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

Since Junaid Azim Mattu’s removal in a no-confidence motion, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation has remained without a Mayor–a post equivalent to the rank of a Minister of State. He remains confident of “proving our majority” as and when Mayoral elections are held.

Mr. Mattu has been a vocal critic of the Gupkar Declaration and has since parted ways with the Sajad Lone led People’s Conference. The Kashmir Walla spoke to Mr. Mattu about politics and the SMC.

Here are the excerpts. 

Why has the SMC always been in the news for all the wrong reasons? Did the instability impact the work it was supposed to do?

These are the positive aspects that sadly get blurred into obscurity because of the theatrics and mischief of one single man indicted of fraud and corruption — a man of highly questionable antecedents who has left no stone unturned to destabilise the elected body at regular intervals – of defaming and scuttling it. This individual then drew support from the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National Conference (NC) as well in the Corporation. 

The Former Mayor from NC – who has unabashedly converted the NC presence in the Corporation into a remunerative personal trade – has also been a destabilising factor – brazenly and shamelessly. The NC boycotted the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) polls but has left no stone unturned to destabilise the Corporation through its proxies who later joined the party. The overwhelming majority of the elected Corporators are committed to serving their constituents and want to contribute positively. Unfortunately, one single man’s obsession with his own self and with lies and theatrics has affected the entire Corporation. However, I am confident that the SMC will be back on track soon and we should be able to continue doing good work.

How important was it to contest the ULB elections at a time other parties had boycotted it?

Boycotting the ULB elections would have been an unmitigated disaster. You cannot leave the representational field open and watch the emergence of an accidental leadership. No amount of idealism can undermine the importance of offering the people a credible choice. And if the traditional parties boycotted the ULB elections on ideological grounds — why didn’t they boycott the Parliament Elections? The compartmentalisation of idealism and moralism has no takers anymore. Why didn’t they boycott the Parliament elections? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander I say!

 

What has been your experience with the People’s Conference? What were the terms of your exit with the party?

The emergence of Peoples’ Conference (PC) was the emergence of an alternative in Kashmir’s mainstream – against the exploitation and misrule of the two family-led traditional political parties. I have given my sweat and blood to the emergence and institutionalisation of PC in Srinagar. When I left the NC after it decided to boycott the ULB elections, it was again based on a principled stand — to contribute to the emergence of an alternative. Unfortunately, the PC now believes the vision of an alternative to traditionalism can be withdrawn in the interim in deference to the newfound sacrificial streak in the Abdullahs and the Muftis. It can’t. PC could have and should have espoused the restoration of the State’s special status and rights – as an alternative – not as an accessory to traditionalism and exploitation. 

I have also witnessed how a couple of senior leaders from the party operated outside the acceptable limits of party discipline and repeatedly conspired against me in connivance with the traditionalists. It was unbecoming and utterly disappointing. The party chairman was aware of all of this but perhaps was and remains compelled to brush it under the carpet. My sense of dignity, self-respect and honour didn’t allow me to sit with those conspirators in the party and pretend nothing had happened and that somehow their brazen attempts to dislodge me should be forgotten. I value my perseverance to nurture the emergence of an alternative in Srinagar far too much to compromise with this duality. At least two senior leaders of the party were actively involved in repeated and sustained attempts to sabotage me in the SMC and that should not have been allowed by the Party – even if those leaders had petty personal grudges against me. 

I deeply respect and admire Sajad Lone Sahab – as an elder brother and a mentor and will continue to do so. However, I believe he is doing disservice to his own potential, his abilities and his vision by giving a wide-berth to those who are guilty of violating the very spirit of party loyalty, sincerity and honesty and want to function as an autonomous sub-party within the party. 

That said, my departure from the Peoples’ Conference was dignified and evolved as a matter of these issues as also my belief that joining hands with the traditional family-led parties was a great disservice to all those who had worked very hard to nurture the emergence of the party as an alternative. 

You are a vocal critic of the Gupkar Declaration. Why is that?

First things first – I unequivocally assert the demand for the restoration of the State’s special status and the restoration of Statehood for Jammu and Kashmir. My disagreement with the Gupkar Declaration is not ideological – far from it. My disagreement is a reflection of the widespread disillusionment with the traditional mainstream in Kashmir – their history of duplicity. The history of the erosion of J-K’s constitutional guarantees does not start on the 5 August 2019. Those who are complicit in the machinations of repeated erosions of J-K’s special status over decades cannot possibly represent the collective outrage over the decisions taken on the 5 August, 2019.

I can’t and don’t feel compelled to reconcile with the fact that Dr. Farooq Abdullah gets absolution after all these decades and gets to represent the grief and disillusionment that he has been a key architect of. Did the previous PDP led Government not facilitate erosion of J-K’s special status – in terms of the extension of the GST regime to J-K? Or the National Food Safety Act (NFSA)? What about the extension of RBI’s complete and total control over J-K Bank? Did all of that never happen? And these are all recent instances. A cursory look at the history of erosions over seven decades contradicts the stand being espoused by the signatories of the declaration — they are all guilty of facilitation. Facilitators of erosion cannot be the advocates of restoration. Plain and simple.

I have also witnessed how the NC – directly through its Youth President – allied with the BJP in SMC to dislodge us while being a signatory to the Gupkar Declaration. You cannot partake in moral gymnastics and compartmentalise an ideological stand — in SMC NC wants to work with the BJP and outside SMC they want to fool us to believe they are opposed to the same BJP. If the party’s General Secretary cannot be loyal to the Gupkar Declaration in his own house – do you really think NC is going to be loyal to the other signatories for long?

Would you say that you are disillusioned with the traditional unionist parties?

Who isn’t? And do you think the traditional mainstream leaders don’t realise this? They are absolutely disconnected and cannot hear the deafening invective of suspicion and disdain they attract at the grassroots level. They are mistaken that a year in incarceration means a clean slate. Anything but that. The people have a million questions for them – and there is a general sense of suspicion and mistrust when it comes to them. The Gupkar Declaration and the “Peoples’ Alliance” is an exercise in guilt between these parties —- a mutual ceasefire so that they don’t expose one another in the context of their roles before the 5th of August, 2019. Why should I – or the people of Kashmir at large – feel compelled to take this exercise in guilt as the aspirational holy grail? We can disagree with this cozy club of exploitation and elitism and still seek the restoration of the J-K’s rights and statehood.

What according to you is a pragmatic way to fight for the restoration of special status?

Well it is a battle that has to be fought within the ambit of the Constitution in the Supreme Court. The decisions can be reversed either by the judiciary or by the Parliament of India. Those are the only two possible ways. If the Gupkar Club wants you to believe there is a third way in a parallel universe where they look at themselves as saviours and heroes — they are lying to the people. 


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