by Khursheed Wani
Talking to technology students at Gwalior, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik made a creative remark on his hasty decision to dissolve the state assembly on the evening of November 21. He said if he looked toward Delhi, he would have been compelled to invite Sajjad Lone to form the government with the backing of BJP but that would have thrown him down in history as a dishonest person.
The verbose Governor spelt out this reason three days after the dissolution of the assembly. On November 22, the morning when he talked to reporters at Jammu Raj Bhawan, he put forth entirely different reasons for his action. He talked about horse-trading, huge monies changing hands, attempts at intimidation and fragility of proposed alliances. The now-famous fax machine dysfunction was attributed to the absence of operator at Raj Bhawan on eve of Eid-e-Milad holiday.
Malik’s landing in Kashmir on August 22, was hasty and unexpected. His predecessor NN Vohra was in Delhi’s army hospital for a dental check-up when he was informed about his removal. This was an unceremonious exit for a seasoned man who oversaw the sensitive state for more than a decade. Malik admitted to me in an interview that he was asked to take over without wasting any time. He embarked on a chartered flight to Srinagar and took over the reins in absence of Vohra. People privy to developments say that Vohra’s ouster was necessitated by his insistence on the dissolution of the assembly. It was corroborated by Malik’s persistent effort to continue the assembly in suspended animation until the plot went awry on that fateful evening.
The J&K constitution allows the assembly to be put in suspended animation in order to offer an opportunity to the lawmakers to explore options for the formation of a stable government within six months. Before this deadline, the Peoples Democratic Party, National Conference and the Congress came up with a claim to form the government with the support of 56 members in an 87-member House. On the face of it, this was as powerful a claim for the government formation as was done by BJPDP alliance in March 2015.
Malik boasts on turning Nelson’s eye on Delhi to exhibit his ‘honesty’ but he did not prove otherwise by spurning the claim of a supposed coalition taking shape in Srinagar. His first constitutional responsibility was to pave way for an elected government. Obviously, the two claims made for the purpose were not identical. One claim was visibly bonafide and another indicated horse trading.
The assembly elected in 2014 was mandated for six years. Though it collapsed a year before its term, it did not practically function for half of the allotted time. Shortly after the elections, it took more than two months for BJPDP coalition to emerge before Mufti took over on March 1, 2015. His death in harness barely 10 months later was followed by another spell of Governor’s rule for four months. Mehbooba hesitantly took over in April 2016 and led the coalition for 26 months until she was humiliatingly sacked in June 2018. This became the most tumultuous period in the recent history of Kashmir after Mehbooba’s government killed Burhan Wani. The killing triggered a massive anti-India public uprising and resurgence of armed rebellion. The uprising was quelled by disproportionate use of force. The war is on and every subsequent event in Kashmir on political and military front is linked to Burhan’s killing.
Malik’s proclaimed task was to restore the people’s faith in democracy but he preached it more than practice. He sought to appear passionate about the rights of people while admitting that elections have been rigged in the past. However, under his own supervision, the municipal and panchayat polls were conducted in the most controversial manner with the main political parties staying away. The manner in which Srinagar’s Mayor was chosen in the garb of an election belied his claims on nourishing democratic institutions.
Notwithstanding Governor’s inability to install a government on Delhi’s choice, it is highly unlikely that he is going to be removed from Raj Bhawan. Delhi is judging his role on disallowing PDP-NC-Congress coalition to take shape at a very crucial juncture. His role is going to be more important in the coming months when elections would be announced for the assembly and the parliament. Interestingly, the incumbent regime is keen to delay the assembly election.
Malik is already enlisted in the most controversial Governors of the state after Jagmohan Malhotra and Lt Gen (retd) SK Sinha. Interestingly, all these Governors were affiliated to RSS-BJP ideology, and their primary focus was to wipe out the special status of the Muslim majority state. Malik is occupying Raj Bhawan at a time when stripping the state of the exclusive status seems possible. The bunch of litigations against the special status would be taken up in the Supreme Court in January, and in absence of an elected government, Raj Bhawan’s role would be most crucial.
By the third week of December, the panchayat polls would be over and status of Governor’s rule would change. On December 19, the state would come under President’s rule until a new assembly is elected. This ushers the state into the most crucial phase and the existential issues of the people would take a decisive turn.