Basharat Bukhari joins National Conference, signals winds of change blowing in Kashmir Valley ahead of polls

Srinagar: The flamboyant, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, is not known to smile face in front of clicking cameras. But he looked cheery on Wednesday when he gifted a bouquet to the former Peoples Democratic Party leader, Basharat Bukhari, to welcome him to the National Conference fold.

A former MLA from north Kashmir's Sangrama constituency who held the important portfolios of law and revenue in the BJP-PDP coalition government, Basharat is the latest face of the changing dynamics of power politics in Kashmir.

He is the brother of Shujaat Bukhari, the late editor of English daily Rising Kashmir, who was assassinated in June, days before the wobbly alliance between PDP and BJP came to an end after the latter pulled out of the coalition government headed by Mehbooba Mufti.

Setting aside all rumors, Bukhari on Wednesday officially joined National Conference, signalling the winds of change blowing in Kashmir Valley ahead of the state Assembly election that will most likely take place next year.

The exit of Basharat from the PDP symbolises the churn in the party, as it comes after the exit of four other leaders, led by former sports minister Imran Reza Ansari who was the first to wave the flag of rebellion in the party. The news of Bukhari's departure, although not surprising, is arguably one of the biggest jolts the PDP has faced under Mehbooba after it lost power in June this year.

"Mehboobaji has grown a lot and it's not possible for me to reach that level. And why should I disturb her again and again? I don't want to be disrespectful with her. As a mark of respect, I left the party," Bukhari told reporters after joining the National Conference.

Bukhari is not like any other leader. A popular broadcaster and former journalist with All India Radio in Srinagar known for his husky voice, he was pulled by the PDP founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed into the party fold.

Bukhari started his political career with the PDP in mid-2000 and served as the party’s chief spokesperson before he was elected as MLC. "This is the man I got from radio, he is a popular voice," the late Sayeed told Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the stage in Jammu during his swearing-in ceremony in 2015.

Bukhari, an avid collector of hats, shook hands with the prime minister and smiled. If the elections are held, popular mood is that Bukhari is likely to get re-elected from Sangrama constituency, riding on a sympathy wave after his brother's tragic assassination.

For years now, the houses of Omar and Bukhari were divided by a small road on Srinagar's upscale Gupkar Road, but the distance between the two leaders has been bridged, at least for the time being. And the smile on junior Abdullah's face, perhaps, has been met with the sadness on Mehbooba's, and in equal measure.

"People come and go, but institutions remain there. It happens before elections... leaders change political parties. You can’t force an individual to be part of a group," said Mehbooba recently, "Each one of us is a master of their own destiny."

But the PDP's ship seems to be sinking with each passing day in the Kashmir Valley. The party’s main electoral base in southern part of the Valley is in turmoil. In the north, it is losing one after another MLA and small time leaders, who see the resurgence of National Conference eminent in Kashmir in the coming Assembly election.

Ali Muhammad Sagar, the general secretary of the National Conference, said Bukhari and former minister, Peer Muhammad Hussain, who was expelled by the PDP on Tuesday, were welcomed by the party patron Farooq Abdullah.

"The policy of the PDP for the last few years has been anything but pro-Kashmir. It is sign of what is in the offing for the party that plunged the state into an abyss after allying with the BJP,” said Sagar.

Bukhari, 52, comes from Kreeri area of Baramulla and he belongs to a family of educationists. He has become the fifth leader of PDP to quit the party in less than two months. Others include former MLAs Imran Ansari, Haseeb Drabu, Abid Ansari and Muhammad Abbas Wani, and MLC Yasir Reshi.

The desertions in the party came up for discussion during a recent meeting of former legislators and senior members which was chaired by party president Mehbooba earlier this month.

After the meeting, Mehbooba was reportedly forced to give Muzaffar Hussain Baig, who had earlier hinted that he may join Peoples Conference, led by the BJP ally Sajad Gani Lone — the face of a much-talked about ‘third front’ in the Kashmir Valley — the post of party patron.

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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2018 16:53:46 IST