The Otherness Of Apni Party

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Going by the nature of its politics, Apni Party is unlikely to find spontaneous support among people. Its relevance, if any, hinges on an absence of political opposition, reports Riyaz Wani

Altaf Bukhari displaying party flag at the launch of his party. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In an interview to Kashmir Life, Apni Party leader Altaf Bukhari proudly expressed his admiration for the former J&K Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. Bakshi, he said, is the creator of the modern Kashmir.  “He brought the medical college, roads and schools. What did he not bring,” Bukhari said. He continued that Bakshi was buried at Khankah-i-Moula where lakhs of people prayed for him, unlike other leaders whose graves had to be guarded. This was in an apparent reference to the National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah whose mausoleum at Hazratbal is being protected by J&K Police for the past three decades.

Bukhari prayed that he also get the stature of Bakshi. Considering that in Kashmir’s popular discourse Bakshi’s name is synonymous with the betrayal of Kashmir cause, Bukhari’s owning him up represents a marked shift in the Kashmir’s political morality in the wake of the revocation of the Article 370 which granted Jammu and Kashmir its autonomous status within India. True, Bakshi’s legitimization goes with the politics espoused by Bukhari: it represents a complete break with the acceptable political narrative in Kashmir. This politics is about unapologetic espousal of New Delhi’s line on Kashmir. It can also be said that New Delhi has outsourced its Kashmir line to local actors. This way of looking at Bukhari’s politics doesn’t make him an entirely independent actor.

That said, Bukhari will draw a lot of political attention if protected from the challenge from the established political parties like National Conference and the PDP. But this would be easier said than done. Even if the top leaders continue to be incarcerated, the parties can still take part in political activities sooner or later. And also participate in elections.

Release of Dr Farooq Abdullah has further altered the dynamics of the situation. On Friday, in a surprise move, J&K administration ordered the release of Abdullah. It is not clear how long will it be before he resumes his political activity. And what will be its nature? Will he take on an antagonistic line towards Centre as can be expected considering his party’s long-standing political position on Article 370 or will he be more restrained in pressing his demand? These are the questions whose answers may come in the days to come. Abdullah can also choose to be reconciliatory as has been the general drift of his politics – albeit, he can intermittently be unpredictable and temperamental.

However, talking to reporters soon after his freedom, Abdullah refused to say anything against Centre. He made noises that could not have put him at loggerheads with the union government. However, Abdullah promised to speak on Kashmir situation in parliament. Incidentally, a week ago, the foreign minister S Jaishankar had visited Kashmir. It is not clear whether he met Abdullah or not. Before that former RAW chief  A S Dulat had reportedly called on Abdullah.

Abdullah‘s release also comes in the backdrop of the launch of Apni Party. It would be interesting, how Abdullah approaches Bukhari’s party that is believed to have been created as an alternative to the NC and the PDP.

However, if the other senior leaders continue to be in detention, it is unlikely that the political activities of the NC and the PDP will pick up anytime soon. For the past seven months, none of these parties has held a rally, a public outreach program or even a press conference.

Ditto for separatist groups. Almost all their leadership and the activists have been jailed. They have thus struggled to even issue a call for a hartal, let alone hold protests, otherwise their regular activity.

The consequent political vacuum has needed filling. But with a political representation that gave voice to the aspirations and the grievances of the people and certainly not with the one that is seen to represent New Delhi in Kashmir. More so, at a time when New Delhi has divested Kashmir of its cherished special status.

Apni Party has been set up to fill this vacuum. But going by its politics, Apni Party is unlikely to find spontaneous support among people. Its relevance, if any, under the circumstances hinges on an absence of political opposition and which New Delhi has so far ensured by denying space to the established parties across the mainstream-separatist divide.

But the centre’s role has its limitations. It cannot prevent the other parties from participating in the polls, which will be the real test for Apni Party.  And should the other parties contest the future elections, as looks likely, Apni Party may struggle to do well? Although some of its leaders like Dilawar Mir, Ghulam Hassan Mir do enjoy a strong support base in their respective constituencies, a conspicuous pro-New Delhi tilt of Bukhari’s party may not translate into votes.  That is unless centre resorts to wholesale rigging of polls, a la 1987 style when a Congress government at the centre facilitated manipulation of election in favour of National Conference. Muslim United Front which otherwise had appeared favourite to sweep the polls ended up winning just four seats. But it may not be easy or advisable for the centre under the BJP to go that far this time.

So Bukhari’s survival will depend on developing his political credibility, chances of which look moot. It will be a challenge for him to make his politics relate to the people. The general population in Kashmir seems still unwilling to let go of Article 370. Apparently, there’s still no space for a pro-India politics which doesn’t acknowledge or seeks to address the political conflict in Kashmir.

So, one would wonder what is it that motivates Bukhari and the other leaders of his party, if eventually, they don’t get to enjoy power? More so, when they have staked everything to be on the good side of New Delhi at a time when people are angry about its decision to abrogate Article 370. It is not an easy question to answer.

Altaf Bukhari with party members addressing media at the party launch. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

It, however, doesn’t still mean that Bukhari’s efforts are doomed to fail. They may well come to nought. But as long as centre protects his politics from any opposition by keeping the established political leaders under detention, Bukhari is certain to draw a lot of attention if not make himself immediately relevant. This makes the coming weeks and months very interesting in Kashmir. It remains to be seen if Bukhari and his team can create a space for an alternative political narrative in Kashmir, a job they have taken upon themselves to accomplish.

In past, there have been examples of the parties like that of Bukhari being floated but not finding support among people. One such party Democratic Party Nationalist was launched by Ghulam Hassan Mir in 2008 but there is no trace of it since, albeit, Mir, the party’s lone leader continues to be around and has now joined Apni Party. Similarly, Kashmir usually sees the emergence of fly-by-night parties on the eve of elections, but the moment elections are over, these parties vanish. Will Apni Party buck this trend? For now, one can only wait and watch.

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