NDA government’s Padma Vibhushan to Jagmohan Malhotra pushed Kashmir back to his stint in the 1990s’, reliving the days and nights of horror and terror. Masood Hussain uses the contemporary texts and the first-hand experience of the people across diverse sectors of society to report the 127 days when the right-winger presided over a process that changed Kashmir
The ‘news break’ that J&K Police’s walkie-talkies’ aired on January 20, 1990 noon about the chopper flying His Excellency, the governor, to Srinagar has returned after failing to cross the cloud-shrouded Banihal Pass was literally back-breaking for two IPS officers – state police chief J N Saksena and IGP CRPF Joginder Singh. With SKIMS alone getting 20-bullet hit casualties a day, the duo, Aditya Sinha, the biographer of Dr Farooq Abdullah recorded, was insisting the security grid had hands tied behind their backs.
“They were among that section of administration which thought that Farooq’s approach to militancy had been all wrong and that now that Jagmohan was coming, he would set things right, and fight militancy on what they perceived as its own terms,” Sinha wrote in Farooq Abdullah: Kashmir’s Prodigal Son. “Being members of the IPS, they saw things through the narrow prism of law and order.”
In literal frustration, an excited Saksena (died in December 2010 after surviving crippling bomb blast in Police Headquarters Srinagar on January 24, 1992), left for Jammu to brief his new boss, Jagmohan Malhotra. J&K Police’s ITBP-guarded boss was an “uptight intelligence agent” pitch-forked for the sensitive job by the Home Minister. He trusted nobody and believed the force he commanded comprised Pakistani agents.
(Armoured vehicles Patrolling in old Srinagar a day after Gaw Kadal Massacre.)
Leaving Srinagar in hurry, Saksena offered no suggestion to Singh about how to manage the aftermath of the season’s worst cordon-and-search nocturnal operation in Chotta Bazar – Guru Bazar belt where nearly 300 men, mostly teenagers, were detained during January 19 night, hours after Jagmohan took the oath of office in Jammu. Accusing residents of storing huge provisions, CRPF men mixed their rice reserves for winter with sand and left sugar pots filled with chilli powder.
The subsequent night, Srinagar did not sleep. Jago Jago Subeh Huie (awake, the morning has dawned) rented the air, forcing a headless security grid to make massive deployments. “That night (in Jammu) that followed was the strangest night that I have ever lived,” Jagmohan wrote in his My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir. “Hardly had I gone to bed when the two telephones at my bedside started ringing, almost continuously. At the other end, there were voices of alarm, of concern, of fright, sometimes muted voices of men too terror-stricken to speak.” They were Kashmiri Pandits, some of them even holding the phone receivers to help him listen to the “terrible slogans and exhortations emanating from hundreds of loudspeakers fitted on the mosques.”
(Crackdown and Parade during 1990s.)
Skipping the helicopter, next morning Jagmohan and Ved Marwah (later appointed his adviser), took the normal flight and landed in Srinagar. A changed Kashmir made Jagmohan feel “virtually shipwrecked on a lonely but known land”. They were driven in “heavy armed escort” to a desolate Raj Bhawan. Immediately, Lt Gen M A Zaki, the commander of Srinagar’s 15 corps, joined him.
“We have hardly any time for discussion,” Jagmohan told them. “Within a few minutes, we must act or suffer being overwhelmed.” An action was soon on. Soon after the “curfew which existed in name began to be implemented,” he wrote. “The crowds that had gone berserk…had to be disciplined… firing had to be resorted to by the security forces.”
A massive curfew defying procession was on its way to Chotta Bazar when state forces opened fire on the Basant Bagh culvert killing 52 people as hundreds were injured. Cops traced “living dead” in the huge pile of corpses that were driven to the police control room (PCR).
(Army keeps vigil during a curfew deal in old Srinagar a day after Gaw Kadal Massacre.)
“By the evening the city had become quiet,” recorded Jagmohan on the second night of his 127-days “terrific” stint. “Order has been restored. The curfew restrictions began to be respected.” The shooting that opened Jagmohan’s bloodiest account in Kashmir only marked the beginning of a new disorder. Marwah termed it an “inauspicious start”.
The Turkman Gate Khalnayak who gave family planning a new connotation, Jagmohan was no stranger to Kashmir. He had barely been away from Raj Bhawan for six months. In his earlier stint (September 26, 1984 – July 11, 1989) when Congress picked him to replace B K Nehru for toppling Dr Farooq Abdullah in 1984, the “nurse” had worked so impressively on urban development and against corruption that many thought he had an image makeover.
“When he toppled Dr Farooq’s government, he was hated but by his governance he had started being seen differently,” says Naeem Akhter, then an officer and now PDP leader. “But the day he banned mutton on Janam Ashtami, the perceptions about him changed fast and people restored their belief that he was what he actually was.”
Jagmohan sacked five employees in February 1986 for being anti-national. One of them was Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, who later founded the Muslim United Front (MUF). Akhter believes the mutton ban was a key factor in the emergence of MUF that triggered new insecurity in NC and Congress, led to rigged polls and resulted eventually in militancy.
To undo the crisis he had contributed to, V P Singh government’s Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a Kashmiri himself picked him only. Akhter says Mufti regretted the choice later.
Jagmohan’s ‘ab tak ki kahani’ consuming a significant portion of his book was part of his legacy as head of the state. In fact, when the first two bombs ripped the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) and Srinagar Club apart during the intervening night of July 31 and August 1, 1988, he knew what was happening. As Delhi’s most senior man in Srinagar, he might not have been completely ignorant about the happenings around LoC. It was a complete role shift that made his second stint different. Fearing centre’s new man would repeat 1984, Dr Farooq Abdullah resigned the same night (January 18-19).
On day first, he offered the job of adviser to Chief Secretary Moosa Raza, who declined. His second offer went to Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah, the former police chief. Initially, he confirmed, but later he also declined.
With the security grid handling the situation, Jagmohan started effecting changes in the laws to help them. After appointing Hamidullah Khan Banhali and made him Chief Secretary (law and order), he amended Section 10 of the Public Safety Act and omitted the words “in the state’ to facilitate the transfer of detainees to far off locations in adverse weather conditions, far away from their families and defence. Almost every day, BSF planes would fly out with prisoners to far away states.
By Governor’s Act 8 of 1990, Jagmohan amended the criminal law amendment act and dispensed away with the requirement of the Tribunal under section 4. Law knowing people said the idea was to ban all kind of politics. On February 19, when he dissolved the assembly, many people felt vindicated.
If Kashmir was the news-den, there was just one major collector, processor and user – ‘Yousuf Jameel, Srinagar’, the man nobody in Kashmir would sleep listening without. “He might have been a good administrator but situation was such that he could not have achieved anything,” Jameel said. “His problem was that he felt everything in Kashmir was hostile to him. Had he tried taking people on board, the situation might have been slightly different.” In his entire 127-day tenure, Jagmohan never tried to use BBC to put his point across!
Within a few days, Jagmohan asked his staff to revive his public-interactions, a system he had introduced earlier. “Once, we permitted a large group of people and they all had cases regarding arrests, killings and issues related to security forces,” one officer who was posted in the Raj Bhawan said. “Next day when the photo appeared in some newspapers, it started creating insecurity for them. Later, if somebody would come, he or she would hide the face to ensure his/her security outside.”
With curfew, strikes and the processions keeping the life jammed, governance was restricted to interacting with top cops and the generals. “It is a weird game that is being played out in Kashmir,” reported Shiraz Sidhva in Sunday (Calcutta) on May 13, 1990. “At the end of each violent day, the administration gathers at Jagmohan’s well-fortified Governor’s House in Srinagar and, over cups of steaming Qahwa, discuss how well the security forces have succeeded in countering terrorism. A headcount is even taken of the “militants” eliminated. Everyone present agrees with governor Jagmohan that the administration certainly has the “upper” hand in the battle for Kashmir.”
Another officer now retired, said once when he insisted on reviving the public interactions, “I said, a lot of water has flown down the Jhelum since then (his last stint).” His insistence on being strict with the situation once coerced a senior police officer, incidentally a Muslim from plains, to say: “Are we here, just to collect the dead bodies?” What made his tenure distinct, officers say, was while everything that would happen in Raj Bhawan would somehow reach Lal Chowk, the power centre lacked any idea of what was happening outside. Many officials felt that on occasions the governor would drive to 15 corps for the night rest.
His freedom to security forces to be ruthlessness in dealing with common people, cracking down on media, being highly concerned about the minority Kashmiri Pandits and contributing to a self-carved image of being totalitarian were the key ingredients of his rule. On February 3, he drove deep into Habba Kadal to mourn the murder of Satish Tickoo. He was genuinely moved by his family requesting to move out.
Six days later, when BSF killed Bhupinder Puri and the only son of Dr Yousuf while retaliating to an LPG cylinder blast in Lal Chowk, the governor could not afford a drive to uptown Barzalla. He wrote a letter to Dr Yousuf, instead.
“He might not have sponsored the migration but he definitely encouraged and facilitated the exodus,” said Altaf Hussain, a former BBC journalist. Hussain had reported, earlier in The Times of India, how M N Sabarwal, who became State Police Chief in 1993, had differed with the governor on the migration issue. “His (Jagmohan’s) idea was that Pandits will be back within the next six months after he brings Kashmir back to rails.”
There are pieces of evidence of Raj Bhawan sending official vehicles to the minority homes and getting them out to Jammu. “One morning, I saw a police truck parked and the cops taking out the household items of two of my colleagues who were living here,” one journalist who has been living in Partap Park for nearly three decades said. “Earlier, the governor had offered them as well as me to operate from TRC where he would make necessary arrangements. I refused and the plan was shelved.”
Ali Mohammad Sofi worked for the PTI for most of the turmoil. “My bureau chief and his UNI counterpart, besides correspondents of The Indian Express, Hindustan Times and The Times of India were told by governor to move out to Jammu,” Sofi said. “Initially, they ignored but when he insisted, they sent a communication to their Delhi offices suggesting them to take governor’s suggestion seriously. They were driven out in an army one-toner on March 1, 1990, and dropped at Jammu.” While one of them returned within a week, two others returned after a month and for two others it proved the last drive to Jammu.
Jagmohan hated media. He cancelled January 26 function simply because he believed militants had planned to take over the Radio Kashmir and Doordarshan Kendra to announce independence. As foreign media was camping in Srinagar, he thought they had assembled to report the takeover. That is why he barred nearly 30 Indian and foreign reporters from coming out of Srinagar’s Broadway Hotel. As he managed “foiling this attempt”, he thought the militants will now do it on February 11, the anniversary of Maqbool Baht. In the run-up to that, he banished six foreign journalists Douglas Curran (AFP), Jonathan Landay (UPI), Dieter Ludwig (Newsweek), Ms Costa Sakellariou (Time), Ms Sheila Tafft (Christian Science Monitor) and Ian MacWilliam on January 28, 1990.
“Only Mark Tully stayed back,” Jameel said. “To ensure that we do not work, Raj Bhawan ensured my both telephone lines are cut but we shifted to Zafar Meraj’s residence and operated from there.” When a reporter asked the governor why he tried to immobilize BBC, Jagmohan said: “Would Margret Thatcher be happy if you created trouble in Northern Ireland?”
Since curfew was invariably in place, the governor ordered that no curfew passes would be honoured after 8 pm. This literally immobilized most of the reporters.
On February 2, 1990, he created a new record. He sent a BSF posse to raid a weekly English (it stopped publishing almost instantly) newspaper that seized the dummy of its upcoming issue. Surinder Singh Oberoi (now with ICRC) was arrested, driven to Raj Bhawan where Jagmohan asked him to reveal the funding of his newspaper. The copy was returned censored and Singh was freed 10 hours later, after interrogation!
In April, he sealed four printing presses and banned four major newspapers. Cases under TADA were registered against the editors. Those not banned ceased publications (if any) in protest.
Every day, however, Kanhia Lal Dhar, the then Director Information would drive a select group of reporters for a personal briefing by the governor. “It would normally be a dull affair,” one reporter who used to be in this special briefing said. “He would list the incidents, count the dead bodies and say the government had the upper hand.” Rarely, he said, would he respond to a question.
Jagmohan entangled with popular media thinking it will help him win the battle. But he was losing the war that CRPF, BSF and the army had unleashed on people. On the eve of Republic day he decided against to attend the Jammu function, BSF fired on a procession in Handwara – protesting against Gaw Kadal killings, on January 25, 1990, mowing down 26 civilians.
In Srinagar, people started defying a curfew or used the relaxations in curfew to protest. Most of these processions resumed in the last two weeks of February. There were processions coming from south or north. On February 26, Kashmir witnessed a three-wheeler procession for Azaadi and three days later all the buses from south and north came to the city and these were not empty, they carried people. On February 24, when Ved Marwah was on way to the airport, he was scared by the number of people and the buses that were on way to Charar-e-Sharief.
March 1, the day “top journalists” representing India’s main media were travelling to Jammu in an army one-ton; Srinagar witnessed a million-plus Azaadi seeking procession outside UNMOGIP’s Srinagar office. In the evening, the army intervened at Zakura and Tengpora killing 32 civilians. It marked the end of processions.
(Ved Prakash Marwah)
Every day, the hit and run militancy would add to Raj Bhawan’s crises. After JKLF assassinated Lassa Koul, the DD director, the news units of the twin institutions migrated. DD started operating from an ITDC room in Jammu and Radio Kashmir Srinagar started hunting for news readers.
On April 6, when militants kidnapped Kashmir University VC Mashir ul Haq and HMT General Manager Khera, Jagmohan put Srinagar under severe curfew for door-to-door searches. Marwah said he wanted to barter for the hostage release but was unwilling to relax curfew! SJKLF killed hostages provoking governor for a harsher restriction of curfew for 17 days amid coercive crackdowns. He even ordered the seizure of hundreds of truckloads of rice and vegetables that would come to Srinagar from the countryside. Garrisons consumed it.
“I spent my time those days sending these bodies (of IB men) down to Delhi. They were grim days,” records Amarjit Singh Dulat, who headed the IB in Kashmir between January 21 and March 7, 1990, in his Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. “During that killing spree of IB officials, there came a day when I was sort of gheraoed by my IB colleagues in my office. The staff came out, all twenty of them, and they told me they felt very insecure in Srinagar.”
Unlike IB, by then, all the central government employees had fled Kashmir. “Nobody trusted anyone, nobody relied on anyone,” Dulat remembers. “Srinagar was like a ghost city.”
Jagmohan’s most public face was Banhali, whom TV would usually show visiting peripheral ration stores, checking quality and quantity. One day he was caught in a crowd near UNMOGIP office when paramilitary guards of a UN official opened fire, killing six civilians. “He came out of his car and told the crowd that he too was a Kashmiri and is feeling the pain,” one journalist who witnessed the event said. “He had barely finished his sentence that a Kangri landed on his head and I did not see how he managed to leave.”
Then, best of governance would mean keeping hospitals operational and fully equipped as post-Jagmohan casualties jumped to around 200 per day. As doctors were adjusting handling “war-like-casualties” they lacked both budget and supply of antibiotics, and anticoagulants. The only oxygen producing unit in Srinagar was closed and supplies of nitrous oxide from Delhi had ceased. Even air careers refused to fly medical staff.
“However (Chief Secretary R K) Thakkar was not impressed,” Civil Rights activist Tapan Bose wrote in his report India’s Kashmir War. “He dismissed our arguments with the comment that some of the hospitals have turned into ‘dens of militants’ and we had become victims of their deliberate disinformation.”
Then, Naeem Akhter had a relative admitted in SKIMS and somehow he managed to get medicines from Jammu. “I sent a police officer to deliver the medicine but the paramilitary men who had besieged the hospital did not permit it in,” Akhter said. The humiliating body-frisking of female staff by CRPF had forced two lady doctors Dr Shugra Kaul and Dr Vijay Tikku to leave their jobs. “I took an SSP with me to deliver the medicine with the help of local police.”
(Mufti Mohammad Sayeed)
The situation had helped Jagmohan to understand that he may not last long. Raj Bhawan apart, two other people were influencing decision-making – Mufti Sayeed and George Fernandes, the Kashmir affairs Minister since March 11. The seriousness of India politics was at the display when Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal led an All Party delegation to Srinagar on March 9.
Flown in two special planes, the delegation included Rajiv Gandhi and Ministers George Fernandes and Dinesh Goswami. Shafi Bhat, who had won Central Kashmir seat in Lok Sabha polls 1989 for NC unopposed, was in the delegation, too.
“Some of them, who had not visited Srinagar in the last few months, were visibly shocked,” Marwah who escorted them in a bus to the Centaur Hotel recorded. “Hearing about the happenings in the valley was one thing, but seeing the situation on the ground with their own eyes was an entirely different experience.”
At the airport itself, Rajiv rejected Jagmohan’s invitation, that Marwah extended, to play his personal host. Governor’s absence at the airport became an issue. In full media glare, Rajiv asked governor why he was not at the airport to receive the Deputy Prime Minister. As he tried to explain, he raised another query: why Devi Lal’s chair is “on your left and not on your right”, as protocol demands. As Jaswant Singh started interrupting, media was shunted out and the proceedings resumed in-camera.
The Indian Express reported that the mess began with Rajiv asking the governor if Kashmir had no newspaper. Bhat responded saying: “Jagmohan has brought a halt to every activity.”
Then Rajiv attacked him again saying should I disclose what you told me on Article 370 (in his earlier stint as governor)? To this, Jagmohan responded: “I can also speak out, what you had told me then.”
Rajiv wanted to visit the city and somehow he was convinced that it was impossible. Eventually, he wished for a select audience of the citizenry that Shafi Butt arranged.
Jagmohan remembers sitting in the corner of the hotel lobby when he heard slogans. “We found that Rajiv Gandhi and his party colleagues and NC MP Butt and Handoo were being shouted upon. On inquiry, it was gathered that Butt had brought to Rajiv Gandhi a group who he thought would favour him,” he wrote later. “Instead, they turned hostile and poured their wrath on him. They said to Butt: “How have you become our representative, we never elected you? Who do you think you are? You can not face anyone here? You sit in your cosy bungalow in New Delhi. You issue statements. You think our problems are solved like that. Is that your task? Whom do you think, you are fooling.”
Jagmohan further wrote: “And you Mr Rajiv Gandhi, you never came here when you were at the helm of affairs at New Delhi. You thought your prince, Farooq, was ruling in your name. He is a nut, a pleasure-seeking, golf playing monarch. He fooled us, he tricked us. He butchered us when he wanted to do so. Today he and his mentor, namely you Mr Gandhi are shedding crocodile tears. Just go away. Get lost. This was followed by a chorus of slogans: ‘Indian dogs go back’. The hotel staff also joined the group and shouted similar slogans.”
In this confusion Goswami, the law minister interacted with the media suggestion Delhi was willing to talk to militants. Jagmohan was unhappy and a broken man.
The all-party meeting had its own impact on Jagmohan but there was nothing much he could do. “Watching the situation at the airport, Devi Lal had told Rajiv Gandhi: Pata Nahi, Yeh Governor Hum Kou Wapus Bej Bi Sakta Hai Ki Nahin (I do not know if this governor has the capacity to send us back),” Naeem Akhter said he was informed by well-placed sources. “Once back to Delhi, Jaswant Singh had met Mufti and asked him: Koi Rasta Hai, Kashmir Kou Sath Rakhnay Ka?” (Is there a way out to keep Kashmir (with India)).
“Jagmohan exhibited his communal mindset from the day one both in handling police, civil administration and the media,” Jameel says. “He sidelined local sleuths and cops who could help him better and same was the case in media. He pitted Pandits versus Muslim and pushed everybody to the wall.” Eventually, he was alone as all systems he was supposed to command were on auto-pilot. Once, he accused state police of being responsible indirectly for in killing of IB men.
May 21, 1990, was his D-day. “I was posted to Raj Bhawan but I could not attend my duties because of the curfew restrictions,” one KAS officer, now retired, said. “That day I had gone to see him and secure the release of a 14-year-old boy whose father, our Mohalla Imam, had crossed over to Pakistan.” A tense Jagmohan was alone and suddenly the phone rang. “He felt shocked and dropped the receiver asking me: who this Molvi Farooq is?” the officer said. “As I smiled in surprise, he broke the news of the assassination and then his colour faded.”
For the next two hours, he was trying to get in contact with the army, the CRPF, the police – nobody picked his phone. Then the phone rang up again and somebody broke the news of firing on funeral procession near Hawal. Angry, he rang up his adviser Jamil Qureshi, whom he had reluctantly accepted as an adviser. The reply was shocking: “Adviser’s personal assistant told him that adviser would talk to him later!” The situation was getting melancholic and then a differently-colour phone rang up and he started explaining things.
“I could feel, it was his boss online so I left the chamber,” the officer said. “But I told his staff to pack his (Jagmoahn’s) bags as it is time for his departure.” Then Anil Goswami, who was sacked by Narendra Modi as India’s Home Secretary, was his personal secretary.
Sofi was one of the first reporters who reached Molvi Farooq’s Nigeen mansion. Then he drove to SKIMS and followed mourners. Near Hawal, he found no scope to move through the wailing crowd and returned to Nigeen. By then CRPF had opened fire and resorted to yet another massacre.
Marwah, who was on a city tour the day Molvi was assassinated, says there were “reports of unruliness” by the mourners. “The panic-stricken leadership responded by imposing curfew in the entire area. No thought was given to how this curfew order would be enforced without the use of force. It was a tragic mistake,” Marwah recorded. “It was left to a CRPF picket comprising a head constable and eight constables at Hawal near Islamia College to disperse the frenzied mourners. The CRPF picket panicked when they saw the huge procession menacingly advancing towards them. Sensing danger they fired indiscriminately, killing many of the mourners.” Marwah says the incident could have been used for alienating the people from militancy. “…it was allowed to be used by the militants to spread terrorism in the state,” he regretted.
Sofi rushed to his office and flashed the story. He reported 37 killings (eventually the toll was 55 plus) and the world media picked it up. “In the evening interaction, Jagmohan accused me of being a militant who is always around,” Sofi said. “As I argued, he said: I will kill you and I lost my temper.”
Sofi remembers saying the governor that he will be packed off from Srinagar well before he would kill me. An angry Jagmohan sent Dhar to formally protest with the PTI. “He rang up my boss saying as Director Information I am putting on record my protest over the misreporting you have done,” Sofi quoted his boss later telling him about Dhar’s conversation. “Before the phone hanged, Dhar told him: as a citizen and a private person I am telling you, you reported everything correctly. That is why I respect Dhar.”
On May 24, a sullen and angry Jagmohan was summoned by Home Secretary for a “discussion” with Home Minister. Initially, Jagmohan said he is preoccupied but the Home Secretary insisted and sent him a special plane. “That was the last we saw of Jagmohan in Srinagar,” Marwah wrote. “He did come to Jammu to relinquish his charge, but did not come again to Srinagar.”
As Jagmohan was seeking an appointment with Home Minister, it took its own time. By May 25, morning his aide got him The Times of India that reported: “Jagmohan asked to step down”. He knew the summons, only formalities were left. As Home Minister graced him an audience, B G Deshmukh, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister met him at his residence, suggesting him that he is now going to the Rajya Sabha. A “betrayed” Jagmohan dictated his resignation to the PS of Home Minister, whom he found “apologetic and helpless”.
Flying in the chartered Avro with his wife and three staffers on May 25, Banihal Pass came again between Jagmohan and Kashmir. He returned to Jammu that sponsored a three-day strike against his dismissal. Saksena dispatched his luggage from Raj Bhawan to Jammu. Since then, people talk about Jagmohan whenever Zulchu is remembered.