After eleven months J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti inducted legislator, Amria Kadal Altaf Bukhari into the J&K cabinet and replaced portfolios of several ministers. It was also first re-jig within cabinet after Mehbooba took over the reins of power in the state after the death of his father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Altaf Bukhari was awarded Education portfolio while as Nayeem Akthar who was holding education portfolio was bestowed with high profile – Road and Building department and another senior PDP leader and a known Mufti loyalist, Abdul Rehman Veeri who was holding R&B was awarded Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation portfolios while as Bashaarat Bukhari who was holding these portfolio was awarded an insignificant Horticulture portfolio. The portfolios of other PDP ministers and all the BJP ministers were kept untouched.
Within hours after General Administration department (GAD) issued notification of new portfolios to the ministers – Basharat Bukhari who was holding three important portfolios resigned from the cabinet. Powerful Shia leader and legislator from North Kashmir’s Pattan constituency, Imran Raza Ansari also submitted his resignation from the cabinet.
Bukhari also wrote a long letter to the chief minister highlighting issues that led to his resignation from the cabinet. Bukhari who is legislator from Sangrama constituency owes his political innings to the PDP itself as he was brought into the politics by the Peoples Democratic Party – before entering into politics he was working with All India Radio as an announcer and once he came close to Mufti family they awarded him with a seat in the Upper House that helped him to start his political innings in north Kashmir. Later, Bukhari got elected from Sangrama twice on a PDP ticket. When Mufti took over as the chief minister after winning the assembly elections, he was awarded a high profile Law Ministry and after the demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed when Mehbooba took over as chief minister; Bukhari was handed over another powerful portfolio of Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation. Of late, due to several political issues, J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and few other powerful leaders are annoyed with Bukhari that led to his demotion in the cabinet. He feels that he has been sidelined within the party. Bukhari who was initially adamant of joining the cabinet with a lesser known portfolio of Horticulture finally assumed his office after holding two meetings with the chief minister and her brother Tasaduq Hussain who recently joined PDP and is likely to contest elections from Anantnag parliamentary seat that fell vacant after Mehbooba Mufti contested assembly elections from Anantnag after becoming chief minister. Tasaduq Hussain has been taking keen interest into the political affairs of the party along with his maternal uncle Sartaj Madni who was elevated as vice president of the party despite the presence of senior stalwarts within the party. Sources close to the PDP said that Bukhari had not been promised any fresh portfolio and he took his resignation back fearing backlash from the party’s powerful leadership in future. Before assuming office, Bashaarat told the media that he was never annoyed with his new portfolio but he had other issues which he has already communicated to party leadership and chief minister.
So far reports suggest that Imran Ansari has not taken back his resignation and left aboard for pilgrimage. Ansari who has been holding Youth Service and Sports and Information and Technology department was never satisfied with his portfolio. Ansari played pivotal role and helped PDP to secure three to four assembly seats due to his clout among the Shia community. In return –Ansari was expecting a powerful portfolio at least in the latest re-jig in the cabinet. However sources close to Ansari feel that he has been deliberately awarded insignificant portfolio as the many senior leaders feel threatened with him due to his base in the masses.
“He (Ansari) is among the few PDP leaders who is a mass leader and has a great following. Unfortunately some leaders within the party feel threatened with him so they want to keep him low profile,’’ said Ansari’s uncle – Abid Ansari who himself is a legislator from Zadibal constituency in Srinagar. He blamed two powerful leaders of PDP- R&B minister Nayeem Akthar and political advisor of chief minister, Peer Mansoor for ruining the party for their personnel interests. “Nayeem Akthar and Peer Mansoor can’t even win a single election and have no political knowledge. These leaders never want talented people within the PDP should get chance to serve the people.” Abid Ansari said that it was chief minister herself who had promised to change the portfolio of Imran Ansari whenever there will be a cabinet reshuffle. “But now chief minister didn’t keep her word. We just want to remind her commitment.’’
Ansari said that his nephew holds sway across the Valley and has workers and followers in every constituency and how can he be able to help his workers being a sports minister. “What is in this ministry? It is just bat and ball. Unless Imran is not given a powerful portfolio he is not going to rejoin cabinet.’’ However, PDP leaders claim that parleys are on to motivate Imran Ansari to join the cabinet. “Once he returns from his pilgrimage we are hopeful he will join the cabinet. Before panchayat and parliament elections for Srinagar and Anantnag seats – PDP will never want to lose or annoy him as he has a dedicated followers that could influence the results of the Srinagar parliament seat,’’ a senior PDP leader said. Hoping rapprochement with Ansari even after a week – chief minister didn’t forward resignation of Ansari to J&K Governor, N N Vohra that is an indication that PDP leadership is confident that Youth Services and Sports Minister will again assume office.
With entry of Altaf Bukhari, a businessman turned politician, the PDP leadership is hopeful of bringing more stability within the party. Altaf Bukhari was dropped from the cabinet when Mehbooba Mufti took over as chief minister as there were reports that Bukhari had initiated a process to form a government with BJP when Mehbooba was showing reluctance of forming the government and PDP leadership including Mehbooba Mufti took it as a betrayal. However, PDP didn’t want to lose Altaf Bukhari especially after Tariq Karra who was face of the party in Srinagar resigned from his parliament seat blaming PDP – BJP government for killing of civilians, the PDP was left without any credible leader in the Srinagar district by awarding powerful portfolio – the PDP leadership feels that Altaf will strengthen the party instead of hatching any conspiracy for which he has a potential. Also many legislators within the PDP and opposition were batting for Altaf Bukhari as he was considered as minister who accommodates not only his own people but his adversaries. But still all is not well within the PDP – a former junior minister and legislator from Noorabad constituency Abdul Majeed Padder is also annoyed with the party along with two former ministers – Ashraf Mir and Javeed Mustafa Ansari legislators from Sonwar and Choodara. Both were stripped of their ministries after Mehbooba took over and if sources are to be believed both are annoyed with the party leadership. Mir had defeated Omar Abdullah from Sonwar while as Javeed Mustafa was a two time minister.
The workers of legislator Majeed Padder even threatened to teach PDP a lesson in parliament elections in case he is not again inducted into cabinet. If sources are believed there is strong resentment among the PDP for giving credence to those leaders within the party who hold no sway among the masses even some legislators are annoyed over sidelining them over those leaders who have never won elections and they term them as outside or bureaucrats who have no political knowledge. Despite political rumblings within PDP in future there seems no immediate threat to the PDP as far the party leadership is enjoying cordial relation with its coalition partner – Bhartiya Janta Party but the situation through which Kashmir is passing nobody can predict which shape the politics is going to shape in Kashmir. On its party – Mufti family has managed to strengthen its grip on the party. Recently chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti elevated her maternal uncle Sartaj Madni to second important party post – vice president. Now both top posts within party lie within Mufti family. Though party could have elevated parliament member from Baramulla and one of its founding members – Muzuffar Hussain Baig to this important post, however, if party sources close to Mufti family are to be believed after the Altaf Bukhari’s overtures to New Delhi when Mehbooba Mufti was in talks with BJP leadership – the Mufti family is not ready to trust any outsider in the political affairs. As the party will be facing its political litmus test in the parliament and panchayat elections – the party leadership is trying its best to accommodate grass root workers who can fetch votes for the party candidates. In case PDP losses panchayat and parliament elections of Anantnag and Srinagar seats – this will further expose chinks within the party.
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The article appeared first in the print edition of March 1 to 8, 2017.