High Drama in J&K: Parties Join Hands to Pull Down Srinagar Mayor
Peoples Conference’s Junaid Azim Mattu had been elected as mayor in the 2018 urban local body elections.
Some sort of theatre of the absurd is being enacted in the politically muted Jammu and Kashmir as members of all the parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Peoples Conference (PC), National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Congress – besides several independent councillors have joined hands to dismiss the mayor in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC).
PC’s Junaid Azim Mattu, who had been elected as mayor in the 2018 urban local body elections, would be facing a floor test on Tuesday, 16 June, in a special session of the General Council on a no-confidence motion perceived to be sponsored by the BJP and signed by 43 members of different political parties in a House of 70.
Authoritative sources told The Quint that after seeking permission from the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar for gathering of the 70 councillors, Deputy Mayor Pervez Qadri has called a special session of SMC’s General Council at the Banquet Hall at 11:00 am on Tuesday for putting to test councillor Waheed Dar’s no-confidence motion against the Mayor Junaid Mattu.
The Secretary of SMC has issued a notice to all councillors after Commissioner SMC Gazanfer Ali Mir got signatures and thumb impressions of all the 43 councillors verified as per provisions of the laws governing the corporation.
Mayor Mattu’s Pleas Rejected by SMC Commissioner
Mattu had submitted a representation, seeking dismissal of the no-trust motion on the grounds that an identical motion against him had failed on 26 December 2019 and, as such, a second motion could not be entertained under rules within six months or till 26 June 2020.
He had also reportedly submitted that a session of 70 members could not be held currently due to the social distancing restrictions and enforcement of the Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) warranted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of Mr Mattu’s pleas became infructuous as the competent authority under Disaster Management Act (DC Srinagar) provided us with the relevant guidelines and advised to go ahead for holding the special General Council session at the spacious Banquet Hall instead of SMC’s own hall. As regards his second plea, records are clear enough that no such motion had been put to vote against the mayor on 26 December 2019 or on any other date,” said an official.
“We had received two separate no-trust motions, each against mayor Mattu and then deputy mayor Sheikh Imran in December 2019. The motion against deputy mayor was listed for voting under rules at 11:00 am on 26 December and the second motion against Mayor Junaid Mattu at 2:00 pm on the same day. The session began as per schedule at 11:00 am. The motion against deputy mayor passed with a majority of the vote and Pervez Qadri was elected as his successor,” said an official.
“In contravention to rules, the mayor vacated his seat in the same meeting, which had only the agenda of testing the no-trust motion against deputy mayor. He asked the attendees if anyone was supporting the no-confidence motion against the mayor. They remained silent which was no legal substitute to seeking a vote on the motion at its proper time in the afternoon session. It was mentioned that the motion had already been withdrawn at 10:00 am. Under rules, it could have been withdrawn only after 2:00 pm when it would come up for a floor test. No session happened in the afternoon. So it was not recorded as a proceeding on any trust motion,” said the SMC official.
Dramatis Personae Drawn From All Parties
Commissioner SMC Gazanfer Ali Mir confirmed to The Quint that the notice for floor test had been issued on Saturday, 13 June, after he was convinced about the genuineness of the signatures on the no-trust motion and after it was ascertained from records that no such motion against the mayor had been put to vote under rules in the last 6 months.”
He said that both the parties had approached the J&K High Court but no order had been received till the notice for a special General Council session was issued. “Our Act is our Bible. We will go strictly as per the law,” Mir said. He claimed that the proceedings would be a “100 percent legal and transparent,” and that he was not under any pulls or pressures from any quarter.
Even as the BJP has not publicly committed support to the no-trust motion, it is widely perceived to have been filed on behalf of that party, which has officially no more than four members in the House of 70. SMC comprises 74 wards but four had remained vacant in the urban local body elections of 2018.
The motion needs 36 votes. It has signatures and thumb impressions of 43 members. The signatories include councillors affiliated not only to BJP and Congress but also those identifying themselves with NC and PDP. One of them, namely Sheikh Imran, interestingly belongs to Mattu’s own PC.
On account of their known political connections and past affiliations, a number of the independent candidates and winners were perceived to be the “proxy contestants” of NC and PDP in the year 2018 elections, though both the parties had officially boycotted the polls and asserted in their statements that they had not fielded or supported any candidate.
In the SMC, at least six councillors are familiar with their proximity to the NC leaders Salman Sagar, Nasir Aslam Wani, and Tanvir Sadiq. Waheed Dar, the councillor from Zakoora who has filed the motion, was previously closely associated with the former Minister and still PDP leader Asiea Naqash.
Of the 70 winners, the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party with 17 councillors. PC was returned from six wards and subsequently, nine more had joined, raising its tally to 17. Officially four winners belonged to the BJP but subsequently, seven more independent members had joined it and raised the BJP’s strength to 11. Six independent winners had NC’s tag and later five more had joined it and raised the group’s tally to 11. Until recently, 16 councillors were known to be “really independent” as they had not aligned themselves with any party.
BJP Leader Seeks Security Cover for an All-Party Candidate
Sheikh Imran, Mattu’s arch-rival in 2018-19, had himself joined the PC and attended dinner with Mattu at the party President Sajad Lone’s home before he was arrested and detained around the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019.
Interestingly, he was removed by way of a no-trust motion in December 2019 and replaced by a councillor known to be affiliated to the NC. Amid speculations that the BJP was behind the current attempt of coup d’etat in the SMC, General Secretary (Organisation) of the party’s J&K unit Ashok Kaul has written a letter to IGP Security SD Singh Jamwal and recommended strongly to restore security cover to Sheikh Imran.
Kaul has written that Sheikh Imran was “on the radar of anti-nationalist forces and sometimes feels hostile situation due to lack of security”. “…security cover of Mr Sheikh Imran may kindly be retained on priority for which I shall feel personally obliged,” Mr Kaul has requested.
Interestingly after his arrest and dismissal as deputy mayor last year, Sheikh Imran had been booked by J&K’s Anti-Corruption Bureau in a loan liquidation scam in Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd in 2019. Earlier this year, he was among a number of political detainees who were released by the Lieutenant Governor’s administration.
Mattu Views ‘BJP-Congress-NC’ Alliance as ‘Badge of Honour’
Mayor Mattu has gone public with his sarcastic dismissal of the alleged alliance between the BJP, Congress, and NC.
“Been informed that BJP has sought a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ in the SMC against me. Those who have submitted the motion are either elected members/office bearers of BJP or unambiguously associated with BJP. This is the second such motion by BJP against me within 6 months,” Mattu tweeted.
“IF @BJP4India, @INCIndia and @JKNC_are actually coming together to vote me out — I wear it as a badge of honour! BJP and Congress have never allied in the country’s history - and if they want to ally now against us - I couldn’t ask for a greater validation of my dignity,” he wrote.
Levelling allegations that 16 councillors had been held on gunpoint at a hotel by the BJP-backed councillor Sheikh Imran, Mattu has posted a photograph and tweeted: “Around 16 Corporators huddled inside in a pandemic without masks - without physical distancing at Hotel Grand Mahal in Shalimar. Some of them making desperate calls to be rescued. Imprisoned by PSOs of Mr. Sheikh Imran, BJP District President Ashoke Bhat, and a SOG Truck outside!”
The NC and Congress have separately claimed that they were in no way participants in the attempt of removing Mattu as the mayor.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)
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