Altaf Bukhari: Crack in the PDP Inkpot?
SRINAGAR: Disappointment is visible on the faces of scores of people milling into the private office of Altaf Bukhari, former Roads and Buildings minister in the BJP-PDP government, on the banks of river Jhelum near the footbridge in Srinagar. Their pleas for meeting the man, are downed by the fretting Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men posted outside his entrance.
“Sahib is in Saudi Arabia’, the soldiers say tersely.
Saheb, in the embryonic stage of the PDP’s second innings with the BJP, should have been in the state of Jammu and Kashmir trying to rebuild the rapport lost during Governor’s rule. He was the undisputed blue-eyed boy of late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
It was a press statement by the senior People’s Democratic Party leader and Member of Parliament from central Kashmir’s Srinagar-Budgam constituency Tariq Hameed Karra that changed it all and brought a fall from grace for this pampered leader- from a blue-eyed boy to the favorite punching bag of all and sundry.
“Altaf Bukhari tried to break the PDP into two factions. He tried to stage a coup. While our leader Mehbooba Mufti was exploring the possibility of a tie-up with the BJP and had almost convinced the BJP leaders for some of the demands, he went out of the way and tried to cobble up an alliance towing along a group of PDP defectors. He is the modern day Kuka Parray,” a fuming Karra had told a local newspaper in an interview.
Kuka Parray was the poster boy of the State Task Force (STF) and the comparison drawn by Karra, thus was seen as a call for Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to take action.
She took heed and did not include Bukhari in the initial council of ministers announced on April 4. Karra skipped the ceremony after a war of words with Tariq Karra. This action, PDP insiders felt was necessary for Mehbooba to demonstrate her authority over the party and government.
Many party insiders even took the view that the attempted coup was a blessing in disguise for the PDP as the problem of slots in the ministry, already over-crowded with prospective candidates, was solved in this manner.
“Everyone wanted to be a minister. In Pulwama we had MLAs who had won three consecutive state assembly berths. They had to be accommodated. Then the Madam,s own relatives, Tariq Karra’s relatives, MLAs from Jammu region. This attempted coup solved the problem as Altaf Bukhari went out of the race automatically,” said a senior party functionary from Amira Kadal, who was himself in the fray for the Amira Kadal constituency mandate, while pleading anonymity.
The other two ‘big-shots’ who according to Tariq Karra accompanied ‘this modern day Kuka Parrey’ are Minister of Education Nayeem Akhter and current Finance Minister of the state Haseeb Drabu who was very close to the Mufti. Both are seen as bureaucrats, sincere in their work, but without a base on the ground. Drabu is famous for what PDP leaders politely describe as his “anti people skills.”
The trio, despite being novices, had a substantial influence on the PDP and if alienated entirely could have an adverse impact on the state government. Mehbooba, true to her pragmatic image, is expected to bury the defection memory as a bad dream as she walks the lush green grass at her Gupkar residence, Fairview, on the banks of Dal Lake.
Two kilometers from Fairview, as a crow flies, lays the private residence of Altaf Bukhari on the banks of river Jhelum always teeming with people usually government employees seeking transfers from far off places to more convenient posts. The people, hopeful of Bukhari’s arrival anytime in the day, crowd the municipal benches on the banks of river Jhelum.
“Even though Altaf Bukhari was shown the door, it would be difficult for People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to keep him out of the cabinet for too long. He is a big businessman and has spent a lot of money for the PDP’s election campaign. Besides, he enjoys a substantial clout within the party, “says Ajaz Ashraf , Professor Political Science at the University of Kashmir.
However, Prof.Ajaz feels defections in the regional political parties of Kashmir generally works in favor of New Delhi.
“Manufacturing defection within regional parties in Kashmir has been used by New Delhi to get rid of governments they did not like, like the defection that brought former Chief Minister GM Shah into power. It is in favor of the central government to pressurize regional mainstream leaders into a compromise,” says Prof Ajaz.
Though Bukhari has remained unapologetic he says his main objective was to avoid thrusting another election upon the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
“One a year was passed since the polls were held in 2014. I didn’t want people to undergo further hardships. If anyone says I was leading the pressure group, I would say in return that my basic objective was to make Mehbooba Mufti state’s chief minister,” Bukhari told the Kashmir News Service.
While denying the assumption that he had chief ministerial ambitions, Bukhari said he, like many others in the party, worked hard to see Mehbooba as the chief minister
“This was the wish of our beloved leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. I always wanted that dream to be fulfilled. Everyone wanted Mehboobaji to assume state’s top post and that is the reason that we choose her as Legislative Party leader and not anyone else,” Bukhari said.
His supporters certainly have not given up hope for his early reinstatement in the state Cabinet.
(Jamsheed Rasool was formerly associated with Press Trust of India.)