Srinagar: Former J&K minister and Apni Party president Syed Altaf Bukhari said on Thursday that his party is not averse to forming an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form a government in Jammu & Kashmir when elections are held.
Bukhari’s statement comes in the backdrop of the delimitation process and revision of the electoral rolls being completed in J&K, which paves the way for the next logical step of the Election Commission of India announcing the poll schedule for the region.
“We are waiting for elections and people are also eagerly waiting for people’s government and I am hopeful elections are only months away,” said Bukhari,who has served as minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government which fell in 2018 after the BJP withdrew its support.
The Apni Party, which was launched by Bukhari in March 2020, was the first mainstream party from Kashmir to reach out to the BJP-led central government after the August 2019 abrogation of Article 370 that gave special privileges to the region. The outreach was significant since other established J&K parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), opposed the Union government’s move and have since shown no signs of allying with them.
Bukhari added: “Let’s be practical. No party in J&K will be in a position to win the maximum number of seats in UT to form the government. I am open to forging an alliance with the BJP… PDP and the NC had alliances with the BJP in the past, so why make this an issue now. Let us be open to it.”
In August 2019, Parliament passed laws effectively doing away with the special status granted to J&K, and split the region into two Union Territories — J&K, with a legislature, and Ladakh, without. In March 2020, a delimitation commission was set up to finalise the UT’s new electoral map, marking the first step for elections in the region since its special status was scrapped.
On May 5 last year, the commission presented its final order, earmarking 43 seats to the Hindu-majority Jammu region and 47 to Muslim-majority Kashmir – making up a total of 90 seats for the Union Territory’s assembly, up from the current strength of 83.
Out of the seven new seats added, six were allotted to Jammu and one to Kashmir. Earlier, Jammu had 37 seats and Kashmir 46. This brings the Kashmir representation down to 52.2% from 55.4% of the total seats, and takes the Jammu representation up to 47.8% from 44.6%. The exercise was carried out on the basis of the 2011 Census, which put the population of J&K at 12.5 million, with 56.2% in Kashmir and 43.8% in Jammu.
The delimitation process, however, has been widely criticised by mainstream political parties in J&K, with both the NC and the PDP terming it an “exercise to disempower people of one region”. The NC leadership has also been accusing Bukhari, J&K Peoples Conference president Sajad Gani Lone and former Union minister and CM Ghulam Nabi Azad of being the “A, B and C teams of the BJP”.
“I am a politician who believes in telling the truth to people. If by saying that our party will have an alliance with the BJP we will lose some percentage of votes let it be. But we can never go against reality,” said Bukhari, when asked about the criticism from other mainstream parties.
Bukhari, who has remained a legislator from the Amira Kadal constituency of Srinagar (now renamed Chanpora), has chosen Uri as his second constituency. On November 12 last year, the party held a massive show of strength in Srinagar.
BJP state spokesperson, Altaf Thakur, termed Bukhari’s announcement a welcome step. “We welcome this. We are open for an alliance with any like minded party in J&K. And our party will emerge as single largest party in J&K and form the government in the UT.”
PDP’s additional spokesman, Rafeeq Rather, said it is known to all that Bukhari is sponsored by the BJP and he is seen as their man in Kashmir to play a spoiler to majority vote, which is in favour of PAGD constituents.
“The important thing is that people have made their mind to defeat these forces in incoming elections, be it panchayat or assembly polls,” he said.