After a landslide victory in the recently held assembly polls in Punjab, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is eyeing to find its root in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K). The party leaders have decided to field its candidates on all the assembly seats in the upcoming elections in the erstwhile state, The Kashmir Walla has learnt.

On 8 April, two former Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Jammu, from the National Panthers Party, along with hundreds of elected members from the panchayat, Srinagar Municipal Councilors, Block Development Council (BDC), and Development Council (DDC) joined the party from J-K. 

Both the MLAs, along with some DDC members, flew to New Delhi to be welcomed into the party fold by Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. This comes as a shot in the arm for the AAP, which is currently trying to morph itself into a national party before the 2024 parliamentary elections.

AAP Jammu and Kashmir co-in charge Syed Salahuddin, a New Delhi-based politician, told The Kashmir Walla that the party would be contesting all the seats in the upcoming assembly polls.

“We are waiting for the delimitation process’s outcome. Once the final blueprint will come, the party will field its candidates accordingly,” Salahuddin said in a phone interview. “We are currently in the process of reorganizing the party in the region.”

The delimitation panel is likely to finalize the draft by 11 May. As per the proposals of the panel, J-K will have 90 assembly constituencies out of which seven segments will be reserved for SCs and nine for STs.

In plans for J-K, Salahuddin further claimed that the AAP has “several prominent leaders from the Congress, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC) and Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP)” in its kitty, who is “showing keen interest to join the party”.

Kashmir and politics of AAP

After the abrogation of J-K’s limited autonomy on 5 August 2019, AAP chief Kejriwal praised the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) move and vehemently supported the bill in the Rajya Sabha.

“We hope this will bring peace and development in the state,” Kejriwal had said. Kejriwal’s stand drew flak from Kashmir’s unionists who criticized the AAP for standing by the government’s decision which they believed was unconstitutional.

However, now as they eye J-K politics, Salahuddin said that supporting the 5 August 2019 decision was “conditional” to bringing development in the erstwhile state. “However, the BJP failed to do it,” he added, “Now, the matter is currently in the Supreme Court and its decision will be binding on all.”

After the apparent endorsement of ‘The Kashmir Files’, a fictional movie based on the 1990 killings of Kashmiri Pandits in the region, by the central government, Kejriwal took a jibe at the producers. “Why are you asking us to make [The Kashmir Files] tax-free. Well, put it on YouTube it will be free,” Kejriwal had said in the Delhi assembly.

Kejriwal drew flak over his remarks from the BJP and other right-wing leaders but his remarks indicate something else, said Zafar Choudhary, a Jammu-based political analyst and senior journalist. “In 2019, Kejriwal has endorsed the abrogation of Article 370. But, now his remarks indicate that he is also reaching out to people of Kashmir as well,” he said.

An alternative in Jammu?

Balwant Singh Mankotia, former National Panthers Party president and two times MLA from Udhampur, told The Kashmir Walla that joining the AAP is to create strong opposition to keep the democracy afloat in J-K.

“All the regional parties in J-K have surrendered before the centre. We need an opposition who will be the true representatives of the people,” Mankotia said in a phone interview. “Over the years, all these political parties have divided us between the region and religion lines.”

Mankotia said that he was impressed by Kejriwal’s developmental plank in Delhi and Punjab, which his party is keen to implement in J-K as well.

On 31 March, the AAP held a roadshow in the Doda district of the Chenab valley, which is considered the home turf of the veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. 

On the representatives and joining the party, Salahuddin said: “As has been the policy of the party, we are making sure that whosoever will join the party should be corrupt free. The party will never entertain any politicians who are tainted, irrespective of their stature in politics.”

Choudhary, the political analyst, said that AAP’s entry into J-K politics would make a “difference” in the electoral arithmetics in the upcoming assembly polls.

“In Jammu, people always have an inclination towards a national-based party. People look at them as a duty towards the national interest,” he said. “Initially it was Congress and now the BJP.”

Choudhary said that with National Conference (NC) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) politics revolving around the restoration of Article 370 and the Congress completely defunct, it leaves a space for the AAP to appear as an alternative against the BJP.

“There is a baseless assessment in the country that all Hindus like the BJP. This is not the case. We have seen it in Kerala, West Bengal, and Maharashtra where BJP was defeated. So, the emergence of the AAP in Jammu will give people [who dislike BJP] an alternative to vote for,” Choudhary further added.

Choudhary said as per the current estimation AAP can cause a significant dent in BJP’s vote share, adding that the Kejriwal-led party would be concentrating on Hindu-dominated areas like Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur, and Reasi.

“I don’t think that in the beginning, AAP will touch the Muslim dominant districts. Their target will be Dalits, Jats, and Sikhs as these three communities are disenchanted with the BJP,” Choudhary said.

In the Kashmir division, Choudhary said it is too early to predict AAP’s ability to win any seats in the Valley.

Shafat Gaffer Mir, a corporator from Srinagar’s Batamaloo Ward-21, who was also present during the ‘joining ceremony’ in New Delhi, said that AAP politics is “different” from the rest of the political parties.

Mir, who was earlier associated with the Congress, said they were approached by the BJP also but they chose AAP for their sincerity and honest politics.

“There are around 32 councilors, who have joined the AAP. We are organizing a mass joining event after Eid in Srinagar,” said Mir. The AAP is also planning to contest polls in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat which is going to polls in December 2022.

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