On Wednesday, Junaid Azim Mattu, the ousted mayor of Srinagar, staged a comeback in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) with a majority of 62 per cent votes cast in his favor in an open ballot in the corporation’s head office in Karan Nagar today.
A commotion filled election process for the city municipal council saw everything from broken glasses and tables to the opposition walking out and calling it a rigged election. His rival, Sheikh Imran, who was earlier the deputy of Mattu, got merely seven votes out of a total fifty-one cast as nineteen abstained from voting.
Accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress, and other independent corporators of lobbying in order to get Mattu to power, the Imran camp launched a frenzy of attack towards Mattu. It was a “murder of democracy,” one of the corporators shouted.
A glum Imran earlier said that he felt positive about the elections, but the facts on the ground proved to be the opposite. With a contingent of government forces deployed in the building, a handful of councilors from the opposite camp attempted to disrupt the election with protests and a subsequent walkout.
It was Srinagar’s mayoral election, and the drama was expected. The councilors, who were protesting the elections, said it should have followed due process first with by-elections taking precedence. Showing torn pherans and ripped collars, they further claimed forgery of one of their councilor’s signatures and demanded an inquiry into it.
Visibly angry, a young councilor said, “There is gunda raaj inside the corporation.”
Nonetheless, the election was called in favor of Mattu by 2 pm as the protest by Imran and his posse of councilors continued outside. The staircase leading to the office, now chaired by Mattu, was filled by the media and other workers of the office, roaring in celebration: “Junaid Sahab kadam badhao hum aapke saat hai”.
On the protests, Mattu said, “The opposition was hell-bent on not letting the due process of voting take place, delaying it by two hours by tearing ballot papers and creating a ruckus.”
The murky nature of the mayoral politics
A developmental organization, ideally supposed to be apolitical in nature, the SMC has been anything but that. Talking to The Kashmir Walla, Sanjay Saraf, who heads Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Jammu and Kashmir, said Mattu is the only ray of hope for Srinagar to see any development.
“He has done so much in his last tenure. For more development to happen, we need to get behind Mattu and let him commandeer the ship in the right direction like before,” he said. “Politics aside all the corporators need to realize that he is the better choice out of the two.”
The BJP also welcomed Mattu’s 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.”
In the recent past, the mayoral election has always been surrounded by troubled waters.
On 16 June 2020, Mattu was toppled after he lost a no-confidence motion as Mayor of SMC. He had taken to Twitter to announce his defeat, saying the BJP and National Conference (NC) had come together in Srinagar to oust him. He lost that motion with forty-two votes from the seventy available. The remaining twenty-eight had abstained from voting then.
In 2018, Mattu had left the National Conference and then later joined the People’s Conference. However, on 27 September, this year, the People’s Conference disassociated itself from Mattu.
The same corporators who had put him out of office in June are apparently in support of him now.
After his return to the office, Mattu said that he will be looking to tackle the COVID-19 crisis back again. At the onset of the coronavirus in March 2020, Mattu was hailed as a hero by several social media users for his active work towards tackling the pandemic.
“All of the corporators need to come together and fight corruption, as well as the pandemic,” he said. “We need to be better equipped at dealing with everything. Let’s get to work!”