Can the elec­tion of new Sri­na­gar mayor spark for­ma­tion of a third re­gional force in Kash­mir?

Hindustan Times (Ranchi) - - Front Page - Mir Eh­san let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ ■

SRI­NA­GAR: 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 Sri­na­gar­based 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.


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