The Kashmiri businessman , Syed Altaf Bukhari was a member of the PDP-BJP coalition government that was formed in Kashmir five years ago. In that government, originally led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and post his death by his daughter Mehbooba Mufti , the PDP leader Bukhari was in charge of the education and finance portfolios.
What subsequently happened to that government is public knowledge. That political experiment could not have a completion and crashed midway. And it was in continuation of that event that the Modi government in its second term repealed the special status of Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories with all attendant actions. These arbitrary actions of the Centre led to protests causing large-scale confrontations.
With such steps of the Centre, the Valley once again came under military boots and communication channels including internet facility remained blocked for months. Political leaders including former chief ministers, who protested against the Centre, are either in jail or under house arrest. As a leading figure of PDP, Altaf Bukhari should also have been seen among those who protested, but that face was conspicuous by absence. Ipso facto, he was not arrested.
Bukhari, who tactically abstained from any move that would embarrass the powers-that-be in Delhi, is now again in the news. He has declared the formation of a new party that is an alternative for the 'narror nationalism' and 'extremist voices' of parties like PDP and National Conference. And he has named that party 'Jammu Kashmir Apni Party' (JKAP).
The party's chief goal, as spelt out by the chief Altaf Bukhari himself, is to build a bridge of friendship between Jammu-Kashmir and the central government, replacing the mistrust between the two. He describes the party as a 'regional party working with national outlook'. The party policy, as Bukhari explains it, is that whichever be the party ruling the Centre, the Valley should exist as a region under its control. And that is the reason he has no issues with the abrogation of Kashmir's special rights in Article 370; he is also of the view that it need not be restored.
However, at least as a feeble effort to bring Kashmir back to the path of peace and stability, the party should have won some acceptance. That not only did not happen, but even virulent criticisms have been raised against it in signs that the people of Kashmir view such moves of Bukhari with no small suspicion.
At the launch of the party in Srinagar, the person Bukhari compared himself to was Kashmir's former prime minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. He probably recalled Bakshi as the man who brought Kashmir closer to India officially. But Bukhari forgot the historical fact that the man whom the people of the region affectionately called 'Lion of Kashmir' was Sheikh Abdullah and it was after Sheikh was incarcerated that Bakshi made his moves. In other words, Bukhari treated Bakshi who had not imbibed the will of the people of Kashmir, as his leader. Now it may be an accident of history that Bukhari has formed his party in the context of detention of most of the political desendants of Sheikh Abdullah.
It is no less significant that the only party in the region that declared support to 'Apni Party' is the BJP. Even before the party's formation was declared, Bukhari had held parleys with BJP leaders including Ram Madhav. And BJP leaders have made it clear too that the party would lend all support to his party. Hence the reading that Apni Party will become a B-team of the BJP in Jammu-Kashmir. All the major political parties of the Valley are dormant in the current situation, thus creating a void that Apni Party is hastening to fill.
And the people who lead the party are the second line leaders of PDP, National Conference and Congress, who are not in detention. It is notable that the 50 or so leaders who attended the function of the party's inauguration were ex-MLAs and ministers of these parties. That is to say, Bukhari's second coming is by luring the remaining leadrs of the de-activated parties. And who has any doubts that the ones who presided over this horse-trading are none other than the party ruling the Centre?
BJP is firing two shots in this game: one, to capture power through Apni Party in the elections to be held next year. Two, a public relations campaign to ratify the Centre's Kashmir action, which was criticised even at international forums. In short, Bukhari's party is not just another party among the hundreds of parties registered with the Election Commission. But in the changed circumstances, it is one that will have a major role in determining the fate of a region . The key question is whether that will be a role in sync with the soul of Jammu-Kashmir.