Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU: The BJP-supported independent councillor Junaid Azim Mattu was installed as Mayor in Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) on Wednesday even as members from National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) complained that the election was held “in a fraudulent manner” and upon protest they were dragged out by Police.Informed sources told STATE TIMES that the Deputy Mayor, Parvaiz Qadri, who had been acting as Mayor after Mattu’s removal by way of a no-confidence motion on 16 June 2020, had submitted a complaint to the State Election Commission, with copy to the Kashmir Divisional Commissioner and the District Election Officer Srinagar, in an unsuccessful attempt to stall Wednesday’s notified election for Mayor. According to his complaint he had been completely sidelined from the election process and the notification had been issued by an official “not competent under the Municipal Corporation Act 2000”.
SMC comprises 74 wards. In the November 2018 election, 70 councillors were returned, even as the BJP, Congress and Lok Janshakti Party participated on respective party symbols but J&K Peoples Conference (PC) of Sajad Lone fielded independent candidates. The NC and the PDP boycotted that election in protest of the BJP government’s perceived plans to abrogate Article 370 and 35-A. Elections were not held in four wards as there were no contestants.With the support of BJP and PC, Mattu was elected as Mayor on 6 November 2018. His arch rival and a businessman Sheikh Imran, who also joined PC later, was elected as Deputy Mayor.However, Sheikh Imran was forced to submit his resignation when he was detained and lodged at SKICC along with a number of other mainstream leaders but a no-confidence motion came up against him. He was also arrested, and later bailed out, after facing allegations of manipulating multiple corporate loans ‘fraudulently’ from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. In the follow up election, independent councillor Parvaiz Qadri, reportedly supported by NC, was elected as Deputy Mayor.In the last two years, a number of the independent candidates have switched over affiliation to different parties. Interestingly, both Mattu and Imran have dissociated from PC. On 26 September 2020, Mattu confirmed his dissociation from PC after Sajad Lone’s party announced through Twitter that Mattu had ceased to be a member and spokesperson of the party.The election for the Mayor in SMC was interesting as the arch rivals NC and BJP joined hands to pull down Mattu and Congress facilitated the process by way of issuing whip and directing all of its councillors to abstain. Consequently 42 members voted in favour of the motion and 28 abstained. Mattu accepted his defeat gracefully but highlighted through a series of tweets that the BJP, the NC and the Congress had joined hands to pull down him as the Mayor with affiliation to the PC.Amid reports that both, Mattu and Imran, had been seeking BJP’s support, elections for Mayor were deferred several times as the Housing & Urban Development Department of the Union Territory Government made several amendments in the law and the Rules, once at the eleventh hour. After the election process for District Development Councils (DDCs), four vacant wards of SMC and over 13,000 vacancies of Panches and Sarpanches in the Panchayati Raj Institutions had been announced, suddenly SMC issued notification on 19 November for election of Mayor.According to authoritative sources, currently Congress had 17 members, BJP 9 (including 5 associate members) and LJP one member in SMC. Besides, 11 members were controlled by the NC and 7 by the PDP. In addition to them, 25 independent councillors had apparently no party affiliation. Of the three candidates, Aijaz Rasool of Congress declared that he was not contesting, leaving the BJP-backed Mattu and the Congress-backed Imran in the direct contest.Eyewitnesses told STATE TIMES that an SMC official declared the election open. Deputy Mayor Parvaiz Qadri made it clear that he alone was competent under law to conduct and preside over the polling but he was on protest as the process according to him was ‘illegal’. Congress had issued whip, directing all of its members to vote for Imran.A group of the Congress councillors submitted that they were voting for Mattu in defiance of the whip as 2/3rd majority had such rights. As the names of the dissenting Congress councillors were read out, Shaheena Bhat of Ward No: 7 Rajbagh, objected and claimed that she had not signed any such declaration. She demanded registration of FIR for the ‘forgery’ but her arguments were not entertained. Thereupon, a councillor, namely Ghulam Nabi, was installed as the Presiding Officer. Forty-four members (including 10 of Congress and 9 of BJP) voted for Mattu and 7 of Congress voted for Imran. Remaining 19, including all from NC and PDP, abstained.Deputy Mayor Parvaiz Qadri told STATE TIMES that today’s election was “completely illegal” and a “brazen violation of the model code of conduct” as the election for four wards of SMC was in progress when the “illegal notification” was issued by Secretary SMC who had no such competence under law. He said that he had written in detail to the State Election Commission, Divisional Commissioner and District Election Officer Srinagar but none of them chose to act under law.“When the members raised objections, the SMC officers called in Police and we were all dragged out and prevented from voting”, Qadri alleged. He said that he would file a writ petition in an attempt to get today’s election of Mayor nullified. Commissioner SMC Gazanfar Ali Mir did not respond to repeated phone calls from this newspaper.
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