Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) that was formed nearly six months after the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and division of the erstwhile state into two Union territories on 5th of August 2019 has been accused of lobbying with the central government of India with regard to the decision against the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Senior leader of the party Ghulam Hassan Mir in an exclusive interview with The Kashmir Walla responds to the accusations and gives details about the need for the formation of JKAP just after the August 5 decision when most of the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir were either languishing in makeshift jails or under house detention.
There are accusations on you that you change political parties frequently in quest for power. How do you see it?
GHM: See, Firstly there has been no party that has not changed its stance and there is leadership crisis in political parties and those who want to do something cannot be enslaved. Taking the situation into consideration they move ahead. Politics is about power and once you are in power you can do something for the society. The Jammu Kashmir Apni Party came into existence after abrogation of Article 370 as people were worried about demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir. It was after some of the politicians [of different political parties] were released from detention we met and identified small issues and met the then Governor of Jammu and Kashmir where we raised these issues and the issues of people who were under detention since August 5. This led to expulsion of different politicians from different parties as they [parties] could not bear it. So we were forced to form a platform which led to the formation of the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP). After that we went to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister [of India].
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) was formed to seek restoration of the special status of the erstwhile state. Why didn’t you join them?
Tell me what is the mandate of politicians? Their job is to immediately solve immediate issues. Ask them who were jailed then did not they approach us for this release. Ask youth who made their release possible? The economy of the region was dead . We are the people who did not wail on the situation rather made arrangements to contain the loss. If we had not come forward our land and jobs would not have got protection. We lost Article 370 because of the regional parties of Jammu and Kashmir. We represented the aspirations of the people and did not remain spectators of the situation. We tried to solve the issues of people and youth. If some [political parties] have long term projects they can fight for that but our party will always focus on current issues.
JKAP demanded full reservation of land and jobs for people of J&K, but the demand was not fulfilled entirely as there has been no constitutional guarantee for it. How would you respond to this?
GHM: I am sorry for your journalism and the cynicism here (in Kashmir). Kashmiris have always been ditched by this. Let us suppose one has made 100 demands among them only 50 have been fulfilled, will you call it success or defeat? Domicile law was formed and now [after our demand] 100 percent residents of Jammu and Kashmir get jobs but you would not appreciate it. 100 percent agricultural land of Jammu and Kashmir has been reserved for its residents and land for industrial purposes can be leased out for only forty years. What do you want other than this?
Now that our demands have been fulfilled regarding land and jobs, our demand has increased as we demand constitutional guarantees on it and we are working on it.
JKAP is accused of using government machinery in trading politicians from different parties. How do you respond to this accusation?
Those who want to lay allegations on us, let them do. Show us evidence. If you talk to our colleagues in the party they will complain that the administration does not listen to them, how is it possible that they (administration) will get used by us? It is common that losers have nothing to do other than making false allegations.
Do you remember that post abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir PM Modi while referring to certain political parties said that Dynastic politics will end here. In the recently held All Party Meet with the PM those parties were among invitees. How do you see it?
In politics there are no permanent friends and foes. It was the need of the hour as politics is always situational. These regional parties are the ones who change goal posts so frequently and those who are still connected with these parties are traitors concerning change of goalposts by these parties. The change of goalposts by the political parties here (in Jammu and Kashmir) is responsible for the disorder in the youth. But my question is if the PM lays accusations, these are mere accusations, people will decide the fate of the political parties. My view is that if political parties here have done something wrong, they have also made big contributions.
Delimitation in the entire country will take place in 2026 but in J&K it is being done 5 years early. People accuse it as an attempt to change the demography of the region. How does JKAP see it?
I am not a representative of the Government of India here as it is a question that is directly connected to them. But as a political analyst I would say that as per J&K Reorganisation Act it is necessary to increase 7 Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. Either you want to wait till 2026 and stay without elections. Do Kashmiris want to remain without their own elected government? Delimitation is a prerequisite for elections. When I interact with the common people they want restoration of Article 370 but before that they want their own government and empowerment.
What concerns did your party raise with the Delimitation commission in the recent meeting?
I was the spokesperson from our [Apni Party] side, I told them that there are speculations that delimitation has been done and reaching out to people and politicians of Jammu and Kashmir is a mere eyewash. I told them justice should be done. Those who have boycotted the commission did not put their concerns with the committee that makes their case weak and then they start complaining. They should have raised their concerns with the committee. We told the committee that districts should be the main focus and it should be identified that which districts qualify for delimitation as per the population of 2011 and they should be delimited and those who do not qualify should not be delimited.
We also represented Kashmiri Pandits as they are an important part of the Kashmir division. In the 2011 census they were counted in Jammu rather than in their respective places in Kashmir. We demanded that they should be counted in the population of their native places.
As many political parties of Jammu and Kashmir have been demanding restoration of Article 370,35A including statehood. To what JKAP has restricted its demand?
From the very beginning JKAP’s stand is clear that the decision of August 5 was against the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. No one wanted the decision to be taken. We wish the decision is reversed but there are only two ways to reverse the decision i.e. Parliament of India or Supreme court of India. In parliament there are 543 members and if all the members of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh get united against the decision the number cannot exceed 6 and that is not going to help in restoration of Article 370, 35A. Now the other way is Supreme court and we wish that Honourable Judges get impressed by our argument and reverse the August 5 decision, I have told these parties [who seek restoration of the Article 370, 35A] to show us the roadmap for its restoration and way other than these two, we will come along with you. I am asking them to show me the way through which we can get the August 5 decision reversed, I will be the first person who will follow the track. When there is no way, no other option, then we have to do activities and navigate in the status quo. The space we are getting currently we need to work in it as we did in the last two years to get some respite for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Why could JKAP not perform well in District Development Council (DDC) elections despite having high expectations, the party secured only 12 seats?
The elections were conducted just some months after the Apni Party was formed and our party was like a new born baby and these age old regional parties had a large stake in the election. But I want to ask this Gupkar Alliance [an alliance of several political parties of J&K seeking restoration of Article 370, 35A] that nearly 50 independents won the election, where do they exist? They should have sweeped the election as they fought jointly. Despite being a new political party we have 37 DDC elected members among them 12 won on our ticket
JKAP is accused of horse trading of the DDC members. How would you respond to the allegation?
Let them accuse us. DDC members are still joining us. When they join us they [political parties] accuse us of purchasing them [DDC members] against money and when our members join them that is legal. I am not promoting horse trading or ‘switching parties’ but want them to introspect rather than accusing us.
Where does the Apni Party see itself in possible upcoming Assembly elections?
The party was formed on 8 March 2020 and since then for nearly one year due to COVID19 pandemic we could not reach out to ground workers. The other parties have a strong cadre on ground but their politics is dishonest and we are challenging them. We will prove to our mettle that we are on the right path.
I wish these parties had not wasted the two years for unachievable things. We would have got back statehood and elections would have been conducted. How much disempowered the majority of Jammu and Kashmir has been turned in is because of them and their policies. Those who are against the elections are the ones who want people of Jammu and Kashmir to remain disempowered forever.
Do you want that statehood to be restored prior to the Assembly election?
Yes. We have been taking up the issue on every platform. Our demand is that statehood be restored as early as possible before elections and the Apni party would be the happiest party but the decision is to be taken by the Government of India. If they do not do what can we do as there is nothing in our hands. The most we can do is to boycott elections, they (political parties) boycotted Municipal, Panchayat elections but who is the loser? It is we. The Apni Party does not believe in boycott politics and wants participation so that the right person gets elected.
How do you see JKPDP and some other political parties not meeting the delimitation committee?
This is a failure on their part to represent their viewpoint. This is not going to help. They are setting a wrong trend by propagating a boycott system. The system that is not on the side of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The interview has been condensed for clarity.