Can election of Srinagar mayor spark third regional force in Kashmir?
Junaid Azim Mattu’s election as mayor of Srinagar, with the blessings of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is likely to be a shot in the arm for new political forces in Jammu and Kashmir that are trying to emerge as an alternative to the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two regional heavyweights that have dominated politics in the troubled state for decades, analysts said.
Mattu, 34, a former financial analyst who returned from the US barely a decade ago to join politics, was the NC’s spokesperson and considered a confidante of former chief minister Omar Abdullah, but left the party in September after it decided not to contest local body elections. Mattu contested from three wards of the city as an independent and won all. He was backed by Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Lone and PDP dissident legislator Imran Reza Ansari.
Lone is considered close to the BJP and was a minister in the PDP-BJP government in the state till the two broke up and the state came under Governor’s Rule this June.
He was made a minister under the BJP’s quota in that administration.
Mattu, 34, is conscious of the change he represents or wants to. “We have come to the mainstream as an alternative, as a change,” he said in Srinagar on Tuesday, flanked by Sajjad Lone and Irfan Ansari, the brother of Imran Ansari.
Lone himself has spoken of the changing dynamics in the state with reference to his party. “We are a party of Jammu and Kashmir, of course, and we were thinly spread in small pockets of influence. But yes, inshallah, I am hopeful this is a very fast and rapid emerging force given that traditionalism and dynastic rule has prevailed here for the last 40-50 years. I hope that people of J&K deserve a change. And let’s hope we are able to represent change, real change.’’
Abid Hussain Ansari, another dissident PDP legislator from Zadibal, termed the election of the new mayor an indication that a new political force is emerging in Kashmir. “The new force is going to be vibrant. He (Mattu) is young and an educated politician and he will prove an asset for all Kashmir,’’ he added.
According to Ansari, the dissidents had a big role to play in Mattu’s success and would be meeting shortly to draft their strategy for the future.
The Congress termed the election of Mattu “fixed”. “The J&K governor already predicted the selection of Mattu. They used all tactics to get Mattu elected in the mayor elections,” said Jammu and Kashmir state Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir. His reference is to a quote by governor Satya Pal Malik about Srinagar getting a “foreign educated mayor” (Mattu went to business school in the US) even before the election.
Senior PDP leader and chief spokesman Rafi Mir agreed that leaders backing the new mayor are trying hard for a new political realignment in Kashmir. After the BJP-PDP alliance collapsed, there was expectation in some quarters that a few dissident PDP legislators would be able to split the party. That hasn’t happened.
Mir added that the situation on the ground demands “something different” from a new alignment. “There should be talks between India and Pakistan and not these political moves,” he said.
“There is an effort to divide parties based in Kashmir. The people need to think on this. We couldn’t do much after 2014 elections as our party didn’t get the full mandate,’’ he said, adding that the party will continue its political struggle and will stay away from the panchayat elections as well.
NC legislator from Budgam and chief spokesman Aga Ruhullah said the party sees a plan to weaken the base of mainstream parties in Kashmir. “Srinagar Municipal Corporation or the panchayat will get liberal funding as they (the BJP) want to weaken the mainstream parties in Kashmir.”
So far, Mattu, a debater in school and college and also an avid cricketer, has made all the right noises. He has spoken of change and development.
Haroon Rashid, a Srinagar-based political commentator who writes for one of the leading vernacular dailies, said that while it will be very difficult to replace the NC or PDP in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir, “it remains to be seen how this new alignment works”.
And whatever else happens, the victory of Mattu means the NC can no longer afford to boycott elections, he added. The new developments will create “panic” in both NC and PDP, Rashid said.
On Thursday, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav held a meeting with Lone, Imran Ansari and Mattu in Srinagar. He also met some newly elected corporators.