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A Political Governor

Bhopinder Singh |

Dr Karan Singh’s role evolved from 1949 to 1967 as the Regent to a Sadr-i-Riyast of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. He eventually rose to the position of Governor. The erudite scion of the Dogra Jamwal dynasty had controlled the state, like his progressive ancestors, who ruled the lands spanning the Jammu plains, Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, Baltistan, Gilgit-Chitral region and the other hill states around the Valley.

In stark contrast to the current situation, Dogra rule was essentially secular, peaceful and ‘inclusive. The largest ‘State’ of the British Raj complete with a 21-gun salute status, soon became a victim of intrigues, vicissitudes and competitive pursuit of ambition both on the part of India and Pakistan.

The delicate framework of Dogra rule was thus torn asunder. The last Maharaja of independent J&K, Hari Singh died a lonely, misunderstood and forgotten man, spurned by the Pakistanis and the British, not to forget two pre-eminent individuals from his own state ~ Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah.

Soon after Independence, all cards were on the deck and the Pakistani interference and complicity in J&K was established with Pakistan launching ‘Operation Gulmarg’ and sending the lashkar (tribal militia) to raid and revolt. Soon the raids were repulsed and there was no sign of any uprising. After the Instrument of Accession to India was signed and the special constitutional terms agreed upon, the subsequent domestic politics, wrangling and grandstanding kept J&K on a permanently festering backburner.

No amount of internationalisation of Kashmir by Pakistan or the wars of 1965 or 1971 could lead to any local uprising, as sought by Islamabad. However the local intrigues and the Centre’s fickle preferences led to the oscillation between Sheikh Abdullah, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Syed Mir Qasim etc.

The supposedly unsettled status of Kashmir served as a convenient reference point for insecure politicians who could stoke and contextualise the situation and perpetuate its tentative nature.

After Dr Karan Singh shifted to national politics, the last vestiges of the native Dogra imprint ended, and a series of trusted former bureaucrats served as the ‘conscience keepers’ or Governors of J&K. Jagmohan served as the Governor during 1984-89 and then for four months in 1990.

He oversaw the tumultuous changes in the state ~ the state elections of 1987, in itself the subject of debate; the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed in 1989, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and finally the onset of full-blown armed insurgency.

This chaotic slide of the early 1990s prompted the Centre to treat Kashmir as a simple ‘law and order’ issue, that warranted a Governor with experience in security matters. The next 18 years saw two intermittent terms of the retired Army Chief, Gen KV Krishna Rao, and the retired RAW Director, GC Saxena. This was followed by the last term of the ‘uniformed’ fraternity with the appointment of Lt Gen SK Sinha as the Governor.

The political platform and the so-called representative ‘voice’ in the form of various PDP, NC and Congress governments could not resolve the problem of armed insurgency that was unequivocally supported by Pakistan.

As Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee who personified military steel and muscularity in conducting the Pokhran test and subsequently oversaw the Indian victory in Kargil, was prescient enough to acknowledge that Kashmir needed a healing touch.

His famous ode of Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat (humanity, democracy and Kashmir’s syncretic past) became the template of civil and political engagement, which was often derailed by Pakistan-supported terror. In line with this over-arching theme, the crucial position of the Governor was given to an experienced administrator, Mr NN Vohra, who had earlier served as the Union Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, and had also worked in the PMO.

Unfortunately, despite his back-channel efforts and acceptance by almost all political parties in the State, Mr Vohra’s stint was tumultuous and turbulent. The ground reality remained deeply polarised and a sense alienation pervaded the Valley.

It was soon apparent that the primary issues in J&K went beyond the binaries of ‘law and order’ or civil administration; it needed political ‘infusion’ and ‘involvement’ that unfortunately did not fructify with the BJP-PDP experiment ~ a marriage of oddities if ever there was one. The prophetic insight of Vajpayee’s Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat was soon accepted and iterated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech this year.

Before long, murmurs of a ‘political person’ were rife, as the imperatives of political inclusivity, rapprochement and the healing touch to democracy seemed appropriate.

As Mr Vohra demitted office after two terms, the state of Jammu & Kashmir got its first ‘political’ Governor with the appointment of Mr Satya Pal Malik. Perhaps his relatively unknown political antecedents, consistences and ideological moorings may arguably have given him an edge over a conventionally ‘strong’ BJP politician or ideologue, given the pattern of the state’s narrative.\

It is imperative that the new Governor, who presides over the eighth ‘Governor’s Rule’ in J&K is soon perceived as strictly nonpartisan and singularly interested in resuming the process of participative democracy, without any preferences in the form of political parties or coalitions. He will benefit from the onset of winter and the closure of the mountainous passes through which the infiltration takes place.

With an optimal security input and unbiased civil administration and a degree of political thaw and representation, the Governor could usher in and deliver a holistic set of sovereign imperatives that had earlier led to the successful end of insurgencies in Punjab and Mizoram.

The history of successful counter-insurgencies suggests a deliberate formula of calibrated inputs that encompass a mix of security, socio-economic and political factors. Engagement with the Hurriyat or even the deliberate creation of an alternative Kashmiri platform (beyond Hurriyat) to assuage and resolve Kashmiri concerns will be the key to progress, if at all.

Satya Pal Malik will have to take decisions on Kashmir without keeping an eye on their political impact in the rest of India, much against the recent tendencies where actions in Kashmir have been weighed in the context of their electoral impact in other parts of the country. Meeting the ‘political aspirations’ ~ within the Indian Constitution ~ has been the missing link, and the current approach and optics augur well on that score.

The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry.