Srinagar: Altaf Bukhari, president of Apni Party, claims his party will secure District Development Council (DDC) chairmanships in at least six districts in Jammu and Kashmir, which would set the party up as a formidable opponent to the PAGD, an umbrella outfit that includes several mainstream political parties.
In a telephonic interview with ThePrint, he also said the people of Jammu and Kashmir had voted for development even though other parties used the issue of Article 370 as a poll plank.
“Probably they succeeded in convincing people of that, but we maintain that it (Article 370) is not going to come. It is a false narrative. They emotionally blackmailed people once again but a lot of people still voted for development. We had 21 independent candidates … they did not have such labels like BJP’s B-Team. People voted for them on development issues,” he said.
Bukhari, who was a cabinet minister in the PDP-BJP government in 2015-2018, said 21 independent candidates who won in the maiden DDC polls were “with the Apni Partry” and more independent candidates and DDC seat winners from the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) were set to join him in the next few days.
The District Development Council elections is the first electoral process to take place in the Union Territory since the scrapping of Article 370 that stripped the region of its special status.
Each of the 20 districts have 14 DDC constituencies and results were announced for 278 seats. Results in two seats are pending. The 14 DDC winners in each district will elect their chairperson.
Bukhari is confident of securing four to five districts of Kashmir and two districts in Jammu.
“As of now, 21 independent candidates are with us. We are sure of having DDC chairperson in at least two districts in Jammu where there are many winners interested in joining us. In Kashmir we will be able to have DDC chairpersons in at least 4-5 districts. We won’t be satisfied with anything less,” he said in a telephonic interview with ThePrint.
“These will be interesting days. How PAGD unfolds or what will happen in Kupwara? Will the People’s Conference, which has a stronghold in the region, abandon PAGD? Will PDP abandon them in Pulwama? Will they support each other to elect DDC chairpersons or not? All this will be interesting to see,” Bukhari said.
Apni Party, which formed in March this year, has emerged as the main regional opposition to PAGD; in Kashmir it won nine seats.
The PAGD in total won 110 seats while the BJP won 75 and the Congress 26. Fifty independents also secured seats.
The PAGD is a conglomerate of seven regional and national political parties including the National Conference (NC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and J&K People’s Conference (JKPC), that has been demanding the return of Article 370.
‘Apni Party is no one’s B-Team’
In Jammu, Apni Party won three seats in Jammu, taking their total tally to 12. The party had fielded 166 candidates in total.
“We have won less seats than what we had expected, but overall it is a good performance because we were dubbed as collaborators of the BJP. With such a label, if BJP could get three seats, we were lucky we could get 12 seats,” said Bukhari.
According to the party, so far four DDC winners (three from Shopian and one from Srinagar) joined the party, which includes two independents and one each from PDP and NC.
Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah had accused Apni Party of being BJP’s B-Team after a winning candidate from his party, the NC, joined Bukhari.
“This explains why our leaders in Shopian district are being put under ‘preventive arrest’ by the police. J&K police & the administration are facilitating horse trading & defections. The woman shown here joining the BJP’s B-team contested & won elections on a NC mandate,” Abdullah had tweeted Friday.
This explains why our leaders in Shopian district are being put under “preventive arrest” by the police. J&K police & the administration are facilitating horse trading & defections. The woman shown here joining the BJP’s B-team contested & won elections on a NC mandate. pic.twitter.com/JRTKNCEiCc
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) December 25, 2020
Bukhari, though, rejected the allegations and said that accusing anyone of being BJP’s B-Team is akin to putting their lives at risk.
“The PAGD struggled to get candidates. They didn’t have many people, so they fielded anyone and everyone. These people were available, now they are deciding as per their choice to join the Apni Party. No one is forcing them. In fact, I asked one candidate of the NC what is the party symbol. Then I asked him what his symbol was and he said plough. He didn’t know that is NC’s symbol. The same is in the case of independents,” Bukhari said.
‘NC began this game, I will finish it’
PAGD leaders have also accused Bukhari of using “muscle and money” to force alliance winners into his party, especially in Shopian where three DDC winners have joined the party. In Shopian, four independents, four NC candidates, three from PDP, two from Apni Party and one form Congress had won.
Sources in the NC, PDP and JKPC said that at least six candidates joined the PAGD, two from each party. Of the six, two are from Beerwah while four are from Srinagar, an important constituency to watch out for.
Of the 10 districts in Kashmir, the PAGD has clear majorities in nine seats, except for in Srinagar district. In Srinagar, independents managed to win seven of the 14 constituencies while Apni Party won three, leaving the NC, PDP and Peoples Movement (PAGD partner) with one seat each. BJP also won a seat in Srinagar.
Bukhari told ThePrint that it was from Srinagar where the “issue of independents began”. Apni Party fielded an independent candidate from Srinagar, who then joined NC. “They started this game and I will end it, and the end can very well be the depletion of their (PAGD) 70 winning candidates,” he said.
He further said the PAGD tried to emotionally blackmail its voters into thinking that a vote for the political outfit is a vote for the restoration of Article 370. However, Bukhari believes a vast number of people voted for development.
“Our vote share is double than PDP, which is a 21-year-old party. Our vote share is three times than People’s Conference, which is a 45-year-old party. Gupkar Alliance had built a narrative that a vote for these elections is a vote for restoration of 370,” said Bukhari.
Apni Party now plans to reach every village and create a network to make “the people who misguided voters on the issue of Article 370” irrelevant.