In 1990, government employees staged a massive protest against the “bloodbath” caused by forces in Kashmir. In that strike lasting for 73 days, six Indian Administrative Services officers posted in valley submitted a report to Governor, condemning the excesses committed by men in uniform on civilians. One among those six IAS officials was the ‘most powerful’ bureaucrat of Jammu and Kashmir, Ashok Jaitly, who breathed his last Tuesday at his New Delhi residence.
Jaitly was the man who reportedly ran Dr Farooq Abdullah’s government behind the curtains from 1996 to 2002, the period when he was state’s top bureaucrat.
Suffering from a protracted illness, Jaitly, known as Tony in his friend circle was a close confidante of NC patron. Till the time he retired from his services (on April 30, 2002), Tony had become the second-longest serving chief secretary of the state after Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad (JK CS: from 1953 to 1963). After his retirement, Dr Farooq appointed him his principal advisor for six months.
Being the youngest IAS officer to become a secretary among his batch mates, Tony was posted in Delhi in November 1984 when the Sikh riots broke out. He was one of the rare officers to testify against the police and political workers for their role in the anti-Sikh riots.
Tony married Jaya Jaitly, a socialist, during his posting in Kashmir. “In 1965, war broke out and we could even spot Pakistani pickets from our home in Poonch,” Jaya once said. But their marriage ran in rough weather after Jaya was “drawn to the socialist movement” by working with George Fernandes, the former defence minister of India. Her growing association with Fernandes—whom Jaya termed her “political mentor”, set rumour mills on fire, eventually ‘consuming’ her marriage with Tony.
During National Conference rule between 1996 and 2002, troops evacuated the Fairview Guest House—the notorious torture centre, known as Papa 2, where a number of Kashmiri youth were done to death under the “catch and kill” operation. After forces quit the torture centre, Tony as Chief Secretary spent Rs one crore to renovate the building. But before settling down in the picturesque mansion, he performed certain purification rites to exorcise the place from “ghosts”.
After his retirement in 2002, the place was taken over by Muzaffar Baig, who shortly swapped it with Mufti Sayeed’s M A Road residence.
However, post-retirement, Tony along with Farooq Abdullah was dragged into the accountability net for misappropriation of public fund amounting to Rs 5.50 crore. The fund was reportedly earmarked for renovation of state property in New Delhi during the National Conference rule in 2001.
Abdullah had allegedly ignored rules in the allotment of renovation work of Kashmir House in New Delhi to Rena Rajput Singh of a non-existent firm M/s Mansara of Sunder Nagar. The architect was also awarded contracts for renovation and re-construction of Fairview Guest House.
To accommodate the Delhi-based architect, bureaucrats in the then Abdullah government reportedly had the resident commissioner stationed in Delhi. The commissioner then faxed a message to former chief secretary Ashok Jaitly on March, 23, 2001, informing him that Abdullah desired to hire the services of Rena for upgrading and renovating the Kashmir House premises at 5 Prithviraj Road.
The GAD had not even looked into the earlier note sent by Jaitly when it received the agreement prepared by Rena’s firm from the chief secretary’s office for urgent examination. The agreement was reportedly approved by a committee.
According to the note prepared by the Mufti government in 2002, the project design prepared by Rena Singh of M/s Mansara projected an estimate of Rs 2.80 crore for repair works only. This excluded her consultation fee of Rs 15 lakh plus 5 per cent and payment of travel expenses by air and lodging in five-star hotels.
Once the scam surfaced, Mufti government asked state vigilance organisation to register cases against five IAS officers including Tony, besides subjecting Farooq Abdullah to the accountability commission or to the institution of Ehtisab for inquiry. But as the Mufti government failed to constitute the accountability commission required under the new Act, no action was taken against the duo.
“When I look back, I realise my actions weren’t out of the ordinary,” Tony once said. “My generation had many bureaucrats who thought differently. We had an ideology…” Post- retirement, Tony wrote articles and was reportedly penning down a book on Kashmir. Had his book been out, then people would have known how Farooq’s ministers were reporting to him!