Former minister and ex-PDP leader Altaf Bukhari has found his hero in Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi, a former prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who is widely seen as a “traitor” by Kashmiris. But Bukhari is not too concerned about what people will say as he sets out to form a new political party, likely to be named ‘Apni Party’ (Our Party). The timing is crucial—Kashmir is in the midst of a communication blockade and most mainstream political leaders have been in jail since J&K was stripped of its special status and bifurcated into two Union territories. “If some people derisively calls me a Bakshi, I will treat it as a compliment,” Bukhari tells Outlook. The new party is likely to be formally announced within a fortnight.
Historically, Kashmiri political parties, especially the National Conference, see Bakshi as the one who betrayed Sheikh Abdullah, J&K’s first PM. Bakshi served as deputy prime minister between 1947 and 1953 when Sheikh was the PM. After the arrest of Abdullah on August 9, 1953, Bakshi took over as PM, a post he held till 1964; during this period, Sheikh was in jail. Bakshi was the longest serving PM of the state and it was during his rule that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India was ratified by the assembly.
“Some people are telling me and my friends, who are you and what is your stand? I am telling them we have a certain roadmap and if tomorrow (the) three former chief ministers are released, we would follow them if they come up with a better road map,” says Bukhari. “There is yearning for restoration of the statehood to Jammu and Kashmir. Why shouldn’t we raise this issue?” In October last year, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav had said that political parties should raise demands like restoration of statehood.
For many, Bukhari’s move comes as no surprise as the BJP government at the Centre is believed to be trying to prop up a new set of Kashmiri leaders to sideline the likes of former chief ministers Omar Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP), both of whom have been in detention along with Farooq Abdullah since Article 370 was revoked in August last year. Most of the people in Bukhari’s new party are former PDP members. NC spokesman Imran Nabi says that speculation and rumours always prove right in Kashmir. He says there was speculation about a new party emerging with the Centre’s blessing. “We are not against the formation of a new party. Everyone has the right to form a political party. Let us see their manifesto and whether they will be able to dispel the current rumours about them,” he adds.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar