Voting for the second phase of the District Development Council (DDC) polls began in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.
Braving COVID-19 and the cold weather, voters, including women, could be seen arriving at polling booths to cast their votes. Police and CRPF have been deployed in and around areas witnessing polling in the second phase.
In the DDC polls, voting will be held to 14 seats each in 20 districts of the Union territory (UT). In the second phase, 25 seats will go to polls in Kashmir and 18 in Jammu region.
According to the State Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma, 7.90 lakh voters are eligible for voting in the second phase, for which 2,142 polling stations have been set up across the UT.
In Kashmir, 196 candidates are in the fray while in Jammu, 125 candidates are contesting the polls.
The elections to the remaining Panchayat seats are also being held with the DDC polls. In the second phase, sarpanch elections will be conducted in 83 constituencies, for which 223 candidates are contesting, including 72 female candidates. Panch by-polls are also being held for 331 constituencies.
A total of 709 candidates are in the fray, including 157 females, for 331 vacant seats of panchs. According to Sharma, 58 sarpanchs (29 males, 29 females) and 804 panchs (548 males, 256 females) have been elected unopposed. The DDC polls have become an intense contest between the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a seven-party alliance of Jammu and Kashmir parties, and the BJP.
The PAGD seeks the restoration of Article 370 and statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. Last year on August 4, the seven parties had passed a declaration, a resolution, in favour of Article 370 at the residence of the NC president and MP, Farooq Abdullah, at Gupkar Road, because of which the declaration was named the Gupkar Declaration.
Observers believe the PAGD is well placed to win a major chunk of seats in Kashmir and parts of Jammu. A victory to the PAGD in the DDC polls will be a setback to the BJP‘s attempts to extend its reach to the grassroots in Jammu and Kashmir.
The DDCs were created after the Centre amended the J&K Panchayat Raj Act, 1989, after the revocation of Article 370.
For the first time, the West Pakistan refugees and other groups of people who were barred from participating in local elections in Jammu and Kashmir are taking part in local polls in the UT.