After Congress rebel Ghulam Nabi Azad floated his Democratic Azad Party (DAP), Apni Party founder Syed Altaf Bukhari says he lacks any differences with him. In a long conversation with Yawar Hussain, he said since there is no possibility of restoration of Article 370, he will fight for the achievable goals only
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Why has Ghulam Nabi Azad’s re-entry into Jammu and Kashmir politics upset you?
SYED ALTAF BUKHARI (SAB): I didn’t expect this interview to start with this question. But since you have asked this, I would like to state that Azad sahib is a seasoned politician who I hold in high regard. I questioned him (Azad) when he made this statement that he would bring back the pre-August 5 status of Jammu and Kashmir. I asked him when he couldn’t save Article 370 in parliament, and how he can bring it back. Now he has retracted his statement and I have no problem with him. He has now gone a step further by claiming that Article 370 would never be restored.
KL: You earlier claimed that Azad had voted for reading down of Article 370. Why were you silent till now?
SAB: Congress party has said that they voted for its reading down. They opposed the manner in which it was done but not its abrogation. There was nothing to be silent about. It was a fact known to everyone.
KL: Will Azad’s new party fragment votes to benefit or harm anyone?
SAB: Votes, whenever, fragmented, help the cadre-based parties to win. In Kashmir, the National Conference is going to be the benefactor while in Jammu the Bharatiya Janata Party will gain.
It is good that it was done but then there is a sentiment among people here in Kashmir for Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah sahib’s holiday as well. He is the same man who gave Jammu and Kashmir to India on a plate. Why should his holiday be cancelled? We cannot erase him or for the matter the martyrs of July 13. A holiday is being demanded for them. If Apni Party comes to power, we will honour the aspirations of both regions of Jammu and Kashmir. I don’t understand why Shiekh Abdullah’s party has become shameless for not demanding a holiday for him. Forget politics, Shiekh Abdullah was a leader. Even when Sheikh’s holiday was cancelled, NC was mum. Why have they (NC) become so weak?
KL: When you say that you have no differences with Azad now, would you ally with him pre or post-election as you have similar agendas?
SAB: Azad’s new party is a hypothesis. First, he claimed to form a national party then he didn’t. But what isn’t possible in politics? However, we are confident of bagging a majority and forming a government on our own.
KL: Recently, you said PDP was formed by former Home Minister Lal Krishan Advani. Has New Delhi been forming parties here?
SAB: I never said that. All I said was that people here level allegations claiming that every new party formed here is a Centre’s creation. Since 1999, the National Conference always alleged that about PDP. Today, both of them are in the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Any new player is being run down by them. I said that if NC always believed in it then why are they with PDP now?
KL: You were ready to become Chief Minister with NC-PDP support in 2018. Why detest them now?
SAB: I am also seeking an answer in this regard from them. Why was I alright for them in 2018 and why not now. Is it because I say the truth? August 5 was a watershed day in Jammu and Kashmir’s history. We were deprived of the special status that PAGD constituents claimed to protect all along but didn’t.
KL: Why statehood is the Apni Party’s core agenda when it has been promised by the central government on the floor of Parliament?
SAB: I agree with you that it has been promised by the Home Minister on the floor of parliament but didn’t Jawaharlal Nehru promise a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir? Did it happen?
KL: Are you saying that you don’t trust the central BJP government?
SAB: No, I don’t doubt their intention but we have lost something for which we have to fight. A mother gives milk to a baby only when he cries for it.
KL: Your claim of protecting job and land rights for Jammu and Kashmir post-August-5 has come under criticism from PDP who say that 34 people, as per government figures, have bought land here. How do you respond to that claim?
SAB: I do agree with them but these cases are before Apni Party secured those rights of land and job protection. They (PDP) did nothing in the six months post-August 5. On August 7, 2019, the PDP should have started to seek the protection of land and rights which I did six months after.
KL: How do you view the development scenario in J&K post-August-5?
SAB: The development being talked about is nowhere to be seen in Jammu and Kashmir. Yes. The routine road, water and electricity works are going on. There are some good things being done in youth services and sports but there is nothing more. Unemployment is on the rise. They aren’t giving jobs. They claim that industries have come in post-August 5 but then the unemployment rate wouldn’t have been so high. A single man (Lieutenant Governor) cannot replace a team of democratically elected people even if his intentions are good.
KL: P Chidambaram says that a new government or even the SC can undo August 5 because no constitutional bill was brought in to read it down. How do you see that statement?
SAB: Jammu and Kashmir had five parliamentarians when Article 370 was read down. They couldn’t save it and they can’t get it even if a simple majority is needed in parliament. All major political parties in India voted for abrogation.
KL: Chidambaram cited Congress Working Committee’s resolution post-August 5 claiming that they are committed to Article 370. How do you see that statement?
SAB: They aren’t committed to the restoration of Article 370. Let the Congress President say it on record.
KL: Would you welcome that?
SAB: Yes, we are open to supporting anyone who can bring back Article 370.
KL: Why not convince Congress then?
SAB: Who doesn’t want the restoration of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir? Everybody wants it. But I say that my party can’t restore it even if I win all five parliament seats in the union territory. We gave three seats to National Conference in the 2019 parliament elections but they didn’t save it.
KL: What about your former PDP colleagues and then Rajya Sabha members – Fayaz Ahmad Mir and Nazir Laway? Did they vote in favour or against it?
SAB: They only tore their Rs 150 shirts. They didn’t vote against reading-down of Article 370. By not voting they indirectly helped the government of India. NC, at least, voted against it but never spoke on it in the house since then. Speaking here doesn’t matter. Speak there does.
KL: Are you satisfied with Delimitation Commission’s award?
SAB: It is completely unfair. We have been wronged. The due procedure wasn’t followed. It isn’t fair for the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. Delimitation is done for empowering people but in this case; a particular political party has been empowered who I wouldn’t like to name.
KL: An issue of outside voters has emerged. How does the Apni Party look at it?
SAB: The moment this issue came up, I asked the central government to clarify the confusion created. I gave them a timeline because any move to disempowering our people isn’t acceptable to us. They clarified by saying that there is no such proposal and after that, the Chief Electoral Officer reiterated that the media had misquoted him. Also, when the electoral rolls are made public, we will check them. If any outsider is brought in here, we will not just protest but make sure that it is undone.
KL: Gujjar-Bakarwals have been protesting across J&K against the possible inclusion of Paharis into the Scheduled Tribe. Where do you stand on this?
SAB: We don’t look at it from the perspective of politics. We believe that whoever has a genuine right should be treated fairly. If Gujjar-Bakerwals have got this and the Paharis live in the same geographical area then they too should be included in ST.
A single man (Lieutenant Governor) cannot replace a team of democratically elected people even if his intentions are good.
KL: How do you see the recent arrest of religious clerics?
SAB: It was completely uncalled for. They or any other religious cleric hasn’t made any statement against the state or even for instigating people. Let government show me one.
KL: How do you view the recent ban on Dastarbandi in Waqf Board-managed religious centres?
SAB: The problem is that some people at the helm of affairs today think that doing some things would get them into the news. The ban on Mujawirs and Dastarbandi is being done for gaining popularity by some individuals. Mosques or any religious places aren’t the property of Auquf also. They only manage them. The beliefs and aspirations of people are associated with these places. Just because somebody has been made an administrator doesn’t mean that he owns these places. It is high time that they don’t play with the sentiments of the people.
KL: How do you view Jammu and Kashmir’s current scenario?
SAB: In comparison to 2016, Jammu and Kashmir is completely normal but if you ask me how it is in general, I can tell you that everyone is disturbed mentally. Nobody knows what is happening or what is going to happen. But the truth is that there are no mass killings and pellet victims. People need to be appreciated for not protesting and taking out funeral processions. The security forces need to be appreciated as well. It is virtual normalcy.
KL: Lt Governor Manoj Sinha recently said that this government isn’t buying peace but establishing it. How do you see this as a former cabinet minister?
SAB: Sinha sahib is a seasoned politician. He also knows that peace can never be bought anywhere. It can only be established when people want it. That is how Jammu and Kashmir is normal now.
KL: In your opinion why are elections being delayed?
SAB: The people in Delhi don’t want elections. They don’t want Jammu and Kashmir to be empowered. They think it is some concession. But it is our constitutional right.
KL: Who in Delhi?
SAB: The central government. They don’t want elections. They think it is a favour. We have acceded to a democratic India. We haven’t acceded to a dictatorial India. Why should we be subjected to a one-man rule? We should have a democratically elected government. They think Kashmiris would beg for it but why should we? We are told that there are elected PRIs (Panchayat Raj Institutions) and Municipal Committees in Jammu and Kashmir and thus there is democracy. They should then replicate it across India. They should abolish parliament as well and put PRIs instead.
KL: How do you view the current bureaucratic setup in Jammu and Kashmir?
SAB: A bureaucratic setup can never replace an elected setup. Our local officers have been pushed to the wall. Officers posted here at the top don’t understand our languages or even our geography. Bad times have befallen Jammu and Kashmir and we are passing through that phase. There is a huge gap between officers and common people.
KL: How do you see the controversy around Hari Singh’s holiday?
SAB: There is a sentiment of people associated with Maharaja Hari Singh sahib. It is good that it was done but then there is a sentiment among people here in Kashmir for Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah sahib’s holiday as well. He is the same man who gave Jammu and Kashmir to India on a plate. Why should his holiday be cancelled? We cannot erase him or for the matter the martyrs of July 13. A holiday is being demanded for them. If Apni Party comes to power, we will honour the aspirations of both regions of Jammu and Kashmir. I don’t understand why Shiekh Abdullah’s party has become shameless for not demanding a holiday for him. Forget politics, Shiekh Abdullah was a leader. Even when Sheikh’s holiday was cancelled, NC was mum. Why have they (NC) become so weak?
KL: What is Apni Party’s agenda for Jammu’s Hindu heartland?
SAB: It is the same because everyone in Jammu and Kashmir wants the restoration of statehood. We aren’t raking up controversial issues. We are only talking about achievable goals, unlike Self-Rule or Autonomy which the PDP and NC sold as dreams to people.
The ban on Mujawirs and Dastarbandi is being done for gaining popularity by some individuals. Mosques or any religious places aren’t the property of Auquf also. They only manage them. The beliefs and aspirations of people are associated with these places. Just because somebody has been made an administrator doesn’t mean that he owns these places.
KL: If Self-Rule wasn’t achievable then why were you with PDP?
SAB: If it was achievable then what did they do for it? Also, the leadership takes a call in the party which people like me in the party (PDP) then had to accept. After every six years, they sold new dreams. I would now sell ideas like building schools, hospitals and rural and urban infrastructure.
KL: How was Mehbooba Mufti as Chief Minister and as a Party President?
SAB: I said what I had to say in December 2018 to Mehbooba Mufti herself. I told her that she had been out of power for six months now and she should step down as President as well because it was her administrative apathy during the 2016 Kashmir unrest that led to the killing of people. I informed her that she had failed as a party President as well because a lot of ministers and lawmakers had left the party till then. I told her that we will seek people’s forgiveness but she threw me out of the party. My words were proved right after just six months when she herself miserably lost the 2019 parliament election.