Srinagar: Former education minister and chairman of Jammu-based National Panther's Party Harsh Dev Singh on Saturday left his party reins to join Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in what is seen as the first major political advance by AAP in the union territory.
Harsh Dev, 60, joined the new party along with several colleagues from the Panther’s party he was associated with since its establishment in the year 1982. The announcement was confirmed in Jammu city by a member of Rajya Sabha and senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh. Other senior party members who shifted to AAP from Panther's Party included its provincial president Rajesh Pandgotra, Gagan Pratap Singh, Purushottam Parihar and Sudesh Dogra.
"Aam Aadmi Party has been lauded throughout the country for its role in providing education, health and proper facilities of water and electricity. The same type of revolution is needed in Jammu and Kashmir, where people live without these amenities," Harsh Dev told the media.
He added that the resolution problems faced in Jammu and Kashmir, including corruption, can be solved by providing them with the "Good Governance" that the AAP has exhibited in New Delhi.
Harsh Dev was nominated as head of Panther's Party by his uncle Prof Bhim Singh, a veteran politician and founder of NPP, in 2012. The two leaders, however, were not on good terms and recently, Dev had met senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia in New Delhi in April, prompting speculations of his political switchover.
Elected three times in the erstwhile legislative assembly from the Ramnagar constituency in 1996, 2002 and 2008, Harsh Dev served as J&K's education minister from 2003 to 2008 in the Mufti Sayeed led PDP-Congress government. Recently Prof Singh accused Harsh Dev of issuing threats to him, putting the personal differences between the leaders out in the open.
The Panther's Party is known to have few strongholds in Hindu-dominated areas of the winter capital as Harsh Dev has remained a vocal proponent of Dogra heritage and pride. He has also expressed his dismay several times against the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for ignoring the interests of Dogras in Jammu. He was put under house arrest along with several other leaders following the BJP led Central government's decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35A in August 2019.
The fresh joining comes days after the Aam Aadmi Party appointed office bearers for elections in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions. On May 5, the AAP national secretary appointed members Harjot Singh Bains and Imran Hussain as election in-charge for Jammu and Kashmir, respectively, indicating that the party is amongst the first to prepare for the UT elections expected by October this year.
AAP opened its innings in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party fielded social activist Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat from central Kashmir against National Conference (NC) president and former chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah.