Jyotsna Bharti

New Delhi: Cooling his heels in the blistering capital where the political mercury is soaring at the moment, Altaf Bukhari is playing it cool and calm, despite his name as the chief of the so-called advisory council—seen as a political local face replacing bureaucratic non-local advisory group in J&K—doing rounds and creating new whispers and flutters in the valley.

Bukhari’s name as a chief advisor—if not minister—of the council, a virtual cabinet, surfaced after BJP leader Ram Madhav spoke about “allowing” full-fledged political process in J&K.

“The advisory council in UT helps the Lieutenant Governor (LG) in the day-to-day administration,” a report quoting former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha, P.D.T. Acharya, said.

However, the real power is vested in the LG, the report said. “The head of the advisory council cannot get the power of the CM. The advisory council also cannot make laws. The Constitution allows the President to administer UT through LG, but only the Parliament has the power to make law.”

Once this new political arrangement starts administering J&K, the report said, Statehood—one of the two political pitches raised by the new political force in the valley—will be restored.

“In fact,” the report said, “this [advisory council] is part of a larger deal with the state’s political class.”

Notably, a group of defectors that Bukhari leads as the Apni Party chief had based its politics around Domicile Law and Statehood demand. This new political pack had apparently followed the footsteps of Muzaffar Baig, the senior unionist, who had said that ‘it’s time to move on from Article 370’.

Barring slight intervention that it sought from home minister Amit Shah, Bukhari-led outfit largely stood silent on the new controversial law that triggered the fears of demographic changes in J&K recently.

Reportedly, around 12 members will be part of the Bukhari-led council, with the likes of Usman Majid, Vijay Bakaya, Sunil Sharma, Sunil Sethi and Chowdhary Zulfikar Ali being sworn in as early as late June.

If it shapes up, many say, advisory council will be the major political development in J&K, after the abrogation of Article 370.

But Bukhari, who’s likely to fly home to hold consultations over the new arrangement, plays a naysayer during an exclusive chat with Kashmir Observer.

Kashmir Observer: Tell us something about this new advisory council? What will be it like? Will you be heading it?

Altaf Bukhari: [Laughs] It’s a figment of the imagination that media is creating amid COVID-19 lockdown. There’s literally nothing like this. As I’ve already said, it’s a good joke.

KO: But media reports suggest that you’re in Delhi for some serious political business these days.

AB: Listen, I stay in Delhi with my entire family. My father is here, my brother is here. My sons are here. I’ve a home here. Do I need a reason to come here?

Besides, had there been any political development, I would’ve already made it public.

KO: But how will you respond to certain reports—terming you as Omar Abdullah’s ally in the new political plan conceived by New Delhi for J&K?

AB: I know, where it’s coming from. The other day, sadly, some media reports speculated that Omar Sahab was flown in a private flight to Delhi, when he just took an Air Asia flight.

We need to understand that Omar Abdullah is a young man. He was under detention for 10 months. He didn’t even step out all these months.

KO: But you didn’t answer my question. Is Omar Abdullah your ally in this new political arrangement?

AB: The reason Kashmiris question politicians is because we do help them out, and resolve their problems.

And that’s why even media people ask us, and take an interest in us. That said, let me reiterate, nothing is happening.

KO: If nothing is happening, as you’re suggesting, then what role do you see the mainstream parties playing in Jammu and Kashmir now?

AB: Since 2018, there’s this growing yearning in people to see political process getting revived in Jammu and Kashmir. Even as the last governor [Satya Pal Malik] had opened his doors for people, there was a glaring political void in the region.

KO: Let’s talk about now. What role do you see mainstream politicians playing in J&K now?

AB: See, politicians are better than bureaucrats. They understand their constituencies much better. They engage with people and address their problems. This is not to say that bureaucrats aren’t good. It’s just that people can relate with politicians more.

This process of engagement would’ve started, had not COVID bringing everything to a standstill.

KO: So, let’s say, in case this advisory council shapes up, will it be just a political local face replacing bureaucratic non-local advisory group in J&K?

AB: Since, nothing is happening as of now, so I won’t comment on this.

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