Most people are curious about why Satya Pal Malik was sent as the new governor of Jammu and Kashmir at this crucial time. The general reaction is “Malik, who?” Instead of a bureaucrat or a retired general, which has been the norm in J&K for some time, why a career politician now? When you lift the hood and inspect the power train, you realise there’s a method in this decision.
Rewind to December 8, 1989, after much tumult and controversy with a V.P. Singh-led National Front government recently in place, an earth-shattering event has taken place. Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya has been abducted by JKLF militants, and the world has turned upside down. Top leaders of the erstwhile Jan Morcha arrive at Mr Sayeed’s house, where he is inconsolable as Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammed Khan and Satya Pal Malik are trying to convince him to appear on national television to say that Rubaiya is the nation’s daughter and it is imperative that she must be set free immediately. But a tearful Sayeed has lost all reason to think, overcome by extreme emotion, for obvious reasons. He refuses to do anything, stunned, struck by inertia.
Just six days earlier Mufti Saheb had taken the oath as the first Kashmiri Muslim to become India’s home minister, in the V.P. Singh government. Not knowing what was to follow. On a parallel level, the JKLF’s Asfaq Majid Wani wanted to do something spectacular in the Kashmir Valley and was restive. His charter was to kick-start the “revolution”, but he didn’t know where to begin. Watching the oath-taking of Mufti Saheb, he thought of an audacious PLO-type plan to rattle the new government. The original plot conceived by Wani was to kidnap the Mufti’s son, reportedly a doctor in Srinagar. But once a proper recce was carried out, the son turned out to be a daughter: Dr Rubaiya Sayeed. As she finished her shift and left for home at around 3 pm on December 8, boarding the bus at Exhibition Crossing, JKLF militants soon took it (bus) over, with Wani and others following in a car. At around 5.30 pm, top JKLF figure Javed Mir called up Kashmir Times and relayed the news of the abduction of the Union home minister’s daughter. All hell broke loose, with phones ringing nonstop in the Valley and in Delhi. The triumph of V.P. Singh slaying Rajiv Gandhi was lost in translation as panic gripped the mavens. After 122 hours in captivity, and against the wishes of then J&K CM Farooq Abdullah, five top separatists were released for Rubaiya. It became a watershed moment for Kashmiris as India was brought to its knees. Since then, the trajectory in Kashmir has been southwards.
Earlier, in what was a politically significant year — 1989 — this cataclysmic event ushered in an ignominious end. An imperilled Rajiv Gandhi found he was surrounded by enemies from within, much like Julius Caesar, as he searched for Casca, Cassius and Brutus. Reshuffling his Cabinet, he expelled his cousin Arun Nehru and perceived ulcer V.P. Singh from the Congress, pressured Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and fellow Doon School alumnus and colleague Arun Singh to resign. Bofors was snowballing and the alleged betrayers — V.P. Singh, Arun Nehru and Arif Mohammed Khan — unfurled the banner of revolt against the Rajiv Durbar. Muzaffarnagar in western UP became Ground Zero, a la Gunfight at OK Corral, as the troika hit the ground running backed by two Congress heavy-hitters — MPs Satya Pal Malik and Ram Dhan. V.C. Shukla made up the list of high-profile Congress dissidents. At a massive show of strength where cries of Takht badaldo, taj badaldo, baimaano ka raaj badaldo (Change the throne, change the crown, change the rule of corrupt); Gali gali mein shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai (The slogan in every lane is that Rajiv Gandhi is a thief); and Mr Clean, Mr Clean, gandi kyon hai tope machine (Mr Clean, why is not the gun — Bofors — clean?) rent the air, Satya Pal Malik spoke first in that raucous atmosphere, highlighting communal hatred and its impact on Meerut and the areas in and around the city. The same Malik was an integral part of the team that toppled Rajiv Gandhi.
The short point being that Satya Pal Malik knows the Mufti family well, ergo, including Mehbooba Mufti, till recently CM of the state before the BJP pulled the plug. On his arrival in Srinagar, Malik was received by Farooq Abdullah, who only days earlier had shouted Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Jai Hind at the Hazratbal Masjid on Id. Yes, I am trying to connect the dots on why Malik? The point being, I think, that Malik knows both the National Conference and the PDP leadership very well. So has the BJP, with its muscular approach which led to the Kashmir Valley’s ruin over the last four years, ecided to course correct? The default mechanism was to send the jackboots trooping into south Kashmir.
Now let me introduce another deadly element into this game of thrones. Satya Pal Malik studied at Meerut with national security adviser Ajit Doval, something that Malik himself has revealed, and which was not known about Doval at all. Malik is in fact a socialist, a Lohiaite, and as he said at his alma mater Meerut College just last year when he visited as Bihar governor, he would always prefer to be remembered as a socialist. Interestingly, NSA Ajit Doval, who is handling Jammu and Kashmir, was also a law student at the same Meerut College, a connection that often counts in politics. There is no mention of it in Doval’s published profiles. So is he the NSA’s candidate for an “iron fist-velvet glove” approach in J&K, where a dialogue from within the Governor’s House will be a real possibility? A dialogue with the principal political players and perhaps the separatists as well. A human touch after the endless bloodletting.
On Sunday, a proactive Malik met defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman at Raj Bhavan in Srinagar. With the killings and abduction of policemen and their families on the rise, the militants have resorted to new atactics in the Valley. Obviously, the meeting between the minister and the governor must have assessed the security situation on the Line of Control and the state’s hinterland, in the main South Kashmir, the epicentre of violence. Earlier, the minister, accompanied by Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, visited a forward post in north Kashmir. North Kashmir that has for long remained outside the ambit of violence has suddenly seen a spurt of activity with the rebels obviously trying to increase the arc of combat warfare. Ms Sitharaman visited Balbir Post, where she interacted with the troops of 28 Infantry Division. She is the first defence minister to visit Balbir Post. This comes after a BJP delegation led by state party chief Ravinder Raina met the governor on Saturday over issues related to the state’s development. Issues related to a significant number of roads, bridges and other development works in the state was also raised by the group. Further, they also apprised the governor on various problems faced by the Kashmiri migrants, including rehabilitation, basic amenities in migrant camps in Jammu and elsewhere, and protection of their properties and temples from encroachments in the Valley.
The governor also met home minister Rajnath Singh recently to discuss the forthcoming elections to local bodies in the state. Given the climate of violence in the Valley, it is imperative that these elections — to choose 4,130 sarpanches and 29,719 panches — expected later this month are held in a transparent and peaceful manner. The election to local bodies was last held in 2011 after a long hiatus. These were supposed to be held in 2016 but could not take place due to the five-month-long unrest in the Valley after the killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016.
It is clear the so-called “muscular policy” predicated on Islamophobia and Muslim-bashing has been consigned to the rubbish heap for now. A political appointee means a political solution could be on the anvil, something the Valley craves for. Contrary to popular perception, Satya Pal Malik is not a Sanghi, but a socialist, a huge admirer of Sheikh Abdullah and Ram Manohar Lohia.
The Valley is currently roiled by the legal challenge in Supreme Court to Article 35A, which lets the state legislature define “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir, giving them certain rights and privileges, and prevents non-residents from acquiring immovable property. Rumour-mongering in the Valley peaked last week when the court turned refused to hear this contentious matter.
Pertinently, Governor’s Rule can last only six months, after which the President directly rules the state. Perhaps that is why Satya Pal Malik is trying to build faith frantically. Stand by for some sort of breakthrough shortly, at least in terms of all-party deliberations where the Unified Command’s inputs are duly considered.
(The writer is Editor-in-Chief, Financial Chronicle; Visiting Fellow ORF and eminent author. He loves the space where politics and economics converge. This article was first published in The Asian Age)