Those Two Months…

As the demise of PDP patron created governance void in J&K, intriguing scenes unfolded in state officialdom currently camped in Jammu’s civil secretariat. The equations further changed after Governor took over the reigns. Now as the deadlock over government formation ended, Tasavur Mushtaq reports the mood, madness and methods gripping the state machinery since January 7

J&K Advisary Council Meeting in Jammu.

Coming events have started casting their shadow in the corridors of civil secretariat Jammu after deadlock ended at 7, Race Course. Now, a mood seems truly colorful: a few sulking faces and many a long forgotten smiles sprouting on the faces of others.

With government formation on cards, a close aide of a former BJP minister can be seen frequenting civil secretariat, again. Dressed immaculately, Shabir early Thursday morning was spotted near the room of his former boss. His body language was a tell-tale of events to come. In the last two months he was seen only once in the canteen outside the secretariat, smoking away his despair and fondly talking about his ‘days in power’.

Like Shabir, many others have begun doing rounds of the ‘seat of power’ lately. Apart from aides, a selective officialdom close to PDP-BJP dispensation equally appears elated after Mehbooba walked out “satisfied” after meeting PM Modi. But the mood was never so pleased.

It soured after the demise of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on January 7, 2016. The death of PDP patron put an abrupt brake on the flight of these officers.

On the same day, reportedly, a senior BJP minister had a brawl with a top official in General Administration Department (GAD) over removal of the names of council of ministers from the official website of GAD.

The untimely demise of the “popular” government wasn’t anticipated by anyone. And the frustrations were palpable.

Arjun, private secretary to one former minister, couldn’t cope with the sudden turn of events. He felt himself caught in quagmire when assigned regular job of his post in the office. Seeing his daily predicament, his orderly, Sunil, quipped, “Sahab ko lagta tha ki mantri ke saath hi hamesha rehna hai.”

Sunil, working in secretariat from last twenty years, offers this nugget of wisdom, “We have seen lot of drama. These things happen here as and when ruling dispensation changes.” For officers coming from field, this is a new phenomenon, he says.

But powerlessness apart, the tough stance of Governor NN Vohra added to the miseries of these officials and aides. Vohra, from day one, started streamlining the system and making officials accountable.

His instructions to repatriate the officials attached to former ministers back to their respective departments aggrieved many ‘stalwarts’. They were in winter capital along with their families enjoying the warm and sunny days. The pain was felt more by their families who had invited relatives and friends from valley to stay with them and enjoy the warm weather. But it turned to be too hot, too soon.

For people like Shabir and Sunil, the exit from power circles was sudden and difficult to digest. The ‘under fire’ people started to lobby with other officials to seek refuge. An all powerful PSO of former minister who had rebuked a middle-rung officer in the minister’s chamber was seen waiting endlessly outside the room of the same officer. He many a times tried to break the ice and finally did by apologizing for his ‘mistake’. Efforts of reconciliation were on across the board. It was sort of a ‘ghar wapsi’.

With men shattered, the ‘material’ also posed many difficulties. The belongings of various former ministers were seen being taken to other rooms as the estates department sealed the rooms.

Showkat, a former minister’s personal assistant, says even the kitchen items of the minister’s offices were distributed. “Hamein electric kettle milgayi,” says Ankush, a former minister’s peon.

With loss of ministerial title and fanfare, the MLAs and other leaders of PDP-BJP were confined to their homes. Barring attendance in party meetings, they had no significant public presence. Fearing public wrath, they avoided even visiting their constituencies.

The long cavalcade was long gone, so were their men. The order from administration directing them to vacate government accommodation put them in a tight spot. BJP leaders in Jammu even registered their protest against the order, citing “security threat”. But a senior estates officer was quick to deconstruct the desperation, “the cost on the renovation of the kothis runs into lakhs of rupees. They have made their homes heaven.”

Even a BJP minister who wasn’t even counted among the leaders prior to elections had renovated his kitchen at the whopping cost of Rs 9 lakhs, the officer revealed.

Not only this, BJP’s state president has been allotted government accommodation, renovated at a huge cost. In a sarcastic tone, the officer says, “it was a pleasant surprise for BJP leaders as they are new to see how state administration goes an extra mile for their comfort.” The work, as per the official, is mostly done without fund allocation.

Civil Secretariat Jammu.
Civil Secretariat Jammu.

In a senior official’s private party, when a former BJP minister was spotted, many didn’t recognize him. “He was a changed man,” says an official present at the party. When questioned about government formation, the mantri was heard stating, “jab aap bulayeinge, hum tou hamesha tayaar hai.”

The embarrassing situation was same in both the capitals. What happened to PDP in Kashmir was fate of BJP in Jammu. The only difference was that PDP leaders were to some extent privy to developments. BJP leaders were told by party high command not to indulge in ‘public posturing.’

Sab badal gaye, dekho kya hogaya,” one ex-junior minister says. Other one was literally crying when reminded of his efforts, particularly the money he spent, in winning the elections.

Sipping coffee in his official bungalow, the former BJP minister says, “Only Mufti sahab passed away. What else happened?”

Clueless, the loss of power had taken toll on them.

When all this was happening, the pending files and orders were being cleared by the Governor-led administration, almost on war-footing. Focused on the ‘good governance’ and timely implementation of the orders, Vohra didn’t let officers to sleep properly. The major gainers were those who were appointed on compassionate grounds. There cases had been gathering dust for a long time.

Bureaucracy wasn’t spared either. After recent reshuffle in police and administration, even the senior officials were seen in tizzy mode. Such was the impact that one commissioner secretary rank official twice postponed his visit to Delhi fearing reprimand from Vohra. The office timings were adhered to strictly from top to bottom. The working hours extended late evening for proper disposal of the files.

With Governor in power, the affiliation with any political party didn’t matter much. The show, as they say in secretariat, was run by the bureaucrats, particularly the IAS group.

During the last reshuffle in the administration, a senior bureaucrat who is known to have equal rapport with all the political parties was pushed back to his original position.

Prior to the meeting he reportedly met both the advisors to seek their ‘blessings’. The meeting results were opposite. He was told by one of the advisors: ‘Nine IAS officers were against his placement in the higher grade.’ The same officer had been earlier also removed by the Governor administration in February 2015 from a vital position he had held for many years.

The over two months of Governor’s rule also gave a reason to smile to a few bureaucrats as they had been sidelined by the previous government. Being senior in the slot, they were placed at significant positions by Vohra-led SAC.

Security Review Meet
Security Review Meet

So, as the aides of former ministers lost power, the appointment of advisors, Pervez Dewan and Khursheed Ganai became source of power to few others. People, close to them, started to revel in glory of being part of power center. One advisor got his previous staff along with him, while other was provided by the GAD. The rooms allotted to them were previously used by the former deputy chief minister Dr Nirmal Singh and former finance minister Dr Haseeb Drabu.

One secretary rank officer, while talking about appointment of Khursheed Ganai as advisor, says: “See destiny, he was denied chance to become Chief Secretary and now he is boss of around twelve departments. Luck played its role.”

Suddenly with ministerial powers, perks and allowances, the scenario changed. Deserted after the death of Mufti Sayeed, the corridor of second floor in civil secretariat was flooded with visiting delegations. People from various parts of state talked about the ‘ill conduct and behavior’ of former ministers and eulogized the advisors. Just two rooms remained busy hosting people coming from across the state with grievances.

For the peons, outside situation was difficult to manage. With more than ten departments to each advisor, the disposal started to slow down. “It is still better than that of ministers,” an employee says.

But both the advisors worked ‘meticulously, but with caution’. Having the imminent government formation in mind, they didn’t annoy anybody and the decisions taken were mostly a continuation to policies formulated by the PDP-BJP government.

An official of one advisor recounts an interesting instance when the advisor consulted former minister regarding the department’s schemes. “Advisor sahab told the former minister: ‘I don’t want anything, which you would negate tomorrow. This way, we will lose time and efforts. So, tell me, what were you up to regarding a particular case?’ ”

Amid all this, an observation that during Governor’s rule, the officers are comfortably placed due to absence of political interference attained new credibility. But for many ‘affiliated’ officers, this time period was a ‘nightmare’.

With former ministers, their aides and officers affiliated to them in oblivion, the Vohra Effect continued till second week of March on similar lines.

The first shocker came when the entire top officers turned up to be the part of budget presentation on March 15. The call from Raj Bhawan—‘Governor is not well’—gave rise to speculations: “Being ill is an excuse, and there is something beyond that.”

Ye Governor sahab bimaar nahi hote,” One officer says, “masla kuch aur hai.”

This was taken as a possible confirmation of government formation.

Though reports suggested that on the backend, Vohra “is the key player in getting two parties closer”, but on administrative front, he was playing ‘T-20 innings’.

With changing situation, the scenario inside the secretariat has changed. The leaders, officials and aides who were in oblivion have reemerged. Infact, on March 16, a former BJP minister and PDP MLA were in the secretariat. Close associates of ministers who were earlier seen smoking in the lawns were making rounds near the rooms.

When they talk about the last two months, few say it was ‘learning experience that power is not long lasting,’ while others assert: ‘Let government be formed, we have to settle scores.’

And now, the ‘change’ has shown its impact. It is said one of the two advisors isn’t in his best form from last few days. His deputies say: “Sahab ka mood bohat kharab hota hai.” It seems, coming events have indeed started casting their shadows.


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