The Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a coalition of seven regional parties, has won over 100 seats in the District Development Council elections held in Jammu and Kashmir as of Wednesday morning, PTI reported. The Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, emerged as the single-largest party.

A total of 2,178 candidates were contesting in these elections – the first since the erstwhile state lost its special status under the Constitution on August 5, 2019. Each of the 20 districts were divided into 14 segments. As per results announced for 276 seats of the total 280, the Gupkar Alliance secured 110 seats, while the BJP won 74. Notably, as many as 49 seats were bagged by Independent candidates, while the Congress party won 26 seats. The recently floated Apni Party won 12 seats, whereas Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party and the Peoples Democratic Front won two seats each. The Bahujan Samaj Party managed to get just one seat.

Among the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration constituents, the National Conference won the highest number of 67 seats. This was followed by Peoples Democratic Party getting 27 seats, People’s Conference eight, Communist Party of India (Marxist) five, and J&K Peoples Movement got three seats. Together, these parties got over 3.94 lakh votes.

The BJP, on the other hand, got over 4.87 lakh votes. It managed to get a clear majority in the Hindu-dominated districts of Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua and Samba, Doda and Reasi. With the results, the BJP has gained control over at least six District Development Councils in Jammu, according to The Indian Express.

In Kashmir, the Farooq Abdullah-led alliance won 72 seats, while the BJP could win just three, reported NDTV. While the regional alliance was set to have majority in nine district councils, Srinagar remained undecided, where Independents were leading. The Apni Party won three DDC seats from the district, followed by one each by the National Conference, the BJP and People’s Movement, according to PTI.

The results of four constituencies – one each in Bandipora and Kupwara districts of North Kashmir and Poonch and Rajouri districts in Jammu region – are yet to be declared.

Big win for Independents

Independent candidates were big winners, with 49 of them having been declared elected, putting them ahead of parties like the Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.

Among the notable wins was Independent candidate Taranjit Singh, who defeated BJP’s two-time MLA and former minister Sham Lal Choudhary in Suchetgarh, Jammu, by a slender margin of 11 votes, reported PTI. Singh polled 12,969 votes against Choudhary’s 12,958.

Singh expressed gratitude to the voters and said the vote for him was “against the farm laws imposed by the BJP government on the farmers of the country against their will”. “The BJP went for aggressive campaigning bringing union ministers, chief ministers and national leaders to divert the attention of the voters from the real issues facing the public,” he added.

Former MLA Shah Mohammad Tantray, who had resigned from the PDP early this year, was defeated by Independent candidate Riyaaz Choudhary in Loran constituency of Poonch district.

Meanwhile, Independent candidate Avtar Singh won by just three votes in Dadsara constituency in Pulwama district of south Kashmir. He polled 246 votes against 243 won by National Conference’s Ali Mohammad Bhat.

Among other low margin wins, Independent candidate Bilqees Jan defeated Gull Iqbal, also an Independent, by 11 votes from Zainapora constituency in Shopian district. Jan polled 146 votes and Iqbal 135.

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BJP and regional alliance leaders react to trends

Both the BJP and the People’s Alliance were upbeat as the results of the elections started pouring in, terming it as a success.

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the trends were very encouraging and called the results the people’s verdict against the Centre’s decision to scrap the region’s special status.

“The BJP had made this election a prestige issue about Article 370 and J&K’s special status,” he tweeted. “The people have now spoken & it’s for those who believe in democracy to pay heed to these voices.”

Abdullah recalled the pressures faced by the political leaders of Gupkar Alliance since August 2019. “We have faced every obstacle – illegal detentions, agency threats and pressures, our candidates were locked up to stop them campaigning and from all this we are emerging victorious.”

Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said the results have made it clear that the people of the region have voted for the Gupkar Alliance and rejected the Centre’s “unconstitutional” decision to abrogate Article 370. “Even after a split in PDP engineered by the government of India and all the attempts to write us off, my cadre worked day and night to ensure party’s victory,” she wrote on Twitter. “I am extremely grateful to them.”

Meanwhile, Union minister Jitendra Singh said the results were a vindication of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to introduce grass root democracy in Jammu and Kashmir, ANI reported. “Biggest achievement, as far as the BJP is concerned, it has established its acceptability across the entire region of J&K,” he added.

Aijaz Hussain, who won the Khonmoh-II District Development Council seat in Srinagar, said the results show that a “propaganda has been bust”. This was the first time a BJP candidate secured a seat in Srinagar.

BJP’s election-in-charge for the Valley, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, said overwhelming participation of the people of the region in the polls was a clear sign that they believe in democratic procedure rather than “bullet and grenade”.

DDC polls

Voting for the elections was held in eight phases over a period of 25 days. The elections are a step to setting up district development councils, a new addition to Jammu and Kashmir’s panchayati raj system. The directly elected district councils will replace the district development boards originally envisaged as the third tier of local government by the 1989 Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act. The boards were to consist of the block council chiefs, local MPs, MLAs and municipal council members. But Jammu and Kashmir’s legislative Assembly was dissolved after August 5 last year.

The jurisdiction of the district development councils, which have a five-year term, will not extend to those areas notified as municipalities. So elections will only be held in areas falling outside municipalities. There are reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.

Each district council will have five standing committees – one each for finance, development, public works, health and education, and welfare. While they might look after the day to day and developmental needs of the district, members of the council have no say on larger political issues such as special status, land laws and industrial policy.