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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Behind Apni Party’s outbursts against BJP, changed equations

For the first time since its inception, the party has openly taken on the BJP -- first over the draft recommendations of the delimitation panel and then over the first Real Estate Summit held in Jammu in December last year.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar |
Updated: January 4, 2022 11:33:47 am
Altaf Bukhari at his residence in Srinagar. ( Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

In October 2019, three months after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, with the mainstream political leadership in detention and the Centre desperate to break the ice, one man stepped forward — Altaf Bukhari.

One of the few political leaders out of jail then, Bukahri attended a luncheon in New Delhi hosted by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval for an unofficial delegation of the European Union. Bukhari’s presence at the meeting signalled the emergence of the Centre’s political alternative in the Valley.

Five months after the meeting, Bukhari founded the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), a party that its detractors mockingly called the “King’s party” or the “BJP’s Team B”.

Now, a year and a half later, the party finds itself at the crossroads. For the first time since its inception, the party has openly taken on the BJP — first over the draft recommendations of the delimitation panel and then over the first Real Estate Summit held in Jammu in December last year.

While saying that the Real Estate Summit “undermines the domicile law that was introduced to safeguard the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”, the party termed the draft recommendations of the delimitation commission as against the “very idea of secular India ”.

“The recent proposed report (of the delimitation panel) is visibly disproportionate and encourages doubts of favouritism towards a specific political party,” the party said, without naming the “specific political party”.

While the panel’s recommendation — six new Assembly constituencies for Jammu and one for Kashmir — is being seen as benefiting the BJP, the one new seat for Kashmir (Kralpora in Kupwara district) is a stronghold of Sajad Gani Lone’s People’s Conference.

Political parties and experts say there is a context to the Apni Party’s outburst. For many months, the party was seen as the Centre’s favourite in the Valley. But there are signs that equations have been changing: while the Apni Party had been the original choice for pro-India leaders exiting mainstream parties, of late, many have been heading to the People’s Conference (PC). For instance, recently, two former PDP MPs, Nazir Ahmad Laway and Fayaz Ahmad Mir, joined PC. PDP’s women’s wing president Safeena Beigh and general secretary Nizam-ud-din Bhat too had joined the PC.

J&K: Apni Party scuttles PAGD chance to claim DDC in Shopian Apni Party founder Altaf Bukhari. (File)

The Apni Party’s poor showing in the DDC elections in October 2020, the first electoral exercise after the abrogation of J&K special status, also contributed to a dip in its fortunes. Though it boasts of having five lakh members across J&K and an office in every district of the UT, the party only won 12 out of 280 DDC seats — nine from Kashmir Valley and three from Jammu region.

Apni Party’s political detractors say the party has realised that its association with the BJP won’t help the party in J&K. “Their first realisation came during the DDC elections. Despite having 22 former MLAs in their party, they got very few seats,” said National Conference (NC) spokesperson Imran Nabi. “They also promised to help people get land rights and job rights, but now they see that J&K has been put on sale.”

While saying that the party’s recent stand on the delimitation panel’s recommendations and the Real Estate summit only reflected the sentiment of the people, especially in Kashmir Valley, a senior Apni Party leader said the party has good reasons to be upset with the BJP.

“I don’t know what you call it — outrage or hurt — but it has a valid reason,” he said. “It was never an easy choice for a political leader to be part of the Apni Party, especially when there was so much negativity spread against it. We put our (political) careers at stake. We don’t want any favours from the Centre but we don’t want others to be favoured. Look at the Delimitation (Commission) proposal. Everybody knows it has been prepared to help the BJP in Jammu but see who is its beneficiary in Kashmir.”

A professor of political science said the Apni Party’s falling out of favour with the BJP is based purely on electoral arithmetic. “When no political combination or party was ready to embrace the BJP here, the Apni Party provided them with that fig leaf. But the BJP doesn’t see the Apni Party emerging as a potent force anytime soon. They now think, ‘why back them when we have better choices available now'”.

The uncertainty has led to cracks within the party, with sources saying many party leaders are in talks with other parties.

“Na khuda hi mila, na visal-e-sanam (I found neither faith nor my beloved),” said a party leader. “Neither BJP nor the people are happy with us. We can’t ruin our political careers like this. We have to think of our future. If the reports of some of our colleagues joining other political parties is true, I can’t blame them.”

Altaf Bukhari, president of the party, however, rubbished the claims, saying allegations are being levelled against his party to cow him down. “Nobody can take us for granted — whether they are people in Delhi or the so-called politicians who have been ruling us for 72 years,” said Bukhari. “First of all, the question of cold shoulder (from the BJP) doesn’t exist. We didn’t join politics to please any party. After the abrogation of special status, we realised that people are in trouble. Politics ceased to exist but the sufferings of people didn’t. We came into the field believing in the politics of truth and ethics, not emotional politics or politics of deceit.”

He said the party’s recent attacks on the BJP is based on certain principles. “Our reaction to the delimitation proposal and backdoor entry of residential permits is a matter of principle for us. We went to Delhi, not for money or power, but because since Article 370 was abolished, we wanted a safety pin for our jobs, our land. We got assurances. But when they started fiddling with it, we raised our voice.”

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