Srinagar: How difficult is it for a political party, accused of being the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s B-team, to survive in Kashmir Valley today?
Altaf Bukhari-led Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) is not just surviving but making its presence felt, too. When headquarters of other political parties in Srinagar are deserted with leaders confining themselves to their homes, Apni Party’s office is abuzz. There is a continuous stream of visitors to Bukhari’s residence at Lal Chowk.
“That’s because I don’t show false dreams to people. I tell them that Article 370 decision (modification) can’t be reversed by any party (in Delhi). Our only hope is the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, life has to go on. You don’t keep mourning if your house has been gutted in fire,” Bukhari told ThePrint in an interview.
As J&K Thursday completes two years without special status and as a union territory, Bukhari is one of the few politicians in the Valley who thinks Kashmiris are coming to terms with reality. And he minces no words: “The fury that was there (after Article 370’s invalidation) is less now. People gave vent to their anger in the district development council (DDC) elections last year. They voted for an anti-Delhi alliance — People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)….Slowly, people say (have realised) what Altaf Bukhari is saying is right: No political party can restore Article 370.”
Most of the politicians in the Valley rebut such suggestions vehemently. National Conference president and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah dismissed such claims, saying that if visitors to Kashmir failed to see Kashmiris’ anger, it’s because they don’t tell what they feel inside. “Hatred is much more than you can notice.”
“Don’t make a mistake. Silence is not acceptance.… Kashmiris know from their experience when to act and when not to act. They are hostile about what has been done to them,” CPI (M) leader and PAGD spokesman Yousuf Tarigami said in an interaction with ThePrint at his Srinagar home.
‘Our problems with New Delhi, so are solutions’
Altaf Bukhari may seem to have a contrarian view about the prevailing sentiments in Kashmir today but he thinks people like his plain-speaking. In one-and-a-half years since the former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader founded the JKAP in March 2020, his party has got 3.80 lakh members in the Valley and 1.20 lakh in Jammu. It’s the only party to have offices in 16 out of 20 districts in the union territory. He claims about 400-500 people visit him and his party office daily, seeking solutions for their day-to-day problems such as water, electricity, drainage and “sometimes about the abduction of their children.” “My success rate (in solving their problems) is not more than 30-40 per cent. But that’s my goodwill.”
The JKAP leader rubbishes talks about him being the BJP’s B-team. “When Farooq Abdullah or Mehbooba Mufti goes to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah, they are big leaders. But when I do the same, they call me BJP’s B-team. I meet the Prime Minister, not Narendra Modi. Who will solve our problems? The Prime Minister. If our problems are with New Delhi, solutions are also with New Delhi. I don’t get money from them. I am a successful businessman.”
Bukhari runs multiple companies, employing around 1,200 people. His corporate office is in New Delhi. He operated from his Sainik Farm house in the national capital before handing over his business to his sons to become a full-time politician.
He had founded the JKAP with three objectives — restoration of statehood, protection of Kashmiris’ jobs and their land. He says he has delivered on the last two while he continues to fight for statehood.
“There is a lot of cynicism on the ground because (Kashmiri) politicians sold dreams to people. On 3rd of August, they said nobody could touch Article 370. What happened? The problem is I can’t restore Article 370 or 35A, howsoever much I try.”
On DDCs, development & sedition cases
Bukhari isn’t happy with the functioning of DDCs and calls them “a failed concept” because they have no powers on the ground, with bureaucrats wielding authority. On Monday, he threatened that Apni Party members in the DDCs would resign because they were not being allowed by the administration to deliver on the ground. The Apni Party had earlier managed to gain control of Srinagar and Shopian DDCs.
Bukhari said claims of development in Kashmir were “a false narrative.” “Official figures (of development) always look beautiful in red, yellow and blue colours.”
He also questioned the ‘high-handed’ manner of the law enforcement agencies. He was addressing a meeting in Ganderbal when a man complained against a senior government official.
“He (complainant) was sent behind bars for 10 days. You have farmers’ agitation in Delhi. Do you slap sedition cases on them? Here, if we protest even against bad conditions of roads, we are booked under sedition law. So, where is the integration? Give us all those rights that you have in Delhi and other places in India,” Bukhari said.
As more visitors entered his drawing room, Bukhari signalled to wind up the interview: “My political life is for five years. When I started JKAP, nine out of 10 people were against me. Now, it’s 5:5.”
Not a bad progress for a man who is portrayed by his detractors as the Centre’s man in Kashmir.