Sunday 07 March 2020 will be a very significant date in the short history of newly formed Union Territory (UT) of Jammu & Kashmir (JK). On this day, the first major political development took place post the reorganisation of the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir State announced on 05 August 2019 with the abrogation of Article 370 and formation of Jammu & Kashmir UT on 31 October of the same year. The intransigent attitude of the
Gupkar Gang (Group of politicians living on Gupkar Road) to accept the new reality that separatism and terrorism would be things of the past and also put a curtain on dynastic politics had brought to a standstill political activity, the heartbeat of democracy.
The indifference shown by the Kashmiris towards the Gupkar Gang had not only taken them by surprise but also conveyed a message that the “awam” (public) in Kashmir is fed up with their style of opportunistic parties bordering separatism and wanted to be a part and parcel of modern progressive India. With peace
prevailing all over the Valley, their wishes of ‘setting valley on fire’ were dashed to the ground. Furthermore, their expectations of widespread protests against their detention not materialising not only shook them hard but also made them more adamant and uncompromising, fearing a public backlash if they were freed to face the awam.
The awam was hoping for new leadership to emerge to fill the political vacuum thus created. The people were hoping that old order will yield place to the new and fresh faces who are realists and progressive would emerge on the horizon but complexities of Kashmiri politics prevented that from happening.
Under that scenario, the initiative was seized by a group of old politicians who were willing to accept the new reality and move away from soft separatism thus kindling a new hope among the awam which was getting disillusioned by the day due to widening gap between the public and the administration.
The administration’s attempt to devolve power to grass-root leadership through the development of PRIs has failed to yield the desired results due to various reasons. Though Bharatiya Janata Party continued to raise the issues of public interest, the people were feeling the pinch of a viable alternative.
Thus, formation of a new political party Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) under the stewardship of ex-PDP minister Altaf Bukhari.
On the face of it, the new party is an amalgamation of leaders who have parted ways with the parties led by the intransigent Gupkar Gang. The biggest sufferers are the disintegrated People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the sinking Sonia Congress.
Hence the sobriquet “Old Wine in a New Bottle”. A ‘sangam’ (confluence) of differing ideologies, beliefs and loyalties, JKAP has yet to come out with a clear cut ideology which would guide its future course and survival since no political party can survive, merely with the assurance of raising the current issues faced by the awam in the changed scenario post 05 August.
Nonetheless, it is a very bold move under the present circumstances and has already sent shockwaves across the rival political circles with termite eaten Congress and dynastic National Conference terming it as a handiwork of BJP. The easiest way to pass the buck without carrying out any introspection within their own houses which are disease-ridden.
The party has read well and understood the ground realities with a promise to move forward on the path of development by putting all the contentious and fractious issues on the backburner.
The new party has the advantage, to begin with, but it would need political acumen, personal sacrifices, and matured leadership to turn this advantage into a successful combination with wide acceptance. It would need to avoid being labeled as yet another Kashmir centric party by adopting a holistic approach rising above the regional and religious considerations.
It appears to be a herculean task going by the present composition of the party because most of the heavyweights belong to Kashmir and the leaders who have joined from Jammu do not enjoy the same status. Most of the ex-legislators have their own pockets of influence and hence will ensure the party’s penetration among the awam.
The party has chosen a few issues as priority issues and flagged them to be raised on behalf of the people. Two of the flagged issues are non-issues and hence will serve no purpose except to keep the people amused temporarily. The reversion to Statehood which is on the top of the agenda is a non-issue as it has been repeatedly saying that the existing arrangement is temporary with a view to fight terrorism, separatism, and widespread corruption.
Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, the architect of the reorganisation, have assured the nation on more than one occasion that the statehood would be restored as soon as normalcy is achieved. To keep its promise alive, the Union Government has ensured separate awards by the 14th and 15th National Finance Commissions for Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh UTs as a departure from the routine practice of combined awards to the Home Ministry in respect of the UTs.
Similarly, the issue regarding the domicile laws for the people of the UT is a non-issue because the union Home Ministry is already working towards that end and the announcement is expected sooner than later. It is the duty of every government to safeguard the cultural and economic rights of its people and
hence the present government will certainly be working towards that end. Fortunately, the party has not set its eyes on early elections and have given adequate hints of it not expecting the elections to be held in the next one to two years till the process of fresh delimitation is completed.
The fact that the party admits the need to meet “rational aspirations” of the people without promising them “moons and stars” is a very welcome step but one only hopes that it sticks to its promise in letter and script. The wane of Jammu & Kashmir politics has been the “wada khilafi” (broken promises) made by the Gupkar Gang that led to the disillusionment of the youth and was one of the causes of the emergence of “gun culture” in Kashmir.
With the promise of acknowledging the awam as the real stakeholders the newly floated party is making a big departure from the prevailing cult of personality-driven politics. Another noble thought but needs to be watched as the days pass by since the actions will speak louder than the words.
Altaf Bukhari, in his press conference, also mentioned about Jammu & Kashmir Bank and it being “converted into sub-office of the Anti-Corruption Bureau”. Here, one wonders if the businessman in him has overtaken the righteous politician image that he perceives to build.
The people are very happy and elated by the fact that Jammu & Kashmir Bank has been snatched from becoming a personal fiefdom of the Gupkar Gang and is now being reformed to become a true bank of the people. They want the corrupt to be exposed, nepotism, and favoritism prevailing in the Bank to finish an awam be the real beneficiary of the Bank. Bukhari and his party will have to come out with a clear stand on this.
Thus, the major issue left with the party immediately is to focus on the development and economic well-being of the UT. It is heartening that he has chosen to draw aspiration from Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, whose tenure at the helm of state’s affairs can undoubtedly be termed as the Golden Era of economic development of the erstwhile state.
Bakshi not only avoided discriminatory politics but also did not allow the rise of fundamentalists in the Valley by encouraging and promoting the Sufi culture. Hope JKAP rises to those ideals and contributes towards the return of peace, harmony, and co-existence, the hall mark of the Bakshi era. The party must come out with its vision document at the earliest. It should also formulate a clear cut road map for economic revival with alternatives and options rather than sheer rhetoric.
Old is gold is what the new dispensation needs to prove if they want to win the hearts and minds of the people of Jammu & Kashmir UT. Bukhari and his team will do well to remember that there is always resistance to change and change management should form a key strategy in their entire formulation because the old guard will leave no stone unturned to portray them as opportunists and mouth-piece of Delhi.
Brig Anil Gupta is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security, and strategic analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com