Of all the 2,990 candidates in the fray for urban local body polls in Jammu and Kashmir, Junaid Azim Mattu is one of the most talked about. In a recent interview, Governor Satya Pal Malik, without naming Mattu, had referred to “a mayor who is foreign educated; he is a young leader; if he emerges it will send jitters to these parties (that are not contesting the polls).”
On Saturday, Mattu was declared the winner from three of the four wards he contested as an independent candidate, including Bod Dal, a ward inside the Dal Lake. A total of 1,408 votes were polled in his favour in the three wards he won — Solina 157, Rawalpora 168 and Bod Dal 1,083.
His primary focus, he says, is to fight the “politics of blackmail” of the political mainstream of the state. “How conventional politics works in Srinagar is a three-pronged negative approach — disempowerment, disenfranchisement and exploitation. The leaders here want certain pockets to vote and certain not to vote. The poorer, the more disempowered, a segment is, the easier it is to exploit them politically,” he says.
The new corporation will be one of “decisive and drastic” change, he says. The low turnout is a challenge the state has faced for long, but “there is no alternative to elections”, he adds.
The 33-year-old Bishop Cotton (Shimla) and Michigan State University graduate returned to Kashmir in 2009. He wrote a column for local newspapers. After a stint with People’s Conference, he moved to National Conference. On September 25, after the NC announced boycott of the local body polls, Mattu announced his resignation over his “humble disagreement with the party’s decision”. When the mainstream boycotts elections, he says, it cedes space to anarchy and accidental leadership, “institutions of governance cannot be left empty”.
“If you go inside the lake, you will see some of the poorest areas of Srinagar,” he said, describing the Bod Dal ward, “I would restore the dignity of the original inhabitants of this area… I’ve always said that Dal is not just a lake but an ecosystem and the people who live in the Dal are a part of it,” he says. For the last phase of polls, Mattu moved to a hotel on the banks of Srinagar’s Nigeen Lake, coordinating his campaign for an election that saw little campaigning. Sitting on the lawns a day before the last phase of elections, visitors and voters from the lake called on Mattu. He spoke to them in chaste Kashmiri.
He chooses not to react to the Governor’s statement on a foreign-educated Mayor, saying “it is up to him to add or subtract from what he said”.
He emphasises that one of the first challenges would be urban planning. “My politics is simple, it is the politics of change. Our system is imperfect and we need to challenge it,” he says.