Srinagar: The ‘Gupkar Declaration’ is local parties’ means to grab power in Jammu and Kashmir, said Altaf Bukhari, a former senior leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the current chief of newly-formed Apni Party.
In an interview to ThePrint, Bukhari said politicians in Kashmir are “hoodwinking” the people and “creating a smokescreen” by demanding the restoration of Article 370.
The Modi government had on 5 August last year revoked the provision that provided Jammu and Kashmir its special status under the Indian Constitution.
“These people met on 3 August and said we will protect Article 370, which was removed two days later. So the resolution is over. Yes, the Apni Party is for 370 restoration, but only the Supreme court or the Parliament can do that. No regional party can do that,” said Bukhari.
“They (parties) are hoodwinking people and creating a smokescreen by demanding Article 370. Gupkar Declaration is a means to grab power and nothing else,” he added.
The declaration to protect the special status of J&K was signed by all major regional parties ahead of the revocation of Article 370.
During the interview, Bukhari claimed that the mainstream parties knew about the decision to revoke the special status beforehand. He also spoke about the allegations of him working for the Centre, his party’s plans to protect the rights of J&K’s people, and elections in the state.
‘Only mad person will think of changing Kashmir demography’
Talking about the 5 August 2019 decision, Bukhari claimed the National Conference (NC) and PDP leaderships were well aware of the move.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had conveyed this to the NC when a party delegation including president Farooq Abdullah, vice president Omar Abdullah and Anantnag MP Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi met him days before the Article 370 was scrapped, he claimed.
Bukhari made these comments while talking about a meeting he had with Modi, where the latter assured him that the Centre does not intend to change the demography of J&K.
“The PM told me only a mad person will think of changing the demography of Kashmir. ‘Is Kashmir part of Pakistan? Why should we change the demography of Kashmir then?’” he said.
“Our detractors at Gupkar say that they also went (to PM) and were told Article 370 won’t be removed. But from what I know they (NC) were very clearly told that Article 370 will go. Did the PM issue any statement that he will not remove Article 370? No,” he claimed.
Omar Abdullah had denied this charge earlier.
“The PDP leadership also knew. Who will believe that former CM’s won’t know?” Bukhari, one of the most senior politicians at PDP before he parted ways last year, added.
Asked if he knew that such a decision was going to be taken, Bukhari said, “Yes we had some idea that something is going to happen but honestly we didn’t know what it was exactly. About removal of 35A, we were 100 per cent sure even when we were in government. We had told Mehbooba ji let’s modify Article 35A as it is against Islam. Islam provides property rights to women, but she didn’t listen,” he said.
Asked about her former colleague’s continuing detention, Bukhari said, “Mehbooba ji should be released. A lot of people say that she is staying at her home, that she is in a presidential palace but prison is a prison. Our politics may be different but she should be released. She is a noble soul.”
‘Delhi decides things’
Bukhari, who held multiple ministerial portfolios during the PDP-BJP alliance government in Jammu and Kashmir, also questioned why his party members were being called “agents of Delhi”.
His comments came as the formation and subsequent activity of the Apni Party attracted a lot of criticism, since its inception took place when senior Valley politicians, including three former chief ministers, were under detention and political activity remained suspended.
“They want people to believe that Apni Party members are agents of Delhi but tell me, since 1947, who has not been an agent of Delhi? I am not accusing them of anything but truth is New Delhi is the seat of power. Delhi decides things,” he said.
“Who decided to make Sheikh Abdullah emergency administrator in 1947? Who decided that he became chief minister in 1975 when Congress was in power? Who decided alliances between NC and Congress, PDP and Congress and then PDP and BJP? Till yesterday, they were saying PDP is the creation of the Intelligence Bureau,” Bukhari added.
He said when he launched the party, nine out of 10 people in the Valley distrusted it and the one who would offer support would do so based on speculation that “New Delhi is with us”. “Now the situation is at least four out of 10 people in Kashmir support us and the numbers will grow.”
The Kejriwal model
Talking about his party, Bukhari said he wants to fashion it on Arvind Kejriwal’s successful Aam Aadmi Party model in Delhi. He said the Apni Party is the only grouping that truly intends to work for the welfare of people in Jammu and Kashmir by protecting their rights to jobs and land.
“Unfortunately, National Conference is responsible for selling our lands. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah made modifications to the Land Grants Act and started to give land (to non-locals) on lease. We can’t reverse that,” he said.
“Even now it’s fine to give land to industries on lease but even if an inch of agricultural land is given to non-domicile, we will fight it out on the streets and not at Gupkar,” said Bukhari.
He also said his party was instrumental in bringing the domicile law for jobs earlier this year, and intends to bring a domicile law for land through which non-domiciles will not be allowed to buy agricultural land. Rights to land and government jobs were restricted to locals before the scrapping of Article 370.
Bukhari also said his party plans to fight elections whenever they are held.
“We don’t know yet whether elections will take place before giving J&K statehood or after it. It is too premature to say that but we know that elections are the only means to solve the problems of common man. People complain that bureaucracy isn’t listening to them. So elections are important and we will fight them whenever held,” said Bukhari.
He added that his party will not lie to the people and make false promises of bringing back Article 370.
“For Altaf Bukhari, power is not paramount. I may not succeed but I will tell people the truth and create space in their hearts for me. The truth is that Kashmir will never go to Pakistan or to China, the truth is Kashmir is going to be with India and our priority is to protect our lands and jobs,” Bukhari said.
“Apni Party’s biggest challenger in Jammu will be BJP and in Kashmir it will be the conglomerate of all these parties. They will fight the elections for sure because if they don’t their existence will be wiped out. They will plan to stand for elections together so that they will not accuse each other of compromising on the positions they have taken,” he said.
“They can’t make the election as a referendum on whether we are with India or we are independent. It will be an election on achievable issues,” he added.