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New pro-India party launched in disputed Kashmir


The creation of Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (Our Party) is the first major political development since August 5, when India scrapped the region of its semi-autonomous status.

Former lawmakers from three major pro-India parties formed a new political party on Sunday in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

The launch of Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (Our Party) is the first major political development since last August, when India stripped Jammu and Kashmir of political autonomy, divided it into two federally-ruled territories, and jailed nearly all of the pro-India and pro-freedom leadership.

The Apni Party is headed by Altaf Bukhari, a wealthy former lawmaker from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) whose rule was cut short in 2018 when its coalition partner the Bharatiya Janata Party, India's ruling party, withdrew from the regional government.

Bukhari and majority of the members of the new party were spared house or prison detention during the clampdown before the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status last August.

He told reporters at a press conference that the party’s “core agenda” would be the restoration of statehood and seeking guarantees from New Delhi that land and government jobs will stay with region’s residents only.

“We are not here to sell dreams or fantasy to our people and instead shall always be pragmatic, honest, and fair in our approach,” said Bukhari.

For now, he said, his party would wait for the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict on the restoration of the region’s special status, whose revocation he said had “hurt the pride and self-esteem of the people.”

Asked by a reporter how its agenda is different from that of the BJP’s, which also has promised restoration of statehood, Bukhari said the two parties could have common issues.

“We cannot invent issues. We are a party of commoners,” he said.

At the press conference, Bukhari praised former Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, a politician credited with and vilified for strengthening India’s grip over the region in the 1950s.

“Bakshi sahib had a great economic and political vision for Kashmir. We need a similar vision right now,” Bukhari said.

Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled directly by the government of India since June 2018, when the BJP ended its alliance with the Kashmiri-based PDP.

After the region of Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded to the status of a Union Territory in August 2019, a lieutenant governor and a few of his advisers have been running the administration. In union territories, the legislative assembly is not as powerful as a state assembly.

The BJP said the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status is final and advised pro-India parties to confine their politics to a demand for statehood.

Several pro-India politicians have been released from preventive detention only after signing bonds that they would not speak against the scrapping of autonomy.

Three former chief ministers and a few others are, however, still in detention. Media reports suggest they have not consented to doing the BJP’s bidding.

Disputed region

The crackdown on India-administered Jammu and Kashmir following August 4 was widely decried by human rights groups. New Delhi cut the region off from all telecommunications for almost half a year and limited movement in the initial months.

Jammu and Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars, in 1948, 1965 and 1971, including two over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighbouring Pakistan.

According to several human rights groups, thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.