Srinagar: While Jammu and Kashmir political leaders continue to remain under detention, a new party has emerged in the Valley, drawing some if its leaders from regional powerhouses Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC).
The new party, called the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), is led by former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, who was a minister in the previous PDP-BJP government in the erstwhile state. Apart from the PDP and the NC, the political group draws its ranks from other parties such as the Congress and Shah Faesal’s Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM) too.
Nearly 50 politicians from these parties, along with some former bureaucrats, elected Bukhari as the president of the JKAP Saturday. The party Sunday issued what it termed as its “8 March 2020 Declaration”, a document that outlines its motives and aspirations.
The BJP has welcomed the move.
PDP the main source
Most of the prominent names associated with the JKAP are from the PDP, whose president and former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti continues to remain under detention after being charged with the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA).
Some of those who have joined the JKAP from the PDP include former minister Dilawar Mir, former party spokesperson Rafi Mir, Ashraf Mir, Javaid Beigh and Hasan Mir, the latter being one of the founders of the PDP, who later defected from it. They are joined by former Congress leaders Usman Majid and Shoaib Lone, former JKPM leader Uzair Ronga and the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee chief Jagmohan Singh Raina.
Former J&K chief secretary Vijay Bakaya is also among those who have joined the party.
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“This is a party of commoners, by the commoners and for the commoners,” Bukhari said, adding that the time of family-led politics was over in Kashmir. He was taking a shot at his former leader Mehbooba Mufti as well as the Abdullahs, whose families have remained at the forefront of mainstream Valley politics for decades.
Asked about the party’s stand on the scrapping of Article 370, a constitutional provision that guaranteed J&K special status, Bukhari said it would not be right to comment on a matter that is currently sub judice.
He, however, added that the party will fight to get J&K’s special status reinstated. “People from Jammu as well as from Kashmir want the return of statehood. They want the protection of government jobs and domicile laws to protect their land rights,” he said. “We will raise these issues with New Delhi.”
“It is an undeniable reality that we need to do business with New Delhi. It doesn’t matter for us who is in the government (in Delhi),” Bukhari added.
PDP response muted, NC attacks new party
The PDP was mostly reserved its response to the development. Party spokesperson Firdous Tak put out a cryptic quote.
The stand we represent, the struggle we must have, the principles we stand by and the journey ahead are fraught with consequences. Surrender and survive is cowardice and namby-pamby we are not. @jkpdp @MehboobaMufti
— Firdous Tak (@takfirdous) March 8, 2020
“The stand we represent, the struggle we must have, the principles we stand by and the journey ahead are fraught with consequences. Surrender and survive is cowardice and namby-pamby are not,” he tweeted.
The NC was more aggressive in its response, putting out a statement that while it is not against the emergence of other parties, the new political formations are aimed at blunting true representative voices of J&K, and ditching the genuine aspirations of the people.
NC spokesperson Imran Dar said alleged that the central government was attempting to fill the political vacuum in J&K with those that parrot what New Delhi wants them to say.
“The way things are unfolding here in J&K, it is pretty clear that the central government, in connivance with a few, is contriving to prop up yet another formation in J&K to serve interests at the cost of democracy,” Dar said.
The Congress made similar allegations, with the party’s J&K unit chief G.A. Mir saying it’s an “offshoot of the saffron party”, and that people “fully realise what is going on behind the curtains”.
The BJP was the only party to welcome the formation of the JKAP. “This is a very good move that will help in continuing political activity in Kashmir,” senior state BJP leader Ashok Kaul told ThePrint. “We have always been saying that political activity in Kashmir should not be at a standstill. We welcome the new party and wish them the best.”
Sheikh Abdullah reference removed from convention centre
On the same day, the J&K administration changed the name of Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC). ‘Sher-i-Kashmir’ was a moniker given to NC founder and former J&K CM Sheikh Abdullah, but it was dropped to make the convention centre’s name simply ‘Kashmir International Conference Complex’.
Senior administration officials maintained that the two developments “were not related at all”.
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