At long last Jammu and Kashmir has a new Governor. And the State under Centre’s direct rule has now a political hand at the helm of the troubled region at the border. The choice of Satya Pal Malik as Governor has, indeed, come as a surprise. The reason for this is that some of the former military, police and intelligence higher ups besides their counterparts from the bureaucracy were in the race for the top job in the militancy afflicted province.
Thus, the question that arises is why did the choice fell on a political person like Satyapal Malik? And what is the message that comes with the move?
To sum it up it is a colossal failure of the Centre’s Kashmir policy through past decades, including that of the present Union Government for past over four years, that has forced Delhi to opt for a politico to be Governor of the crucial State. And ever since 1967 when Dr Karan Singh ceased to be the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Malik is the only political incumbent to head the State that had virtually become the exclusive preserve of former bureaucrats, diplomats and military generals without this ever being acknowledged in public discourse or by the media.
Malik’s immediate predecessor NN Vohra too was a bureaucrat who among his many assignments also served as Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office during the time of IK Gujaral as PM. And before taking over as Governor of J&K over a decade ago from now Vohra was for years serving as an interlocutor in the capacity of Centre’s Special Representative for dialogue vis-à-vis Kashmir. It was this task that Vohra tried to carry forward even after becoming Governor though only a little or sporadic lull in militancy he could achieve through his tenure and thus a time came when he had to give way for another person for the top job. Yet, when a man like Malik’s name was announced about a week ago or so for the post, what was palpable is the new incumbent’s near total unfamiliarity with Kashmir.
So after trying seasoned J&K hands for so many years and decades the Centre appears to be trying to start again from virtually a clean slate. In the recent years this signifies among other things a failure on the part of the BJP and the RSS despite Sangh’s higher ups tinkering with several ideas vis-à-vis the ticklish State and yet ending up with Governor’s rule in the State. The reason for this is simply that the Central Government has mainly dealt with J&K as a State that has been acutely deficient in law and order. And the more it tried to bring a semblance of order in the State, the more intense has been the outcry for justice by the residents of the State.
This has been acknowledged among others by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he spoke on August 15 from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort. In his address on Independence Day Modi said Jamhooriat, Insaaniyat and Kashmiryat (democracy, humanitarian approach and Kashmir’s local ethos) should show the way to peace in the strife-torn State.
The points made in his address indicate to the grim situation in Kashmir which is far removed from the three yardsticks mentioned by him. And it is in this backdrop that Satypal Malik has been chosen to be the Governor of the State. Thus, the main task before him is to build bridges with different sections of the people. Of late the State has got divided more sharply divided than ever before on the basis of region. The rise of the BJP in Jammu has put the party in confrontation with the Kashmir Valley and this could not be bridged by forming a coalition Government with the PDP, or People’s Democratic Party, under Mehbooba Mufti. The RSS has been the main architect of the coalition led by Mufti. The Sangh point-man Ram Madhav has been the main coordinator between the BJP and the PDP until the arrangement between the two parties collapsed in June this year.
Soon after the imposition of Governor’s rule in J&K there have been reports of differences between last Governor Vohra and the Central Government over Article 35A of the Constitution that deals with the issues of State subject, or citizenship, and domicile. It is also the exclusive domain of the State Assembly from the point of view of adherence, implementation and review or amendment.
The Centre also reportedly tried to form another coalition Government under Sajjad Lone amid the possibility of a split in the PDP. These plans have obviously been not able to get the nod of the last Governor and Vohra had expressed the desire to relinquish office. Thus, it is not only that Ram Madhav’s plans for Kashmir failed but also some other key BJP and Central Government functionaries in Delhi too could not help solving issues faced by the State.
The prominent among them are Central Minister Dr Jitendra Singh Rana and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. The first has been backing Lone for the post of new Chief Minister and the last is known for his support for a former security establishment hand for the post of the Governor of J&K. Thus, it is under such fierce competition for the top job of the State that Malik has turned out to be the choice of the Centre. He is said to be actually Modi’s choice though he is believed to have been selected via BJP president Amit Shah. The new Governor is known for his proximity with Shah.
Seventy-one-year-old Malik hails from Western UP and belongs to a Jat family. He has been close to the former Prime Minister the late Chaudhary Charan Singh. And, thus, he is a non-RSS man who joined the BJP after often switching from one party to the other through his initial career in politics. His appointment first as Bihar Governor followed by that of J&K is among other things likely to send a positive signal among Jats of western Uttar Pradesh in the next general elections which are barely seven or eight months away from now.
This is like the case of General BS Rawat whose appointment as Army Chief only a few months before polls in his home State Uttrakhand had a savoury effect for the BJP. The party won handsomely in the State and it was said in March last year that the BJP could dislodge Congress from power in the Central Himalayan State since families of lot of Army Jawans who hail from the State voted for the BJP.
Jats numbers in the Army are also huge and quite a few of them are posted in Jammu and Kashmir. And, thus, the BJP can well hope that the appointment of a Jat like Malik as Governor of the embattled State will send a positive vibe among his clansmen in UP in the next elections.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.)