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Apni Party looks to dispel rumours about govt backing, set for launch on BJP turf Jammu

NC chief Farooq Abdullah’s release from detention is said to have injected an urgency in Apni Party’s plans to establish a footing in J&K political landscape.

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Srinagar: The Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), a new political venture that draws its members from the Valley’s established parties, is set for launch in Jammu this week.

The decision comes days after JKAP chief Altaf Bukhari, a former member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led a party delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi.

With the foray in Jammu, a known BJP stronghold, the party hopes to dispel the notion that it is backed by the central government, JKAP insiders said. 

The JKAP was launched on 8 March — a move immediately welcomed by the BJP amid the central government’s bid to revive political activity in the Valley.

Political activity in Kashmir has pretty much been at a standstill since 5 August last year, when the Union government stripped J&K of its special status and divided it into two union territories. Several local political leaders, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP, were detained in the immediate aftermath of the Article 370 move.

While many leaders, including National Conference Farooq Abdullah, have since been released, others remain detained in facilities inside and outside Kashmir.


Also Read: Mehbooba won’t be free soon but more ‘Apni parties’ in 2nd phase of govt’s Kashmir policy


‘Dispelling speculation’ 

The release of Abdullah last week is said to have injected an urgency in the Apni Party’s plans to establish a footing in the political landscape of India’s one of the two newest union territories.

Many in the Kashmir political ecosystem believe Abdullah’s release will initiate mainstream political activity in J&K.

Abdullah has so far maintained that he will speak on political matters only after the release of other detained politicians, including his son Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti. He has also demanded the return of people detained outside J&K since August last year in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, his return can pose a challenge to the Apni Party’s plan to poach leaders not only from the NC but also the PDP.

The party’s launch had raised speculation that it was taking advantage of the detention of local political heavyweights, and that it was working at the behest of the BJP. 

It didn’t help rumours that the BJP’s J&K general secretary Ashok Kaul had welcomed the return of political activity in Kashmir soon after the launch of Apni Party.

“The Jammu launch will help us dispel speculation that the grouping is backed by the central government or the Bharatiya Janata Party. By launching in Kashmir, we challenged regional powers here,” said an Apni Party leader. “Had we been backed by the BJP, we would have not launched in Jammu, where the BJP has been strong since 2014,” the leader added. 

Questions about BJP proximity

The Apni Party comprises former members of the NC, the PDP, as well as former IAS officer Shah Faesal’s J&K People’s Movement, among others.

The meeting with Modi-Shah, and the BJP welcoming the party, threaten to put the new formation in a bind, especially with former colleagues in the PDP said to be seeing it as an opportunity to target Bukhari for his “proximity” to the BJP. 

Though ideological opposites, the BJP and the PDP were allies in Jammu & Kashmir for a brief period until June 2018.

“Of course, people can’t forget the PDP allied with the BJP, but at the moment it’s only Mehbooba Mufti who is being seen as a greater threat than any other politician in Kashmir,” a PDP insider said. “The PDP leaders isolating her and joining other formations is damaging but it could be used as an opportunity as well.”


Also Read: Key to ending political deadlock in J&K is with Abdullahs, Muftis. Modi should accept it


Work begins to give shape to Apni Party 

Apni Party insiders said the leadership is now working on key areas to formalise the party, including finding a ‘chief patron’, framing a constitution, appointing key office-bearers and streamlining the party’s social media outreach.

The party is ready to put the Article 370 issue on the backburner to pursue what it describes as more immediate goals — restoration of statehood and protection of the locals’ domicile rights.

“The constitution will focus heavily on the return of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, domicile laws to protect land and jobs of J&K citizens and development,” said an Apni Party leader.

The scrapping of Article 370, on account of being sub judice, is likely not to be addressed or only mentioned in passing reference.

“The scrapping of Article 370 is a matter being discussed in the Supreme Court. We will await the court’s decision. In the meantime, we will focus on achievable goals such as full statehood, domicile laws etc,” said the leader quoted above.

Pertinent to mention that Shah had Sunday assured the Apni Party delegation that the government would formulate a domicile policy for J&K. 

In its declaration issued at the Srinagar launch, the party mentioned eight categories of officer-bearers, including chief patron, vice-presidents, general secretary, spokespersons, provincial presidents, treasurers and secretaries. 

The party insiders said they had been in talks with senior PDP leader and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Baig to formally join the party, and were even willing to elect him as the chief patron. However, the talks have not yielded any results, said the sources.

Baig was not available to make a comment.

Without naming anyone, Apni Party leader Usman Majid told ThePrint that they had been approaching senior politicians of J&K. He also refrained from disclosing the names of those supposed to be present at the Jammu launch.

“We are streamlining all mechanisms. The issue of who will be the chief patron is yet to be discussed. We will decide on it soon. We have to decide whether we want a chief patron on immediate basis or whether we will elect someone after he/she has spent enough time in the party,” Majid said. “Maybe we will elect someone after a gap of two years based on performance and merit.” 

Another Apni Party leader said they had engaged New Delhi-based legal experts to formulate the party constitution.

The party also plans to begin an outreach programme and meet people on the ground. However, the leadership has decided to first attempt this through social media, a plan earlier derailed by “parody accounts” allegedly seeking to undermine the party.

An Apni Party leader said they had approached the authorities to take note of the matter.


Also Read: Outside firms enter mining race in J&K, lease earnings touch crores from lakhs


 

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