On Wednesday, Junaid Azim Mattu staged a comeback in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) with majority votes – 62 percent – cast in his favor, in an open ballot at the corporation’s head office in Karanagar.
The 36-year-old, who comes from an affluent Srinagar family with strong pro-freedom roots, has again become the Mayor of the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir – a post equivalent to the stature of a Minister of State.
Much like his ascension to the mayoral post in 2018, his election this time too was surrounded by controversy. Last time, the then governor of the erstwhile state, Satya Pal Malik, had publicly said, weeks before the first vote was cast, that Mattu would be the next mayor, fuelling rumours of a selection instead of an election.
This time, too, a commotion filled election process for the city municipal council saw everything from broken glasses and tables to the opposition walking out and terming the elections rigged. Mattu’s rival, Sheikh Imran, who was earlier his deputy, got merely seven out of a total fifty-one cast. Nineteen abstained from voting.
Imran accused the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and other independent corporators of lobbying for Mattu. The Imran camp launched a frenzy of attack towards Mattu. It was a “murder of democracy,” one of the corporators shouted during the election.
The SMC has been at the centre of the drama, even as other politicians of J-K remained detained, the councillors at the Karanagar building kept the politics—however dirty—going. From slaps to accusations of deep-rooted corruption to below the belt mudslinging, the SMC corridors have seen it all.
Mattu’s re-election has once again put him at the centre of attention, as people are wondering where his allegiance lies. This after Mattu blamed the NC for coming together with the BJP to oust him, when he had lost a no-confidence motion against him as the Mayor of the SMC.
In 2018, Mattu had left the National Conference to again join the People’s Conference. In September this year, he again left the People’s Conference but the party has also dispelled him. On Thursday, a day after winning the election, he joined the Altaf Bukhari headed Apni Party prompting one local news organisation to call him a “serial turncoat.”
Meanwhile, the BJP that Mattu had accused of joining hands with the NC to oust him also welcomed his return to the office. In a statement, the party said, “The primary aim of conducting Urban Local Bodies elections was development but SMC was turned into a corruption hub by some black sheep over the past few years.”
This further renewed speculations that Mattu was indeed backed by the Hindu nationalist party – the main rival of the regional People’s Alliance. Mattu’s re-election, with the support of the BJP, also made it once again clear that it is the BJP that decides what happens in the region.
While Mattu is well known for hopping from one party to another, one cannot deny the fact that he was hailed a hero—at least on social media—for SMC’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts in the early days of the lockdown.
His Hollywoodesque photographs, where he is seen leading the SMC workers, are deeply etched on the minds of Srinagar residents. With him again at the helm of municipal affairs once again, one expects the SMC to work for the people and make the city liveable.
Keeping aside the Apni Party supremo Altaf Bukhari’s dream of making Srinagar a world class city, one hopes for Mattu to merely take care of the immediate challenges: clogged drains and pothole riddled roads.
One also expects that Mattu will bring in his good education to play and continue taking initiatives in mitigation of COVID-19 in Srinagar – the most affected part of J-K, which is witnessing a resurgence in both deaths and new cases due to the deadly virus.
Whether or not Mattu takes Srinagar to “new heights” is something only time will tell. However, his instructions to immediately restore operations at the planning wing that was sealed just after a day after joining the office gives a ray of hope to the Srinagarites.