Seven months on and the politics in Kashmir is calm but not unstirred. Altaf Bukhari, a former education minister and Public Works Department minister has been in news – not for all good reasons.

The news of Mr. Bukhari leading a new political front has been around for long; arguably, his move is perceived as problematic because three former Chief Ministers, including his former boss at People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, remains under detention.

In January 2019, the PDP sacked Mr. Bukhari for “inspiring and leading dissent” within the party.

One of close relatives and another senior PDP leader, Mohammad Dilawar Mir held several meetings with former ministers including Hakeem Yasin and Ghulam Hassan Mir to launch another political party in the Valley headed by Mr. Bukhari. But he doesn’t like when someone calls it a “third-front”; he calls it a group of individuals “who came together to hold up agonized people of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K).”

The Kashmir Walla spoke to Mr. Bukhari about the ideas of his new political party, detention of other political contemporaries, and if he would fall in “New Delhi’s trap”? The excerpts of this interview have been edited for length and clarity.

What are you calling your new party? Tell us what is it like – what is the idea?

In the next few days, we will launch our new party, named: Apni Party. It is a commoners’ party and I have coined the name. The aim of the party is to give hope to hopeless people of Jammu and Kashmir and to work for the complete wellbeing and development of people. Our ultimate priority is to get back the special status and statehood.

What is your idea of shaping up mainstream politics in J-K, especially after the abrogation of Article 370 and removal of statehood?

We are not going to shape up mainstream politics; people form political parties and they will decide the course of action themselves. We will stand with people and address their problems accordingly. For us, power is not the intention; our aim is to fight for the restoration of statehood, release of political prisoners, and revival of autonomy.

Are you sure people will vote for you? What will be the manifesto of your party?

I do not see elections taking place within a year. We have plenty of time to reach common people and see their problems. This time, I’m concerned about the miseries of people. We voluntarily came up and discussed the agonies of people when all others political parties have turned silent.

If you win elections and become CM; can you draw parallels between Delhi and J-K, in context of lack of powers with Arvind Kejriwal [CM of Delhi]?

Isn’t Kejriwal a popular leader in Delhi, who has served his people and won the elections repeatedly? Positions do not matter; a political representative’s ability to perform development, resolve public issues, and easing out the burden of common man matters. What matters to me is not the chair but the service of people.

Why are you asking for the restoration of statehood?

We have lost much since 5 August. Our identity is lost and our state was downgraded into two Union Territories. Cannot we ask government of India to return our statehood? We would want to have some privilege and status for which we are fighting for.

Don’t you think Kashmir is a larger political dispute, and isn’t about poor roads, ill equipped hospitals, and unemployment?

Was this political problem resolved by anyone in the last seventy-two years? We had Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister here who was downgraded to Chief Minister. Was Sheikh sahib, as PM, able to resolve this dispute? I always think we should come out of this false hope and look for the next option.

So, what is the next option? Are you asking people to accept the August decision?

I never said that but I always find lack of options. If we cannot surrender then what is there to grab? Is anything left to pin our hopes on? Our special status is gone; our state cease to exist; and we need to make our representation strong to get back what we lost – especially after 5 August. Believe me – unless we push our efforts and represent our case before the Central government, no positive change will come. There will be no positive announcement unless we demand for it.

You seem to be following former Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. You want to be like him?

I have prayed to God to give me the strength of Bakshi sahib. You need to accept that he was the architect of modern Kashmir. Whatever premiere health facilities and educational institutions we have are because of his capability. Bakshi as Chief Minister is incomparable with other Chief Ministers in terms of delivering public service and development. Therefore, I feel it is a privilege to get the status of Bakshi.

Anti-India leaders say New Delhi has been using Kashmir’s mainstream political leaders like tissue papers; from the imprisonment of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to arrests of former CMs – Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti. In coming years do you see yourself falling in the same trap?

If you dedicate your life to people, no one will make you a tissue paper. Before accusing New Delhi, we need to look at the both side of the coin. I always believe that only people have power to elect leaders and when the time comes they can throw you out of power as well. It is a tragedy that during the time of grief, the major political parties like PDP [People’s Democratic Party] and NC [National Conference] are watching like mute spectators. It was the responsibility of these parties to stand up with the people and plead their case.

Your critics, including the leaders from various political parties, accuse you of thirst to become the CM. Do you want to become CM – by hook or crook?

I respect everyone’s opinion and I don’t feel sad over these accusations. I’m answerable to people and not these political parties. If these parties had a sense of public service, they would have initiated a process of reaching out to New Delhi and plead the case regarding the restoration of special status and statehood. I’m no contractor of people, but I cannot bear the pain of people either. I have approached New Delhi in order to offer my shoulder to the miseries of people.

But same critics also call you a black sheep; blame you for approaching New Delhi at a wrong time when other political parties are protesting and boycotting any negotiation with the Central government; and that you have joined hands to forget the unresolved political dispute.

Did people in J-K ever elect any political representative for resolving political problem? We are elected to perform the economic activities. Did any leader – right from Sheikh Abdullah to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed – ever settle political dispute of J-K? Everyone has been asking for plebiscite – was it ever implemented during all these years? Where should we go? Is going to Pakistan a solution? Let us not give people false hope. Let us rather work on the developmental fronts to bring prosperity and development in J-K.

Irfan Amin Malik is Reporting Fellow at The Kashmir Walla.

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