Kejriwal’s Kashmir?

Jammu and Kashmir was offering the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders always an idea to get the best of the newspaper front page. As a major flock of disgruntled political activists joined the party in Delhi, last week, the Kejriwal party is staking big now

Two Former MLAs, and 4 DDC Members from Jammu and Kashmir joined Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi on April 8, 2022.

April 8, 2022, was a special day in Delhi. A huge group of political activists from different political parties in Jammu and Kashmir waited in scorching heat for the shub kshan, the auspicious moment, to formally join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It was finally senior AAP leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister, Munish Sisodia, in whose presence they were baptised into the rising sun of India’s politics.

Politicians who crossed the floor include two former lawmakers – Balwant Singh Mankotia (Udhampur) and Yashpaul Kundal (Samba); DDC member from Suchetgarh Taranjeet Singh Tony, and Congressman Surinder Singh Singari.

A two-time lawmaker, Mankotia resigned from the Panthers Party in February 2021 as the Udhampur based party of Prof Bhim Singh landed in a sort of succession battle. Kundal, also from the same party, has also been a lawmaker twice. The erstwhile Panthers joined AAP coinciding with the Panther Party founder being driven to the hospital. For more than a year now, Singh is not keeping good health.

There were people from Congress as well as NC, who were part of a more than a 200-member group that joined AAP in Delhi. Former bureaucrat, Bashir A Runiyal, who had started his post-retirement career from PDP, has now joined the AAP. Though most of the crowd was from Jammu, there were various faces from Kashmir as well. They were from all political groups.

This is being seen as a major capital for the party that is emerging as India’s new political sunrise. Its future seemed bright last month when the party rose to power on the ruins of Congress, India’s grand old party, in Punjab. The border contiguity and the cultural homogeneity might have played a role in triggering a sudden infatuation in the disgruntled political class for the broom party.

AAP senior leader Manish Sisodia welcomed Panthers Party MLA, Yashpal Kundal to the party in Delhi on April 8, 2022.

The Film Battle

This was for the first time when the AAP was in news for genuinely major happening in Jammu and Kashmir context. An impressive group of political workers joining AAP is a major connection with a very sensitive territory in India. Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi Chief Minister, however, has remained in news for many days after he took a diagonally different stand on The Kashmir Files film in comparison to BJP and Congress.

Responding to the demands that the film, showcasing the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in 1990, be made tax-free in Delhi, Kejriwal famously suggested that the easiest way out would have been to upload it on the free video-sharing website, YouTube.

“In the last 25 years, since the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, there has been a BJP government at the Centre for 13 years. BJP government has been there for the last 8 years, but not even a single Kashmiri Pandit has been settled back there. BJP politicised Kashmiri Pandits’ atrocities. Now, they are making films about their tragedy and earning money,” Kejriwal said in a press conference.

“When the migration from Kashmir happened, many people came here as well,” Kejriwal said. “Around 233 people became contractual teachers in Delhi in 1993. Since then, Delhi has seen both BJP and Congress governments. When we came into power, we regularised them with retrospective effect.” Their services were regularised in AAP-era only after a Delhi High Court direction was served on the government.

Political activists from Jammu and Kashmir led by two former lawmakers from Panthers Party joined the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi in April 2022.

Punjab Confidence

Kejriwal’s harsh words on the BJP’s film project were being seen as the elevated situation in which AAP landed after the Punjab elections. It won 92 seats in a 117-seat house. This has boosted the morale of the Kajrewal party, which is ruling the national capital since 2013.

AAP, it may be recalled here, emerged as the second-largest party after BJP in the Delhi house in 2013. With Congress’s support, it formed the government but resigned within 49 days as the ally could not prove dependable. In 2015 polls, it got 67 of 70 seats. Though in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJP swept all the seven parliament seats; APP won 62 seats in the 2020 polls. Winning Punjab on such a grand scale was not so small a feat for a party that is perpetually struggling to survive in the shadows of the BJP government.

In the 2019 poll, Kejriwal used his mass power against Prime Minister Modi. After he swept all his seats, Kajrewal personally went to congratulate him. The silent truce’ was seen as the taming of the tiger. He even went public with his confidence that Modi will arrest the economic slowdown.

Supporting Abrogation

It was during this spell that the Kajrewal party threw its weight behind the BJP’s decision to read down Article 370 and split the major state into two union territories. “We support the government on its decisions on J&K. We hope this will bring peace and development in the state,” Kejriwal tweeted moments ahead of the August 5, 2019 resolution was passed.

This decision exploded Kajrewal’s focus that Delhi must have full statehood. Analysts, however, believed that he did not wish to annoy a powerful Prime Minister especially because he had to face an election in February 2020.

AAP support for Article 370 undoing became a recurring issue every time Kajrewal’s credibility was on the test. In September 2020, when Kajrewal was put under house arrest by the BJP government, Kashmir politicians took a jibe at him. “Mr Kejriwal to be disempowered. What you supported Kejriwal was people-less J&K (on August 5, 2019). Now you will hopefully be an ornamental piece of a decorative item in the Delhi government. The same way you supported people of J&K to be ornamental pieces,” Sajjad Gani Lone tweeted. “When they came for us on 5th Aug 2019, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) happily supported the BJP in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Let’s see AAP support this piece of legislation now.”

Kashmir politicians, however, did not run a campaign against Kejriwal. Every time, the issue of federalism and statehood of Delhi was talked about, Kashmir politicians supported AAP. In March 2021, when the NCT bill became a crisis between Kajrewal’s Delhi and the central government, Omar Abdullah threw his weight behind Kejriwal.

“In spite of AAP’s support for the dismemberment & downgrading of J&K in 2019, we still condemn this assault on the powers of the elected government of Delhi,” Omar Abdullah tweeted. “Delhi deserves to be a full state with all powers exercised by the elected government & not a nominated LG.”

The Last Exercise

There were efforts earlier as well to have some liaison between Kajrewal’s political party and the politicians in Jammu and Kashmir. When he started his moment in 2013, he had a lot of supporters in Srinagar and Jammu who wished to emulate him in Jammu and Kashmir politics. There were a series of meeting between Kajrewal and some Kashmir politicians.

AAP Kashmir members in 2014, an experiment that failed

Though the start was very positive, it did not take off. The reason being given in Srinagar was that Kajrewal politics may not eventually suit Jammu and Kashmir. No questions were asked and no details were offered.  In fact, a politician who was keen to get the Kajrewal movement to Srinagar is in a Delhi jail.

The situation has changed now. A few busloads of Jammu and Kashmir political workers were desperate that they are accepted into the party. This marks the beginning of AAP’s strong footing in parts of Jammu where it will eventually accommodate the elements that are frustrated with the BJP and Congress. In Kashmir, it may take more time to have a significant base because most of Jammu and Kashmir’s new political projects have a Srinagar address.

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