Feature

Troupe and Talisman of ‘Naya Kashmir’: BJP and its ‘B-Team’

Design Credit: Rounak Bhat.

Dal Lake might have played a spoilsport in their “Jashne democracy” ride, but the ruling party and its alleged proxy are making desperate inroads through the ongoing DDC polls to ‘normalize’ the August 5, 2019 verdict.

“Auzibillahi Minashaitan Nirajeem
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim”

[I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Satan,
in the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful]

Reciting the holy verses, this Personal Security Officer (PSO) loaded his rifle. Seated at the front seat of the car, he turned to look at me. “The thing is,” he then said, placing the rifle on his lap, “you got to be on your toes all the time… especially during mornings like these.”

This was the morning of November 29, Sunday; I was in the car, seated next to the J&K Panchayat Secretary of the Bhartiya Janta Party in the back, one of his PSOs on the right to me, and the other in front. The air inside was oddly tensed; now I am aware of the kind of hostility and threat a BJP worker bears, but here, the silence spoke in uncomfortable volumes.

The Panchayat Secretary, Hamid Reshi, was supposed to hold a rally in Shangus, which he “proudly” represents as a sarpanch, as well currently contesting for its DDC seat; however, the rally had to be called off due to security reasons.

After some “alteration” in plans, I was now accompanying him to a door-to-door campaigning in the area, as, in another car that followed, ferried the Anantnag District President of BJP, Advocate Sayeed Wajahat Hussain.

It was Wajahat Hussain who had told me about the “grand rally in Shangus”, and the arrangements were made for me to “witness” the same. As decided, I was at the party office by 10:30 am that day, waiting for Hamid Reshi, who was “running late”; Wajahat looked clearly unimpressed when he was being reasoned out by the ‘Panchayat Secretary’ on call.

After the phone disconnected, Wajahat said to me, as the disappointment reflected in his tone: “We have a problem … the rally had to be called-off. I was really looking forward to the day.” I asked with curiosity: “What happened?”

“That will only be figured when Reshi sahab arrives…”

It was after hour-and-a-half past the decided time, he was at the party office. In one of the rooms, Reshi dramatically spoke to Wajahat in Kashmiri, as a group of 5-7 workers stood surrounding the two; I could not understand a word. The conversation was shortened supposedly owing to the constraint in time, and the two stepped out of the office, entered in their respective cars, and were on the way to Shangus – compensating for the “grand rally” with a mere door-to-door outreach; all this while, I remained clueless of the morning that was!

Hamid Reshi was formerly associated with Congress, having joined BJP only in 2020. Not only is Reshi contesting from Shangus on the BJP ticket, his wife, Rozey Jan is also contesting for the same seat as an independent candidate. Ironically, while talking to a journalist on phone, Reshi called himself a “staunch opposer of Khandani Siyasat”. [FPK Photo/ Zishan Amiri.]

For a brief period that followed after the rifle was loaded, barely anyone spoke. Reshi attended a few calls in the start, mostly with the respective officers of police stations that were to come on our way to Shangus, asking each to arrange for security-escort when he would pass through their jurisdiction. The two cars ran in close proximity; the driver was ensuring no civilian vehicle came in between. Also pertinent to mention that the front and back number-plates of both the cars were covered with black cloth.

We passed by the crowded market area and were now on to the road leading to Shangus – as – I finally asked Reshi: “Koi pareshani ki baat hai kya, sir? [Is something bothering you, sir?]”

“Not really,” he said, his eyes glued to the phone screen, “nothing of your concern… You are safe with me…”

A minute later, he kept down his phone and continued: “This is about last night…”

“… I received two calls from code-number ‘+02’ at around 6:30 in the evening, and another at 2:00 am in the night. The person on the phone asked, if this is Hameed Reshi speaking, I said, yes, I am… Then he asked whether I am a BJP worker, and I said yes, I am… Then he asked, ek tarikh ko tumhe khudko vote dene nikalna hai na? [You will be stepping out to vote for yourself on the first of December, right?] I said yes, I will be… And then he said, theek hai, aapka first se pehle hi qatal kardenge, aas paas chaahe jitni security ho [Alright, we will be killing you before the first, regardless of the security presence].”

I won’t deny my heart skipped a beat after hearing that. This was November 29, less than 48 hours from December 1.

I enquired further: “And then?”

“Then what…” he said, “… then I showed him his place!”

The threat call was from an “untraceable” network, even the phone number had “disappeared” from Reshi’s phone-log; he told me he had kept in loop some officers in Indian Army and J&K police.

On his way from his Pahalgam accommodation that morning, to the party office in Anantnag – roughly a 40-kilometre journey – he was escorted by the police of three different jurisdictions: Pahalgam to Aishmuqam; Aishmuqam to Mattan; Mattan to the Bus Stand.

“Now,” Reshi added, boasting a smile, “here I am, sitting right next to you… still alive!”

In a video of Hamid Reshi that I came across on internet, from four months ago, he is addressing the media after BJP sarpanchs were killed in two different attacks in less than 48 hours.

This was August 6, 2020, just a day past the first-year anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 – the militants were targeting panchs and sarpanchs of the saffron party. Now, the easiest among the targets are the panch-sarpanch, for they hold too low-profile a post to be provided a secure roof by the party.

I wonder, if back then, the BJP’s Panchayat Secretary knew that four months down the line, the militants were to zero in on him.

Holding the copy of the order issued by Inspector General of Police, Security, which read the names of 113 political workers – 56 associated with the BJP – that were to be ensured security cover, Reshi tells the cameras: “This order was released 16 days ago, but it has still not been implemented. It seems like the administration has decided to stand at a distance, and watch our workers die… Now we are not some shooting-ducks, are we?”

There are instances where a BJP worker has been shot to death inside of his home, at his workplace, during his travel time; basically, anywhere and everywhere.

I could notice the cautious approach even in Wajahat Hussain and Reshi, during their so-called door-to-door campaigning: their cars would stop just outside of the residence of the worker they are meeting; first, their PSOs would come out and rush to ensure a secure cover, only then would they step out of their cars; in some cases, the two interacted with the workers while being seated inside. Second, had Wajahat and Reshi met the worker at his residence, in other instances, the workers were made to wait at a secure spot on the main road.

Reshi had particularly made arrangements to meet this one young ground worker. It was a short meet, in a secure corner. He later told me that the father of this worker was a friend of his, who had once helped him pull off a “daring escape” from the hostages of militants.

Back in the early 2000s, when Reshi was still new to politics, he said, he was abducted by a group of militants and was kept hostage for almost a week. On the final night, Reshi was told the next morning is going to be his last – “Meri to khair neend hi udd gayi thi [I didn’t sleep a wink that night].”

Then, the same night, he continued, the father of this worker arrived at the scene. “Back then, he too had joined militant ranks,” Reshi recalled. “He initially tried playing the smart game by trying to convince his militant friends that I should be handed over to him… and that he will ensure I am silenced to death. But they had other plans; they wanted to leave my dead body in a crowded market; they wanted to set an example out of me.”

However, nothing transpired out of all that convincing, he recounted.

“Then some time passed by, and it was now midnight, most of the militants were at rest; I could hear the sound of motorcycle coming from a distance, I felt like it was approaching me, and in a minute, I realised it indeed was; on it, was my yaar [buddy]; he asked me take the back seat, and we escaped our way out through the jungle… He ensured I was out of that nightmare…”

The next day, however, Reshi’s “beloved friend” was killed by the same group of militants.

“I owe it to him to check on his son. I want to ensure he is in safe hands,” he said, “and then, is there anything better than having him associated with Bhartiya Janta Party? I can see – this kid has a good future…”

Hamid Reshi greets the son of his militant-friend, who had “saved” his life in the early 2000s. [FPK photo/ Zishan Amiri]

The workers during the door-to-door campaign, Wajahat and Reshi met, were either their old loyalists – from their times in Congress – or the ones with whom they have formed a personal bond over the years, like a relative, a friend, or, the son of a friend.

On my first visit to Wajahat Hussain, I had come across another young party worker, must be in his late 20s, standing at one corner and agreeing with everything the “[District] President sahab” was telling me during the time of interview. An “Insha’Allah [God willing!]” would follow every time Wajahat threw at me the slogans of “jeet hamari pakki hai [the victory is ours].”

I inquired with Wajahat about the worker; he introduced: “This gentleman is Zahoor Ahmad; the party has given him the DDC ticket to contest from the Verinag seat…”

“His father,” Wajahat added, “was a great man…”

Zahoor is the son of a famed BJP loyalist, and a fellow colleague of Wajahat – Gul Mohammad Mir, fondly addressed as ‘Atal Gul’; Atal, in Hindi language, is addressed for someone who is ‘firm’.

He had joined the party in 2002, the times when Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP was heading New Delhi.

Atal Gul stood his ground over the years and played a key role in establishing the party’s base, especially in the southern belt of the valley.

But on May 4, 2019, he was shot dead by militants at his residence; his killing was also “strongly condemned” by the BJP premiere Narendra Modi.

Atal Gul may have been killed, but his legacy lives on, or, in other words – the dead cannot play politics anymore, but there is always scope for politics on the dead.

“Now after Atal sahab’s assassination,” Wajahat said, “his son has taken up all the responsibilities. So the party decided, why not motivate him further to fill his father’s boots? Thus, he was given the DDC ticket.”

Vote for Employment, Vote for Development: Zahoor Ahmad shows from his phone the image of his DDC election poster, which has on it the photo of his slain father, Atal Gul Mohammad Mir. [FPK Photo/ Zishan Amiri]

It can be argued that for any political party to ensure its base in Kashmir, ‘politics on sentimental grounds’ is a must. For instance, for Mufti Sayeed, when he floated the Peoples Democratic Party in 1999, it was his daughter Mehbooba Mufti who had helped convert the ‘separatist sentiments’ into vote banks. Then, for National Conference, during the period of 1953-1975, it was the rise in ‘plebiscite slogans’ that had helped Sheikh Abdullah gain back his political ground.

“I know for a fact,” Zahoor Ahmad told me later when I caught up with him on call, “that if people in Verinag will vote for me, it will be because I am the son of Atal Gul.”

And the BJP doesn’t mind that.

“He has sacrificed his blood and sweat for the party,” he added.

Zahoor now wants to lead his life like that of his father, and does not seem to fear the same end. He resides in the same house where Atul Gul was killed a year ago.

On December 5, Saturday, Zahoor’s campaigning in Verinag was “graced” by none other than BJP’s star campaigner this DDC election, Syed Shanawaz Hussain from Uttar Pradesh, a former Union Minister.

This time, the right-wing party has thrown in one of its most prominent Muslim-faces to campaign in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

“I believe that I owe it to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, to bring to them the truth…” he told the media on his visit. “I am here in this area, and can see it is drenched in poverty. The past representatives have turned this place into a hell, once the BJP is elected – I want to assure – we will take it back to the corridors of heaven.”

When asked what he thinks about his party’s winning ground, he ducked it by saying, the “victory” is that of India’s “democracy”.

With a smirk, he further told the reporters: “I have been on ground for the past 15 days, and will be here till the end of elections… Have you ever before spotted any Centre leader in your area, out on a campaign?”

BJP’s Shahanawaz Hussain during a rally in Zahoor Ahmad’s constituency, Verinag. (Photo: Twitter)

Para-trooping the likes of Shahnawaz Hussain in Kashmir are the testimony to BJP’s desperation on ground. As a political observer, Zainab Sikander, notes in her write-up for The Print, dated November 30: “The BJP… is also going tooth and nail into its campaign knowing very well that the DDC election is a verdict on the Narendra Modi government following its Article 370 decision. The BJP wants to win this election at all costs.

“Winning the DDC election presents both a domestic and international opportunity for Modi and the BJP. It vindicates the party, which insisted that all was well in Kashmir after August 5, 2019, while international media outlets such as the BBC came out with reports of protests and deep anguish across the Valley.”

Deep down, even BJP knows it doesn’t stand a ground in Kashmir. Never has it won a single assembly or the parliamentary seat from here. About the representatives it boasts off, the ones elected in previous local elections, you will find many among them, who won, only because there did not stand a single opposition.

The saffron party likes to think the elections in Valley is still an ideological battle, that of ‘Nationalism v/s Separatism’, but the politics post-370 has only been about ‘BJP v/s All/Most of Kashmir’.

If there is anything that today connects the mainstream politicians with the people of Kashmir, it’s the anti-BJP narrative; they speak against BJP, because people want to hear things against the BJP.

And to counter this anti sentiment on ground, I don’t see its local leadership have any plan in place; a majority here just seems to be living in a bubble.

For instance, when I asked Wajahat Hussain, how he counters the anti sentiments on ground, he gestured his fingers in the shape of scissor, and answered: “The mainstream parties used to fight elections on the slogans of special status; they would chant – maa ka izzat- 370, behen ka izzat- 370 [safeguarding the dignity of women: safeguarding Article 370].

“They would say – vote for us, and we won’t let anyone touch Jammu-Kashmir’s special status,” he said, and snapped his scissor-gestured fingers, “you see, we just cut off their hands… we cut away the roots of their slogans!”

Then followed the usual high praises for Narendra Modi: “All thanks to Allah – had he not given us a Prime Leader like Modiji, I wonder what this country would have turned into? You know, if we all just follow the orders of Narendra Modi, we will only march forward.”

Also in between the interview, was the obvious reflection of hyper-nationalism: “I am proud to live in a country where my Ram has taken birth; I live in a country, which has given birth to the likes of Khwaja Mohiuddin Chishti, Khwaja Nuzamuddin Auliya… how can I betray my motherland, how?”

In one instance, he said of himself: “I am just a poor worker of my party, and an honest one.”

I confirmed: “Poor?”

“Yes, the BJP workers in Kashmir are poor, I swear to God, very poor. We walk barefoot in the mountains, chanting ‘Bhartiya Janta… Jai Bharat Maata’, just to hoist the party flag alongside the tricolour. Look, I don’t sit and weep over problems like others do – we are true nationalists,” Wajahat stressed, “really, true nationalists.”

For putting up their life and identity at stake, I asked Wajahat, if he thinks his workers even get a fair share in-return: “Now, that is one side effect, indeed…”

By side effect, he meant, drawback.

“You know, earlier,” he built-up his answer, “the ones sitting in New Delhi used to manage separatist groups in Kashmir by giving them money, not just money, but car, bungalow, quarter, and what not, and only then these Hurriyat people stayed silent. Now when Narendra Modi government took over New Delhi, what did he do?”

Wajahat raised his fingers, once again, gesturing in shape of a scissor, to add: “The Bhartiya Janta Party cut them off… today these separatist pockets carry no relevance.”

“You know,” – Wajahat tried to beat around the bush, but he was getting there – “in my constituency, Shangus, Sajad Lone [chief of ‘Peoples Conference’, who has a prominent ground in belts of northern Kashmir] has given the mandate to a Gujjar, today he has everything: a car, a bungalow, you call it; but on other hand, my worker there walks barefoot, with no roof over his head.”

“That is because,” and followed the obvious, “we are true nationalists.”

Like Hamid Reshi (R), Wajahat Hussain (L) as well held prominent posts with the Congress party. Now serving BJP as the district president, he aspires to contest for the Assembly seat. [FPK photo/ Zishan Amiri]

Because the central leadership in BJP is aware it doesn’t stand a chance in Kashmir, by itself, it has always been in hunt for ‘alternatives’. Sajad Lone, that Wajahat mentioned in his comment, once served for BJP as that alternative.

Lone has an interesting timeline. Before 2004, he was seen as a ‘staunch separatist’, until he revived Peoples Conference the same year to turn himself into a politician. When in 2009 he fought his first elections as an independent contestant from Baramulla parliamentary seat, he claimed he wanted to take Kashmir’s “freedom struggle” to the Indian parliament. Lone lost that election, but his cadre in the northern belts kept on establishing over the years.

Then, in 2014, BJP took over New Delhi, and that marked the change of fortunes for Sajad Lone. He met Narendra Modi. Such was the meeting that Lone was left “pleasantly surprised” by the “down-to-earth personality” of the newly-elected Indian Prime Minister; he had also addressed Modi as his “elder brother”.

The visit made sense when months later, Lone sworn in as the minister from BJP quota in the ‘unholy’ alliance between the nationalist BJP and soft-separatist PDP of Mehbooba Mufti.

In fact, such was the so-called camaraderie between the Modi government and Sajad Lone – that after the alliance broke up, the former separatist even came close to taking on the chief minister’s throne in November 2018, with the support of the saffron party, but because Kashmir politics works in mysterious ways, the then J-K Governor decided to dissolve the J&K Assembly.

Thus, Sajad Lone’s wait to become politically the most powerful person in Kashmir, prolonged. The hope remained, only until August 5, 2019, when he was left surprised, yet again, when his ‘elder brother’ put a realistic halt to his dreams – Lone was detained by the Narendra Modi government in the aftermath of the abrogation of special status.

Such was the post August-5 crackdown – that for the year that followed, political space in Kashmir remained null; its representatives were under detention, voiceless. It was only after “5 days short of a year”, Lone was released.

“…I have been officially informed that I am a free man,” he had tweeted. “So much has changed. So have I. Jail was not a new experience. Earlier ones were harsh with usual doses of physical torture. But this was psychologically draining…”

Mainstream leader Sajad Lone with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and late PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed during his induction as minister in PDP-BJP alliance in 2015. [Photo: Internet]

Basically, making an example out of the likes of Sajad Lone, Wajahat Hussain was hinting at how the central leadership of BJP has been spending on the “unwanted ones”, while Kashmiri workers “continue to stay poor”.

“If tomorrow Modiji will ask from these workers to even sacrifice their lives,” he said, “they happily will, without a single bit of hesitation. All I am saying is – why not spend the same money on your poor workers?”

I then asked him what he thinks of Altaf Bukhari’s ‘Apni Party’ being called BJP’s ‘B’ Party in Kashmir.

“Exactly, what I am trying to tell you,” he said, “once the flow of money will stop, they too, just like others, will show their true colours, and the same-old bayaan-baazi that this BJP is nothing, look what they did to the Muslims in Gujarat, and so on.”

One can say Altaf Bukhari, this day, is what Sajad Lone was until yesterday. One can also not deny that tomorrow, there will be some other prominent face, being addressed as the ‘Altaf Bukhari’ of his time.

During the times post-370, when most of the prominent political faces were under detention, Bukhari was allowed to move. He went on to meet the Indian Prime Minister in New Delhi within a week of launching his party, and Bukhari was left as much charmed as Sajad Lone was, by his ‘elder brother’ Narendra Modi.

An overwhelmed Bukhari said that Narendra Modi told him he has “adopted Kashmir”, and that his “heart beats for the people of Jammu and Kashmir”. He also reportedly met Home Minister, Amit Shah and National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval in the first week of April – for a “discussion”.

Comparisons can also be drawn between Bukhari and Kashmir’s last-serving ‘Prime Minister’, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, known in the history books for being an ‘opportunist’.

When top-most Kashmir leader Sheikh Abdullah was arrested by the ‘Union of India’, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, back in 1953, Bakshi, the then Deputy to the Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah, took over the reins of power by pouncing on the vacant seat.

Altaf Bukhari has been taking just the same steps, with the vacant throne of the Chief Minister post at sight; whether or not he will get there, or will he just come as close as Sajad Lone, that is for the coming times to decide.

For now, Bukhari is just walking along the lines of New Delhi. While rest of all major political parties in Kashmir have been voicing for the ‘restoration of Article 370’, Bukhari and his party, have been merely demanding from New Delhi to give back J&K’s ‘statehood’, and, to restore high-speed internet in Kashmir – which has become a luxury here, since the August 5 clampdown.

Almost everyone in Kashmir knows that the statehood will be restored, sooner or later; it was snatched away, to be given back as a token of compensation for the larger loss.

Altaf Bukhari has advocated the need to ‘look beyond Article 370, 35A’ right since day 1.

“We are a new regional party with a national outlook…What will we get if we say we are against what happened on August 5?” he maintained, speaking to reporters at his residence, the very day he floated his political outfit on March 8, 2019. “…The issue is in the Supreme Court and it is in everyone’s interest that we wait for its verdict.”

If it was a coincidence or not, Altaf Bukhari did oddly take pride in floating his party on an International Women’s day. He said: “We have launched a party on a very special day. But we will ensure that women get the rights throughout the year, not just on one day.”

“We are a new mixture of young and old people,” he added, “Women will also be a part of this party.”

The party has chosen ‘cricket bat’ as its electoral symbol this DDC-election.

“My party members are like true sportsmen and it is why we have chosen Bat symbol for polls,” he explained, while briefing the media at his residence on November 12.

A cluster of politicians – having defected, resigned or fired from their former outfits – is what the Jammu-Kashmir Apni Party comprises of.

During the time the party was launched, it had a strength of 45 such politicians, among them, several held prominent positions in Congress, and the other mainstream parties, however, of all, it was Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP that faced a heavy embarrassment.

File photo of Altaf Bukhari (far right) during his time with PDP; party chief Mehbooba Mufti addresses the presser. [Photo: Internet]

The turn of events took place when Altaf Bukhari, who held prominent positions in PDP, was expelled under the watch of Mehbooba on January 19. As quoted by Hindustan Times, a party spokesman said, PDP had “been watching with concern the activities of Altaf Bukhari for quite some time and he thereby stands expelled from the basic membership of party”, adding that ever since Mufti Sayeed’s death in 2016, he had been “pursuing his personal political ambition at the cost of the party and state’s interests”.

Had Bukhari not been expelled, a resignation letter from his end was just around the corner.

Not only did he leave, but also swiftly created a new political camp by roping in on the old hands like Ghulam Hassan Mir – a deputy to Altaf Bukhari, Senior Vice President and co-founder of Apni Party, co-founder of PDP – and – the uncle of Ishfaq Hassan Mir, the DDC contestant from Tangmarg.

I first saw Ghulam Hassan Mir at Baramulla’s Sherwani hall on November 24, addressing from the stage, a jam-packed crowd. Also on stage were other party delegates, and his nephew Ishfaq Mir. Head of the party Altaf Bukhari was the last one to address the audience. This was party’s only second such public interaction since its formation.

Post event, I was supposed to accompany the senior vice president on his ground visit, but due to lack of coordination, Mir happened to leave the place without me. Nevertheless, I met him the next morning at his quarter in Srinagar.

The seriousness of the pandemic in Kashmir is only being seen during the political rallies; the masks never come down. This was during the Apni Party’s rally in Baramulla’s Sherwani hall. [FPK photo/ Zishan Amiri]

“Did you hear me speak yesterday?” he asked me at the start of the interview. He then realised, “oh, you would have not been able to understand Kashmiri.”

“Never mind,” he added, “we shall proceed with the interview.”

“To start with,” he said, “I want to tell you that Apni Party has a serious advantage in this DDC election. I will tell you why, because some or the other way, the circumstances around us have so far worked in our favour. Of course, it is for the time to decide how established the Apni Party is, but to our advantage, we can boast off that the ones who have joined our caravan over the course, are individually well established, and now, we have a task ahead – to prove to the people of Jammu-Kashmir, that as group, we are capable of something unimaginable.

“Then, another advantage,” Hassan Mir continued, “Because of what happened on August 5, 2019, there has been a growing hate among people against the BJP. They believe meeting country’s Home Minister and the Prime Minister is as good as joining hands with BJP’s local leadership, but no, so is not the case: Dekhiye, samandar me rehkar magarmach se bair nahi ho sakti [Look, you have to befriend the lion to survive in a jungle].

“Whatever you want, in terms of concession, in terms of development, it is the Prime Minister, the ruling government, who will provide you. There are no other means. So how has this mindset of the party worked in our advantage, you will ask?”

“Now, what issue will the opposition raise? They have nothing to talk about, after having shattered the hopes of Kashmiris with repeated barrage of fake promises. So they are making an issue out of us by saying that we are BJP’s ‘B’ team; how silly is that?”

Now that the rest of the local parties have reunited… against whom? he asked me.

I said, “… the BJP?”

Wrong answer!

“No,” Mir said, “BJP, what? BJP has no space in Kashmir, nil – I want you to mention this in your report. Write it, Ghulam Hassan Mir said, BJP has no space in Kashmir. It can’t be treated even as an opposition.”

“So now the BJP is not the opposition, then who is?” he asked me, again, and this time, I answered it right: “The Jammu-Kashmir Apni Party?”

“Correct!” he rejoiced, “The one-and-only, Apni Party. So this has worked to our advantage… we have got the recognition among masses, whether they give it a good name or the bad, I am just glad that people recognize us as a party. Today, there is only one opposition… the Apni Party.”

Advantage number-four, he continued, “I have always talked about development. Recently, I was interviewed by Radio Kashmir, and the interviewer asked me, ‘Mir sahab, you are such an influential figure in valley politics, why do you then avoid speaking on the Kashmir issue?’ I said, arre bhai, this is such a complex issue; a weak man like me is in no spot to have an opinion on it. Please just let me confine my politics to sadak-bijli-paani?”

Ghulam Hassan Mir with his Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari and others during the party launch earlier this year. [Photo: Internet]

“You know, yesterday after the event in Baramulla, I visited a village, which earlier was a part of Pattan constituency, but now falls with the Tangmarg block for this DDC-elections,” Mir continued. “You won’t believe me, the people there were so happy… happy to be the part of Tangmarg, the constituency I have represented for two consecutive terms… there, the people address me as – Mr Development Ghulam Hassan Mir; that is the buzzword.”

“…Waha Tangmarg se meine apne hi ladke ko utaara hai [… I have fielded my nephew from the same constituency].”

On November 27, a ‘grand rally’ was held for Ishfaq Mir in Tangmarg, led by his uncle Ghulam Hassan Mir and the party head Altaf Bukhari.

Addressing the crowd, the duo spoke on the usual lines of “fake promises by other local parties” … “Apni Party’s development vision for the people of Kashmir” … “their fight for peace and prosperity”.

“You see, there is a desire for development among the people of Kashmir, and the candidates we have fielded this DDC election, are just the right representatives,” Mir added.

“Now because the mainstream parties in Kashmir, especially the National Conference, have sold fake dreams to the people, and now that the people have realised that so and so is a corrupt, it has given us, Apni Party, the space to reach out to the people with realistic goals. You see, advantage?”

“Show me any contribution made by Farooq Abdullah in his entire political career, show me just one? You can write – Ghulam Hassan Mir gives his message to the leader of National Conference: You owe an apology to the people of Kashmir, because the dreams you have sold so far, none have come true. I am saying, apologise to the people, give up politics, and just sit home!”

Whether it is the BJP, being on the lookout for ‘alternatives’ in the likes of Altaf Bukhari – or – Apni Party’s DDC contestant from Tangmarg, Ishfaq Mir, looking up to his uncle Hassan Mir for the ‘alternative plan’, it puts on display the kind of unpredictability and uncertainty Kashmir politics is gripped with; one, is never enough.

Amid an atmosphere as such, then is the story of desperate mainstream parties as National Conference, PDP, Peoples Conference, so-called ‘unified’ under the banner of ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’, yet scattered around, and more importantly, running out of alternatives… in Part III of this series.

To be continued…

 

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