- This is first election in J&K since its special status was scrapped
- Votes were counted for 280 seats - 14 in each of the 20 districts
- Polling was held in eight phases over a period of 25 days
The Farooq Abdullah-led People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration is heading for a big victory in the first local polls in Jammu and Kashmir since it lost its special status and was turned into a Union Territory last year. In the first-ever District Development Council (DDC) polls in J&K, regional parties surged ahead in Kashmir while the BJP kept an upper hand in the Jammu region.
In the latest leads, the Gupkar alliance -- a grouping of seven mainstream J&K-based parties including rivals National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti's People's Democratic Party (PDP) - has won more than 100 seats; the BJP has emerged as the single largest party as it won 74 seats. The Congress has won 26 seats.
Voting was held in 280 seats - 14 in each of the 20 districts of the union territory -- in eight phases over a period of 25 days. The Gupkar alliance and the Congress are likely to win 13 district councils while the BJP and its allies are set to take six districts.
But there were no celebrations on Gupkar road where Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, all former Chief Ministers, have homes. None of them campaigned for their candidates.
They allege that their candidates were not allowed to campaign and confined in security enclosures - an allegation that has been denied by the central government.
Among the winners is PDP youth president Waheed Para, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency for alleged links with terrorists soon after he filed his nomination papers from Pulwama in Kashmir Valley.
Farooq Abdullah is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate for money-laundering allegations linked to the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. The agency recently attached his properties, including two houses in Srinagar and Jammu.
The Gupkar Alliance was formed in protest against the massive constitutional changes on August 5 last year, in which Article 370 on special status to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated and the state was turned into two union territories. Many of its leaders, like Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and others were detained soon after the changes as part of the centre's unprecedented security crackdown in J&K. The Abdullahs were released in March while Mehbooba Mufti was freed after over a year in October.
Though these were local polls, the results are seen as a sort of referendum on the changes in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The verdict means a lot to us. It means more to us than what I can put into words. I think it should also mean something to the BJP," Omar Abdullah told NDTV.
"The BJP has beaten every drum that people of J&K are very happy with what happened on August 5. Today, the people of J&K have given their decision on what they think about 2019. They do not support it. They have overwhelmingly rejected BJP's propaganda," said the National Conference leader.
Union Minister Anurag Thakur, the BJP's in-charge for these polls, called the results a victory of democracy. "Even though people were threatened, they came out in huge numbers to cast their vote. This is the victory of democracy. PM Modi's dream that at grassroots level polls should be held in J&K has been fulfilled," Mr Thakur told news agency ANI.
The announcement of the DDC polls was so sudden that it took political parties by surprise. Regional leaders emerging from long detentions and restrictions were caught in a Catch-22 situation. The decision to fight the election was just not easy for the new political amalgam derided by the BJP as the "Gupkar gang".
The Gupkar alliance announced it would field joint candidates and even issued a list of "unanimous" choices for the first few rounds of voting. The unity was short-lived as the tussle over seat-sharing forced them to stop naming more joint candidates.
Against a muted opposition, the BJP drafted central leaders, including union ministers, to campaign aggressively across Jammu and Kashmir.
The district councils are meant to drive development through direct funding from the Centre. The DDCs, in the absence of an assembly, will be the link between the people and the government in Jammu and Kashmir and each council chairperson will enjoy the status of a junior minister.