National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah on Saturday said that some officials in the Jammu and Kashmir administration were "interfering in the democratic process" by being involved in "harassing and threatening" of winning District Development Council (DDC) independent candidates and those from People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) making them "forcefully join" the Syed Altaf Bukhari-led JK Apni Party.
"If holding the election was a victory of democracy, then the next step should also have been through democratic means. But some officers in the administration, not sure with whose orders, have after the poll results started interfering in the democratic process. PAGD and independent candidates are being forced to join the Apni party," Omar said while addressing a press conference here.
Omar asserted that if Prime Minister Narendra Modi was calling holding of DDC polls "a win for democracy", then why the "government was not telling its administration, police to stop interfering in the democratic process".
"The detentions and threats are happening to bring changes in the poll results. They are also trying to have the DDC chairman be appointed from outside the alliance," Omar said.
Omar said "threats and detentions" in order to change the verdict of DDC polls had already begun in Shopian. Without naming anyone, Omar said he was apprehensive that "the threats and detentions in Shopian to change the verdict, might embolden them to repeat it in rest of the districts as well".
"Two NC leaders from Shopian, former MLC Wachi Showkat Ganai and Shopian segment in-charge Shabir Kulay, were detained soon after the DDC results under preventive detention. We fail to understand what is being prevented through these detentions. Shabir Kulay was not even detained after August 5 last year so what is the need for his detention now," Abdullah said.
"What is the government trying to prevent with these detentions. We are neither taking out any rallies nor celebrating our win on the roads. If they cannot release these leaders, let the administration at least tell us the reasons behind detentions," Omar said.
The former J&K Chief Minister said winning candidates of the DDC polls from Shopian "were being brought to Srinagar and made to forcefully join the JK Apni Party."
"These winning candidates include independents, Congress, PDP candidates. In fact yesterday we noticed that a female candidate who won on NC mandate from Shopian was forcefully made to join the Apni Party," Abdullah said.
The NC vice-president played a call recording as to how the husband of a woman candidate from Shopian who had won was allegedly forced to "make his wife join Apni Party forcibly in lieu of getting her brother in law released from detention. "I don't know the reasons on whose command this all is being done," Omar said. "Winning candidates of PAGD are being threatened, humiliated and coerced to join Apni Party", he said.
Omar said the party leaders under detention must be released soon and "there should be an end to harassment to the families of winning DDC candidates".
Omar said it was surprising that if the anti-defection law which disallows switching of parties by candidates after poll results was effective for parliamentary and assembly polls, it should then apply here as well "and those switching sides be disqualified".
"We don't understand why both BJP and Apni party were not accepting the outcome of the elections. We urge the J&K administration and the central government that kindly don't play with democracy by allowing what is happening," Omar said.
Reacting to a recent statement by JK Apni Party president Syed Altaf Bukhari in which he had equated the restrictions imposed on PAGD leadership by the authorities to that of "restrictions imposed by NC, PDP leaders during their erstwhile regimes", Omar said: "Show me one election where we had locked-up the candidates in hotels or didn't provide them security. I have never alleged that I was not allowed to campaign because the reality is I never wanted to campaign. You can't deny the fact that PAGD candidates were locked up in hotels initially and it was a strange form of campaigning in which candidates were asked to jointly campaign. This is the first election where I noticed candidates being punished and that there should be less voting as desired by the government," Omar said.
When asked how many councils across J&K were the PAGD likely to form and was he fearing that BJP, Apni Party will form more councils, Omar said: "It is not a question of fearing and whether we will form in one district or ten districts, the results are clear. What I do fear is that what has started in Shopian in the form of detentions and threats to change the results must not embolden them to repeat it elsewhere".
Responding to a question that while BJP had termed the "success" of recently held DDC polls as a result of abrogation of Article 370 while NC and PAGD was portraying the election results as a "vote against power" Omar said, "Elections with a 70 to 80 per cent turnout have been held earlier. To say that people have voted in large numbers for the first time won't be correct. No doubt it was the first election after August 5 2019 and turnout was better than Panchayat polls of 2018 but voting percentage in Valley still remained low to what BJP would have thought," Omar said.
To a question that despite an alliance being forged, PAGD constituents were competing against each other on various seats in the DDC polls, Omar said, "On majority of the seats we agreed and only on miniscule number of seats we ended up in a contest which is not a big deal. The elections were announced at a time when the alliance had just been formed and we had sat down to discuss the seat sharing at the last moment. Most commentators had made up their mind that the alliance won't even survive in seat sharing but the fact that alliance was able to cement seat sharing was encouraging in itself," Omar said.
Replying on the role of Congress in PAGD with regard to DDC polls and the way ahead, Omar said, "Congress was part of the signatory parties on August 4, 2019 in the Gupkar Declaration. As soon the seat sharing arrangement started, Congress from Delhi distanced itself from the PAGD and they wanted to be only a part of seat sharing. As far as our goal is concerned, remaining members of the alliance will keep fighting for what we have declared," Abdullah said.