Finally, after more than a monthlong wait, Apni Party was launched on Sunday. And as expected, its leader Altaf Bukhari made politically correct noises, staying well short of demanding a reversal of the revocation of the Article 370 which granted J&K autonomy under India’s constitution. Instead, he chose to focus on what he termed as “achievable demands”, which includes statehood for J&K and domicile rights for land and government jobs. While these demands do resonate with people of J&K, a large section of population seems in no mood to let go of the semi-autonomous status enjoyed by the region under Article 370. So, it is likely that Bukhari’s party may initially find it difficult to relate to people.
With top leadership of the main regional parties like National Conference and the PDP under detention, Apni Party is likely to have a free run which it can use to its advantage. Should it want, it can hold rallies and initiate public outreach programs. Ditto for separatist groups. Almost all their leadership and the activists have been jailed. They have thus struggled to even issue a call for a hartal, let alone hold protests, otherwise their regular activity.
The consequent political vacuum certainly needed filling. And it is here that Apni Party has come handy to New Delhi. Its leaders are drawn from the PDP, the NC and the Congress. Some of the leaders like Dilawar Mir, Ghulam Hassan Mir and for that matter even Usmaan Majeed even command a commited section of support in their respective constituencies. But in their new avatar, it may be a challenge for them to find a spontaneous support for their politics. Unless they earn it, the relevance of Apni Party, under the circumstances hinges on an absence of a political opposition and which centre has so far ensured by denying space to the established parties across mainstream-separatist divide.
But there is a limit to centre’s role. For example, it cannot prevent the other parties from participating in the polls, which will be the real test for Apni Party. And should the other parties contest the future elections, as doesn’t look unlikely, Apni Party may not find itself up to the challenge. Although, some of its leaders do enjoy a strong support base in their respective constituencies, a perceived pro-New Delhi tilt of Bukhari’s party may not translate into votes. Ultimately, it depends on what kind of leadership does Bukhari demonstrate and how far the party can bring itself closer to the public sentiment. It will be a pretty uphill climb, going forward.
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