Commentary

The (un)contested legacy of Srinagar Mayorship

As the Municipal poll ballots are yet to be counted, the predictions about the next Srinagar Mayor are rife with rumours and reassurances. Amid the competitive pitches for the city’s lordship, the lately concluded polls that were shrouded in mystery, with ghost candidates sans names, have put every contender, barring the boycotters, on the same page of the uncontested legacy.

If parallels can be drawn between Kashmir’s unionist camp and a racecourse—crowded with tested stallions and unknown jockeys—then Srinagar Mayorship is some race at the moment.

On the sidelines, among the cheerleading crowds, the way some betters—barring the twin traditionalists on a boycott mode—sound so upbeat about their racing horses even before finishing, makes the entire exercise more of a spectacle than a rule-based game.

That rules were never a cardinal principle in Kashmir’s disruptive poll history is a commonplace understanding in the Vale, but the manner the recent urban bodies elections fared itself flopped the entire “return of democracy” show.

The recurring event, wherein the unknown candidates would come out as uncontested winners from the deserted polling booths, became the hallmark of the entire process.

But then, the Raj Bhavan was quite upbeat about the entire process—even though in an apparent goof-up moment, a Freudian slip of sorts, its new executive predicted a “foreign-educated, young man” as Srinagar’s new mayor.

Satya Pal Malik as a new governor of Jammu and Kashmir is reminding many of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. But one shouldn’t be surprised over the stark shades of the late PDP patron in him — given how both of them as opposition leaders were once backbenchers in the Rajya Sabha in the late eighties.

Satya Pal Malik.

Much of Malik’s Kashmir insights are being attributed to Mufti, with whom he “relished Kashmiri Wazwan” quite often, over some pep talk. And therefore, many reckon, the man was never a random replacement for NN Vohra.

When the Indian premier Narendra Modi relieved him from Bihar’s governorship and sent him to Kashmir on a special deputation, it was more of a political statement than a departure in Raj Bhavan—otherwise being graced by the former army generals, than a political being of the ruling BJP.

From the word go, the new governor sounded like an emissary than a usual administrator meant to preside over a governance void created by the fall of the elected government in the region.

He took over from general Bipin Rawat as the new vocal K-talker, who “can’t wait for a normal situation before starting a democratic process” in Kashmir. In the same breath, reminding Delhi’s of its Kashmir “misadventures”, Malik predicted the next mayor of Srinagar and faced a political storm.

The revelation of sorts—although turned down by Raj Bhavan’s busy staff as “distortion of facts”—came days after National Conference witnessed a rise of the deserter in its ranks.

In Junaid Mattoo—known for his ability to change political camps at will and opportunities—Omar Abdullah apparently lost his man Friday, at least, on twitter.

But his dramatic and timely walkout from the NC camp also made him an assumed proxy for Kashmir’s grand old political party—that apparently wanted to hold its grip on Srinagar lordship.

NC circles, however, denounce such a possibility as an “over-imagination” on part of their detractors.

Junaid Mattoo.

Interestingly, as the chief of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), mayor of Srinagar is the first citizen of the City, elected through a popular vote in a quinquennial—recurring every five years—election. The party that wins the maximum number of seats holds an internal vote to decide on the mayor.

But if Mattoo is that foreign-educated mayor that Malik predicted, then the whole scheme of things indeed looks a set spectacle. And given how the other parties—majorly cashing in on the regional parties’ boycott politics—are also eyeing for the top post, Mattoo’s floating nature might make him either BJP’s or Peoples Conference’s candidate. But then, again, as NC veterans want one to believe, it might well be a case of an “over-imagination”.

Already, BJP’s state chief Ravindra Raina has announced his party’s assured candidature for the next Srinagar Mayor. And given the number of wards, 70, that BJP won uncontested in J&K municipal polls, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

So far, however, Srinagar has been a no-go zone for the BJP. And therefore, its candidate’s elevation to the post will indeed be a historic shift.

At the same time, a separatist-turned-unionist-turned-BJP socialite, Sajjad Lone is also confident about his candidate’s rise as Srinagar’s mayor. Lone’s proximity with his “big brother” Modi and BJP’s state camp has made his party as an apparent ‘mirror image’ of the rightwing outfit.

So, in any case, the contest for Srinagar Mayorship looks indeed an uncontested shot to legacy.

 

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