junaid mattu, smc mayor, srinagar mayor, PC, People's Conference, Junaid Mattu PC
Photograph by Umer Asif for The Kashmir Walla

On 16 June, Srinagar city’s mayor Junaid Azim Mattu was removed as the head of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation after he failed to pass the no-confidence motion against him.

Mr. Mattu had widely publicised his initiatives against COVID-19 pandemic in a social media blitzkrieg. However, the no-confidence motion against him was the second time his leadership was put to the test and had now failed.

While the Peoples Conference (PC) leader accepted his defeat, he along with his party have implicitly blamed the National Conference for allegedly forming an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party to engineer his ouster.

While the PC has not explicitly named the parties that had made the coup possible, it has alleged that “a certain party” was hiding their alliance with “a national party” in the recently held no-confidence motion against the former mayor.

In a statement issued by the party’s spokesperson, Adnan Ashraf Mir, the party said that “We accept the verdict of the SMC with all humility at our command. This is the beauty of democracy. Some day you win and someday you lose. Our councilors along with the ex-mayor will continue to work for Srinagar,”

The statement claimed that some politically disturbing facts had come to the fore during the election of the mayor, “The arithmetic of numbers of the winning combination is simply not possible without the joint participation of certain groups. And we certainly do not hold it against any group for aligning with any other group. No group is evil and no combination of groups is evil. But if a certain Kashmiri party is not willing to own up its alliance with a national party and is trying to hide it from the people of Kashmir, then we have a right to ask questions,”

The party spokesperson further said it was no longer about the mayoral elections, “The onus of proving that a certain regional party did not align with a national party lies on the regional party. They have every right to align with them but have no right to hide it in plain sight,”

Talking about the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the spokesperson said, “The last one year has been tumultuous and painful for all of us. And most of the political leaders were jailed. And we have spent time together in different jails. Some of our workers were lodged outside J&K. We were “maybe” deluded to believe that it will mark a new era amongst the regional parties. And this new era would be defined by more transparency, less slanging matches and more respect for each other,”

Meanwhile, the former mayor said, “The vote of ‘No Confidence Motion’ against me, and the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference has been passed in the SMC [Srinagar Municipal Corporation] with 42 votes out of 70.”

“The BJP, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and some Independents have polled against the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference and Congress abstaining whip where 28 corporators abstained.”

These allegations were met with counter-allegations and denials, with the National Conference blaming Mr. Mattu, who in the past has been termed as being very close to the BJP. “He was there because of BJP’s mercy and their curse has now led to his fall,” National Conference chief spokesperson Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi told Outlook. “His friends have backstabbed him.”

The BJP’s J-K unit General Secretary Ashok Koul also refuted Mr. Mattu’s allegation and said his party had nothing to do with his removal. While the political happenings in the SMC grabbed a lot of eyeballs, some analysts say that it was a message from the BJP to other parties of J-K that it is them who will continue to rule the roost in the former state where political activities have remained confined to statements and tweets.

In his typical style, the Home Minister Amit Shah who has been stellar in horsetrading MLAs while toppling various state governments across the country, the rise of Sheikh Imran, the former deputy mayor and also a PC leader, through the backing of the BJP and aligning of councillors against Mr. Mattu can only be seen through that lens. “Everything is run by BJP here, even if they are not in the government it is clear that they are behind all the decisions,” said Noor Mohammad Baba, who teaches political science at Kashmir University.

On the NC allegedly joining hands with BJP, Mr. Baba said that it could have been the party’s vendetta against Mr. Mattu who was their former spokesperson.

Whether or not the BJP played a part in overthrowing the mayor who has been termed as their blue eyed boy and in the past has praised the party is a question that will continue to remain unanswered. The fact on the ground however remains that the politicians who have been released gradually from detentions have on one or the other pretext remained mum over the political future of the erstwhile state. And if anything the recent SMC drama should act as a sign what will follow and how the parties will respond to it

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