own laws, their own government. In this light, the DDCs appear merely tokenistic and hollow.

A senior leader of PDP, Naeem Akhtar also mentions how it is part of an attempt to add multiple layers of authority, approval, and planning. Ultimately no one would know who is in charge by the end of it, marking a bureaucratisation of local governance. He goes on to mention how this bureaucratisation could potentially fragment any centralised voice of the people.

Competing claims from various parties

This is the first major election in J&K post the abrogation of Article 370. Various camps claim that the results act as a reflection of the peoples’ sentiments towards the recent move. While on the one hand the PAGD win is celebrated by party members as a peoples’ rejection of the BJP government and the scrapping of special status, BJP claims quite the opposite. Having won a significantly high vote share in the elections, the party claims to have won the people’s support. This ‘support’ is spoken of not only towards the party but towards democracy and “good governance”. Here we can see the BJP projecting itself as a sort of harbinger of democracy. BJP secretary Ram Madhav’s quote reveals this sentiment clearly: 

 “The DDC election result is a victory of the policies of the government of India, and of the Jammu & Kashmir administration in successfully conducting the polls. The greatest win is for the locals who have endorsed the country’s democratic system,”. 

Colonial logic of bringing in order and ‘the right kind of democracy’ into ‘unruly’ unchartered territory is very much reflected in the way this election and the larger discourse of DDCs have been talked about by the administration. Similar logic can be seen in a tweet posted by BJP Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah. He mentions how the result is proof of the “people’s faith in democracy”. There is an inherent hollowness to such statements, while state-sponsored violence by means of arrests and killings, heavy restriction on dissent, mobility, and internet connectivity are the norm. 

It is also important to take note of the arrests of a number of leaders of contesting parties in the days leading up to the election results. Just five days after filing nomination papers, People’s Democratic Party leader, Waheed Ur Rehman Para was arrested under the UAPA. He still managed to win 70% of the votes from the Pulwama constituency from jail. The arbitrary arrests of PDP members, Sartaj Madni and Mansoor Hussain, just two days before the results were announced, are also noteworthy. These arrests cannot be seen in isolation to the elections, and come across as yet another attempt to paint the BJP as a “democratic, and development centric” Indian party, as opposed to the ’corrupt and dangerous’ Kashmiri parties.   

BJP and urgency in highlighting wins in local government elections

This narrative of bringing development and democracy is not new for the BJP as the same rhetoric was used to justify the move to scrap Article 370 in the first place. Statements such as “the lotus is blooming in Jammu and Kashmir”, for example, are prideful in their tone, and attempt to mark the party making inroads into J&K. In addition, the emphasis on winning district level elections shows an urgency with which the party wants to show they have won the people’s vote in particular, and thereby distract from criticisms from activists, scholars, journalists and the international community, directed towards the anti-people and anti-freedom imposition of the Indian State in J&K. This urgency in highlighting local wins, in states where the BJP’s presence has not been prominent, could also be seen in the case of the recent local body elections in Kerala. The disproportionate amount of media coverage on the party’s performance in the elections clearly highlights this. Similarly in West Bengal, the party is putting together its “biggest election machinery ever” to tour the state. The goal of securing hegemony over states, where regional parties dominate is being aggressively pursued as can be seen from the above instances. 

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  1. […] ಶ್ರೀ ಮುರುಳಿ, ನಟಿ ರಮ್ಯಾ ಅಭಿನಯದ ಕಂಠಿ ಎಂಬ ಸೂಪರ್ ಹಿಟ್ ಚಿತ್ರ ನಿರ್ದೇಶಿಸಿ ನಂತರ ಚಿತ್ರರಂಗದಿಂದ ಕೆಲಕಾಲ ಕಣ್ಮರೆಯಾಗಿದ್ದ ಭರತ್, ಹಿರಿಯ ನಟ ರವಿಚಂದ್ರನ್ ಪುತ್ರ ಮನೋರಂಜನ್ ಅಭಿನಯದ ಸಾಹೇಬ (2017) ಚಿತ್ರದ ಮೂಲಕ ಮತ್ತೆ ನಿರ್ದೇಶಕರ ಕ್ಯಾಪ್ ಧರಿಸಿದ್ದರು. […]

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