A Raj Bhawan Report

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Everybody knew that N N Vohra, an erstwhile point man who smoothly managed the hyper-sensitive state through three unrests as governor has to go home one day. His style of working had made him an exceptional governor who as Prime Minister’s darling got an extension beyond two terms. But why was he subjected to “deliberately unceremonious exit” eventually, Masood Hussain tries to get answers

N N Vohra, the former governor’s last major schedule was to visit various Muslim shrines in Shehr-e-Khas.

Narinder Nath Vohra had flown to Delhi and was on a dental chair when he got a call. It was Home Minister Rajnath Singh on line. He was told that the central government has “made up its mind” that a new man will fly to Srinagar’s Raj Bhawan. Well before he could drop the phone, Singh added a line that Delhi has told the new governor Satya Pal Malik to take over at the earliest. Vohra was still in Delhi that Malik landed in Srinagar on the Eid afternoon, less than 24 hours after his appointment was announced.

It was already known that Kashmir’s longest-serving governor will finally demit office after the Amarnath yatra concludes. But the way he was given marching order tantamount to be an unceremonious exit, for a person who handled Kashmir, the most sensitive place in India, for a decade. He did not create even a bit of controversy and, despite having strong likes and dislikes, he hardly displeased anybody.

“It is human basic that a person who has served a place for 10 years must have sort of made a home there,” senior NC leader, Abdul Rahim Rather said. “Before he goes home, lot many people would want to meet him. He ideally should have got a week but unfortunately, he did not get it.”

Malik landed in Srinagar, stayed in the Raj Bhawan, took the oath of office in one of the lowest profile functions – in which the government literally boycotted the media, and within minutes took off for Patna. A day later, when Vohra landed in Srinagar, he lacked the normal privileges and avoided staying in the Raj Bhawan. For the last few days, he is putting up in a Raj Bhawan’s Annexe No 1 and is supervising the transfer of his belongings. “I think, both the men needed these four days,” Rather said. “Heavens would not have fallen had both of them got this much of time.”

After he concluded his second term, Vohra had started dispatching his belongings to Haryana, his place of birth, where he wants to live. He sent almost one and a half truckloads to his ancestral home in Shingli. At one point of time, he even sought the state chopper for flying home. It was in the middle of it that he got an extension.

A politician said the transfer of power took place in such a fashion that lacked wisdom and courtesy, and it became really difficult even to bid a farewell to him. “It was Dr Farooq who took the initiative and arranged the meeting with various political parties,” the politician said. “A seasoned man, he said, he understands the problems Kashmir is facing and will not retire. Instead, he will continue working for Kashmir and talk for the people.” What was very impressive for Kashmir’s political class – who gifted him a carpet – was Vohra’s insistence: “I love Kashmir”. He was disturbed for not getting enough time for transferring his belongings. “He was thinking of going to Ladakh and Jammu before demitting office,” one senior politician from Jammu said. “He was not unhappy over the conclusion of his term but upset over the way he is leaving the state.’

Later, talking to administration, Vohra said, he will be in touch with “some of you” in future as well. “Since my successor has already joined, I will be here till Monday, and when he will come, I will be already out,” he said.

On the eve of Eid, Vohra was in secretariat presiding over a meeting about drinking water with Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoDWS). The focus was the availability of water in Vaishno Devi belt. After the meeting was over, he took off for Delhi. He had already sought an appointment with the Prime Minister and with his dentist.

Before leaving for the airport, he directed for two messages to be sent to the media: first, his grief over the death of 11 Macchil yatra pilgrims in Chenab Valley in a road accident, and second, his greeting message on the occasion of Eid. Later that day, when he was in the dentist’s chair he got the decision of his retirement.

Everybody in Srinagar knew that no power in Delhi can afford a governor in Srinagar beyond a decade. But everybody wants to know why the exit was so lowly dramatic.

“The closure of his term was announced by a political executive (Ram Madhav) and it is quite disheartening that a person, holding a constitutional post, who smoothly handled Kashmir through three unrests for 10 years, deserved this,” Naeem Akhter, senior PDP man, said. “I think they (BJP) are taking a big decision on trivial things. With this Vohra has gone into the same box where every Kashmir mainstream leader has gone.”

But the question remains: why this?

Vohra had evolved into a Kashmir expert with strong likes and dislikes. After Mehboba led BJPDP government fell, he appointed Khursheed Ganai as one of his advisers. When Delhi objected, he threatened a resignation.

Vohra’s position on Kashmir is well known. He does not want any change in the constitutional relationship. Interacting with the politicians, he talked about the “trust” between the state and the centre. His decision-making on Article 35(A) was not liked by many in Delhi. He had sent a detailed note suggesting the hearing on the issue must be frozen till an elected government takes over in Srinagar. Not publicly known, Vohra had contacted some of the best lawyers requesting to defend the case in the Supreme Court.

If the sources in Delhi are to be believed, at one point of time, he had given deaf ears to the informal talk to explore the possibility of inviting BJP (read Dr Jitendra Singh) to make the new government. But this is confirmed from all sides that Vohra had refused point blank to get into any kind of political engineering.

But what has actually played against him and is being said to be the prime reason for his unceremonious exit was the “report” that Delhi received about his “plan” to recommend the dissolution of the state assembly. Even if he had moved the idea only, this would have embarrassed Delhi that seeks to keep the hope afloat that a new government will take over on the ruins of the BJPDP government.

Whether or not, he had the “plan” is not known. What is known is that he had told the law department to examine it. But he had liberally talked to various politicians about the idea, mostly on their request. Had this plan been initiated, the possibility of reported horse trading would have stopped.

“He had another major issue,” one source privy to the developments said. “He had grown restive after the appointment of the new Chief Secretary who is controlling the entire administration and is unwilling to share his authority.” It was a few weeks after Delhi had flown its trusted IAS officer that Vohra conveyed that he needs to rest now. He had wished to be relieved and was supposed to continue till August 27.

Satya Pal Kashmiri, the governor of J&K.

The last two exits in Kashmir have striking similarities. “Mufti Sahab visited the old city for the whole day and fell ill,” one middle rung PDP leader said. “Vohra Sahab also visited the old city and that proved his last official visit.” And then what happened to Mehbooba, happened to Vohra. “Delhi reacted to the reports that Mehbooba Mufti was pulling out of the coalition and pushing BJP to an embarrassing situation,” the same leader said. “Delhi reacted to reports that Vohra was doing something that would embarrass Delhi.” In both the cases, the reports were wrong.

Vohra had concluded his term. The only crisis was that he left Raj Bhawan to meet the Prime Minister. When he came back, it did not belong to him.

But his successor is not an ordinary man. SP Malik (Kashmir has too many SPs now – Vaid and Pani, for instance), the second political governor after Baghwan Dass Sahay, is a very well-read and politically very colourful person with socialist background and V P Singh style of thought process on Kashmir. “I do not think, he will do something that would hurt Kashmir interests,” one source in Delhi, who knows the man, said. In fact, Malik had initially shown cold shoulders when told about his next assignment outside Patna. “But, I do not know, he might have changed, by now.”

Terming Malik an “interesting choice”, another source privy to the developments said that Malik will initiate a political engagement as the administration will be run by the Chief Secretary. “He knows the Muslim culture and will start afresh,” the source said, insisting he has a great sense of humour. “Vohra had started hating people and those things were eventually irritating the processes and this man will start a kind of engagement to pave way for some interventions later. Gradually he will talk to all.”

Will he?

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