Seven months on and the politics in Kashmir is calm but not unstirred. Altaf Bukhari, a former education minister and Public Works Department minister has been in news – not for all good reasons.

The news of Mr. Bukhari leading a new political front has been around for long; arguably, his move is perceived as problematic because three former Chief Ministers, including his former boss at People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, remains under detention.

In January 2019, the PDP sacked Mr. Bukhari for “inspiring and leading dissent” within the party.

One of close relatives and another senior PDP leader, Mohammad Dilawar Mir held several meetings with former ministers including Hakeem Yasin and Ghulam Hassan Mir to launch another political party in the Valley headed by Mr. Bukhari. But he doesn’t like when someone calls it a “third-front”; he calls it a group of individuals “who came together to hold up agonized people of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K).”

The Kashmir Walla spoke to Mr. Bukhari about the ideas of his new political party, detention of other political contemporaries, and if he would fall in “New Delhi’s trap”? The excerpts of this interview have been edited for length and clarity.

What are you calling your new party? Tell us what is it like – what is the idea?

In the next few days, we will launch our new party, named: Apni Party. It is a commoners’ party and I have coined the name. The aim of the party is to give hope to hopeless people of Jammu and Kashmir and to work for the complete wellbeing and development of people. Our ultimate priority is to get back the special status and statehood.

What is your idea of shaping up mainstream politics in J-K, especially after the abrogation of Article 370 and removal of statehood?

We are not going to shape up mainstream politics; people form political parties and they will decide the course of action themselves. We will stand with people and address their problems accordingly. For us, power is not the intention; our aim is to fight for the restoration of statehood, release of political prisoners, and revival of autonomy.

Are you sure people will vote for you? What will be the manifesto of your party?

I do not see elections taking place within a year. We have plenty of time to reach common people and see their problems. This time, I’m concerned about the miseries of people. We voluntarily came up and discussed the agonies of people when all others political parties have turned silent.

If you win elections and become CM; can you draw parallels between Delhi and J-K, in context of lack of powers with Arvind Kejriwal [CM of Delhi]?

Isn’t Kejriwal a popular leader in Delhi, who has served his people and won the elections repeatedly? Positions do not matter; a political representative’s ability to perform development, resolve public issues, and easing out the burden of common man matters. What matters to me is not the chair but the service of people.

Why are you asking for the restoration of statehood?

We have lost much since 5 August. Our identity is lost and our state was downgraded into two Union Territories. Cannot we ask government of India to return our statehood? We would want to have some privilege and status for which we are fighting for.

You seem to be following former Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. You want to be like him?

I have prayed to God to give me the strength of Bakshi sahib. You need to accept that he was the architect of modern Kashmir. Whatever premiere health facilities and educational institutions we have are because of his capability. Bakshi as Chief Minister is incomparable with other Chief Ministers in terms of delivering public service and development. Therefore, I feel it is a privilege to get the status of Bakshi.

Your critics, including the leaders from various political parties, accuse you of thirst to become the CM. Do you want to become CM – by hook or crook?

I respect everyone’s opinion and I don’t feel sad over these accusations. I’m answerable to people and not these political parties. If these parties had a sense of public service, they would have initiated a process of reaching out to New Delhi and plead the case regarding the restoration of special status and statehood. I’m no contractor of people, but I cannot bear the pain of people either. I have approached New Delhi in order to offer my shoulder to the miseries of people.

Irfan Amin Malik is Reporting Fellow at The Kashmir Walla.

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