Trouble-torn Jammu & Kashmir is at the cusp of a significant political turn with the mainstream parties deciding to participate in the upcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections to be held in the Union Territory. This is the first poll exercise in the volatile region since the scrapping of Article 370 in August last year, ending the special status. It is a movement that is pregnant with possibilities. All the stakeholders, including the Centre, must seize this opportunity to ensure successful conduct of elections to pave the way for democratic decentralisation and genuine empowerment of people in the border region that has suffered bloodshed for long. The decision of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a conglomerate of national and regional political parties, including National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, CPI and CPI(M), to fight the elections unitedly serves as an important message to preserve the democratic space. The development has the potential to break the ice and restart the political process. There is a sense of hurt and betrayal among the mainstream parties as their top leaders were detained for unreasonably longer periods and under draconian laws. It is time for the Centre to provide the much-needed healing touch, end all forms of restrictions on the movement of people and restore full freedom for parties to carry out their activities. It must be remembered that many workers of these mainstream parties had lost their lives to terrorism, both home-grown and sponsored from across the border.
Conducting free and fair elections to the local bodies is the surest way to restore faith in grassroots democracy and wean the local youth away from militant ideology. This must be followed up with the implementation of the promised development package and creation of employment opportunities. This is the first time that the DDC is being filled through direct elections, to be held in eight phases from November 28 to December 22. Since there is no sign of the Assembly elections any time soon, it is assumed that it is this body, even with its limited powers, that will be at the forefront of development activity. In October, the Central government amended the Jammu & Kashmir’s Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, to establish DDCs in all districts of the new Union Territory. This was largely seen as a move to empower democratic processes at the grassroots. Every district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies, with elections covering 280 constituencies in total. Besides the DDC polls, elections will also be held simultaneously in 228 vacant seats in urban local bodies and 13,241 sarpanch seats that were left vacant since the NC and the PDP, the two main regional parties, had boycotted the 2018 elections.
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