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BJP ally’s mayor claim fuels rigging fears

Municipal polls recorded a less than five per cent turnout in the Valley, while more than two-thirds of the wards saw no contest

By Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar
  • Published 19.10.18, 2:02 AM
  • Updated 19.10.18, 2:02 AM
  • 2 mins read
A paramilitary trooper in Srinagar on Thursday. (AFP)

Separatist turned pro-India politician Sajad Lone said on Thursday that Srinagar would get a new mayor from his party, speaking two days ahead of the results and provoking rivals to sound the alarm about possible rigging.

Governor Satya Pal Malik had already kicked up a storm last week by saying “a foreign-educated” politician was set to become Srinagar mayor, prompting charges that this was proof that Delhi always rigged elections in Kashmir.

The just-ended municipal polls recorded a less than five per cent turnout in the Valley, while more than two-thirds of the wards saw no contest — either because none filed nominations or because just one did and was elected unopposed.

Lone’s remark, like Malik’s, sounded more like a declaration than a prediction.

“All set Inshallah to have the first mayor from PC (People’s Conference). Expecting very good results. Time to give Srinagar what it deserves. A set of hardworking people who work there on the ground,” Lone tweeted.

The People’s Conference, a BJP ally that Lone heads, is the only political party of any note from the Valley that contested these polls. It has no political constituency in Srinagar but could still legitimately stand a chance to bag the mayor’s post with BJP support since more than 96 per cent of Srinagar’s electorate did not vote.

Malik’s remark, to a television channel, had come with three of the four phases of the election yet to be conducted.

“My information is that all the parties (that are boycotting the polls) are regretting that they are not participating because in Srinagar they are getting a mayor who is foreign-educated,” he said.

Key regional parties like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party boycotted these elections after failing to secure a commitment from the Centre that it would safeguard the state’s special status.

Neither Malik nor Lone has named the purported new mayor but according to the grapevine, they were referring to Junaid Mattu, a former National Conference spokesperson who left the party last month to contest the polls as an Independent.

Mattu had been with Lone’s party before joining the National Conference, and they have since patched up. A postgraduate in economics from the Michigan State University, Mattu had dabbled with separatism before plunging into pro-India politics. Like Lone, he lacks a political constituency in Srinagar.

After Malik’s remarks caused an uproar, the governor’s office had claimed his comments had been “distorted”. It said the elections were being conducted in a “free, fair and most transparent manner” and that the “outcome would be exclusively in the hands of the people”.

State Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir warned the authorities against appointing a mayor through the “backdoor”. “If they manage things through these (dubious) ways, it will be the last disaster (nail in the coffin) so far as the situation in Kashmir is concerned. They will be exposed and harm themselves.”

Mir said the Congress might emerge as the largest party in Srinagar and would talk to like-minded people to elect one of its victorious candidates as the mayor.