Former PDP minister Altaf Bukhari at the launch of his 'Apni Party' in Srinagar on Sunday. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)
SAYING that circumstances “warranted the formation of a new political party”, former Peoples Democratic Party leader and minister Altaf Bukhari announced the launch of a ‘Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP)’ on Sunday, comprising several ex-legislators belonging to the PDP and Congress.
Addressing a press conference at his residence in Srinagar, Bukhari called the JKAP “a regional party with a national outlook”, “a party by the commoners, for the commoners and of the commoners”. However, he added that he didn’t see the prospects of elections soon.
Seeking to fill political vacuum
Since August 5, mainstream politics in Kashmir has been in complete paralysis. It is in this vacuum that the new political formation has taken shape, seeking to move beyond Article 370. However, it remains to be seen whether the JKAP will be accepted by public. Many see it as another bid by the Centre to impose political leaders on the state, in line with Delhi propping up Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad as counter to Sheikh Abdullah in 1953.
With Kashmir in a state of political void since the scrapping of special status on August 5, and with the detention of three former chief ministers and other senior leaders continuing, Bukhari refused to comment on whether New Delhi was behind the initiative for a new political force in Jammu and Kashmir, or not.
“I don’t buy these arguments,” he said. “Altaf Bukhari is an individual, driven by his own decisions. I don’t live by decisions taken by somebody else.” However, Bukhari said, he wanted “to end the mistrust between New Delhi and J&K”. Fellow JKAP leader Ghulam Hassan Mir said they were planning to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Apni Party’s “March 8, 2020 Declaration” said it would “seek to ensure that JK’s destiny is driven by people alone while preserving its identity”, and that its goals included restoration of J&K statehood, protection of its domicile rights, and “dignified return of Kashmiri Pandits”. It resolved to provide a “viable” political platform and achieve its objectives “in a peaceful, democratic and result-oriented manner”.
Claiming that Jammu and Kashmir were “on the same platform now”, Bukhari said, “Jammu also wants statehood and Kashmir also wants statehood. Similar is the case with state domicile rights and jobs. Whatever the distance between New Delhi and the people of J&K, our efforts would be to end those.”
Bukhari said there was no option but to talk to Delhi. “We have to do business with Delhi, whosoever rules Delhi,” he said. “We don’t look at Delhi from the point of who is ruling in Delhi today. We look at it as the government of India and we have to deal with the government of India. We have no hesitation in dealing with the government of India.”
A majority of the leaders who are part of the new outfit are seen as close to the security establishment. Bukhari himself is one of the few mainstream leaders who was not detained after August 5.
Bukhari said he wanted former CMs Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti to be released. “In a democracy, leaders should be freed,” he said, while noting that the matters of Article 370 and 35 are being heard in the Supreme Court. In January this year, Bukhari had led a delegation to Lieutenant Governor G C Murmu seeking restoration of statehood and release of all political detainees.
Among the over 20 former MLAs in the JKAP are Ghulam Hassan Mir, former PDP leaders Muhammad Dilawar Mir, Ashraf Mir and Rafi Mir, and former Congress leaders Usman Majeed and Shuib Lone.
Ghulam Hassan Mir told The Indian Express, “We will not spare anyone if we feel something is wrong, even the BJP. Also, we won’t shy away from talking to the government of India, because they have to address the problems of Jammu and Kashmir.”
A businessman who held the education and finance portfolios in the PDP-BJP coalition government led by Mehbooba, Bukhari had been expelled from the PDP in January 2019 following allegations that he “inspired and led dissent in the party”.
The Congress said the JKAP was “an offshoot of the BJP”. “It is a creation of various quarters which have been hell bent on creating chaos and divisions in the political system of J&K,” said PCC chief G A Mir. “The off-shoot of the BJP will no longer befool the people.”
The National Conference accused the Centre of “contriving” to prop up the formation “to serve its interests at the cost of democracy and political probity”. “They want to fill the political vacuum in Kashmir with those who parrot what New Delhi wants them to. It’s therefore safe to call this new formation as Delhi’s Party and nothing else,” NC spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said. “The new amalgamation has the same leaders who helped anti-democratic forces pull down elected governments in J&K.”
At his press conference, Bukhari said, “My voice may not be relevant today, but I think it is relevant. In coming days, it would be relevant.”
The JKAP resolution said, “The present circumstances warranted formation of a new political party comprising those who have all along identified and related themselves with social needs of multiple strata and factions of our society. A party that can respond to rational aspirations of people without promising them moon or stars. We are not here to sell dreams or fantasy to our people and instead shall always be pragmatic, honest and fair in our approach.”
The J&K BJP welcomed the new party, saying people were fed up of dynasty politics and sought change.