Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu was granted the status of a minister of state (along with his Jammu counterpart) on August 21, three weeks after the government decided to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.
But Mattu, speaking to The Indian Express on the phone and over email, sees the developments since August 5, “exactly as an overwhelming majority of Kashmiris do — as deeply disturbing and anguishing. The arbitrary disavowal of constitutional guarantees promised to the people of J&K and the break-up of the state has been one of the darkest days in its chequered history.”
Mattu’s party, the People’s Conference (PC), and its leader Sajjad Lone were the most visible allies of the BJP in the Valley. But with the state’s status now changed, Mattu asserts that “the mainstream as a whole is faced with a larger, more existential question at this juncture and should strive for the restoration of the state’s eroded constitutional rights and seek reversal of these moves.” He adds that his party has petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge the decision on J&K.
Mattu, in Delhi for treatment for a chronic ailment, says the Centre’s claims that the situation is “normal” and a large section of the Valley’s population is happy, does not hold water. “The media and administrative narrative seems to be content in defining ‘normalcy’ in a purely operational context — in the ability of the clampdown to contain the immediate repercussions of what was done. If the absence of dead bodies is the new definition of ‘normalcy’ — what can one possibly say,” he says.
Mattu, and his party, also appear wary of the talk of delimitation in J&K. “The J&K Representation of the People Act, 1957, and Section 47(3) of the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir were both amended in 2002 to freeze delimitation in the state till 2026. This was done by an elected representative, legislative forum,” he says.
Mattu says that any delimitation exercise now will appear “politically motivated”. “Academically speaking, the Governor could have toyed with the idea — and this is what was being contemplated in all probability — amended Section 47 of the J&K Constitution or Section 3 of the People’s Representation Act of J&K and lifted the delimitation freeze, and paved the way for the establishment of a Delimitation Commission for the state before the 2026 freeze. But, now that Article 370 has been made inoperable, any move to conduct a delimitation exercise exclusively in J&K would be a Constitutional contradiction,” he adds.
Mattu combats the perception that Lone and PC, as allies of the BJP till the state had a government and fully-functioning legislature, may still be close to the party. “The PC,” he says “has fiercely and unambiguously defended the state’s special status and has always opposed any erosions”. He also claims that the “traditional mainstream parties” — the NC and PDP — “in a lot of ways are complicit in the past erosions in the state’s autonomy and special status,” and the “PC has no such skeletons to hide”.
Asked if he was taken into confidence by the government, and hence granted relative freedom compared to other Valley-based politicians, Mattu is forceful in his reply: “I was allowed to come to Delhi on August 13 to attend a pre-scheduled invasive medical procedure as part of a treatment regimen for a chronic ailment… I wonder if that amounts to ‘relative freedom’ — but you are entitled to your interpretations. No, the Centre has not kept me in its confidence and perhaps it was the nature of my illness that made my continued detention unsustainable — given that a missed monthly treatment could quite possibly be fatal…”