Witnessing The 1990 Crisis

Moosa Raza took over as Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Secretary at a time when Kashmir was changing fast. His memoir reveals newer things about the key Kashmir developments, especially the appointment of Jagmohan as governor and the resignation of Dr Farooq Abdullah’s government, reports Masood Hussain

Governor transfers in Jammu and Kashmir have been sort of a spectacle in last 30 years, especially the last three – Gen SK Sinha, NN Vora and Satya Pal Malik. Soon after being appointed, they flew to impressive welcomes at the Srinagar airport with long cavalcades escorting them to the breathtaking Raj Bhawan in Srinagar. Their jobs concluded in interesting times creating situations that they hardly found time to see a decent goodbye.

Sinha flew home in a situation that he asked the official cameraman against recording his tight embrace to an officer, a Kashmiri Muslim KAS officer who retired soon after, whom he loved the most. The central government had to quickly shift Sinha out in wake of the mess he created by superimposing himself on the elected government in 2008.

Vohra, one of the best governor’s in recent times, managed Jammu and Kashmir for almost a decade. Though he had sought his retirement, the BJP government created a situation for him that for packing his belongings, Vohra lived a long night in the annexe of the Raj Bhawan, the space that he controlled for ten long years.

In 2019, the central government decided against the suggestion of Satya Pal Malik that he would like to continue as Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, a hugely truncated status in comparison to what he enjoyed for more than a year. After the decision was conveyed to him, nobody in Srinagar knew when and how he left Kashmir. He made himself conspicuous only after he took an oath of office at Goa and returned to newspapers headlines, courtesy Kashmir.

In these three cases, what was interesting was that the outgoing governor could not meet his successor. Ideally, managing the most sensitive territory in India would have required the formal exchange of notes. Somehow, it did not happen.

A Headless State

But January 18, 1990, was horribly different. Moosa Raza, the then Chief Secretary has detailed the changeover in his book Kashmir: Land of Regrets. The governor and the chief minister resigned the same day at a time when Moosa himself was proceeding on leave to fly Roshanara, his wife, to the AIIMS in Delhi.

By around midnight, when he was making preparations for flying his wife to Delhi, Moosa was summoned to the Raj Bhawan in Jammu. There, he saw Dr Farooq Abdullah and Governor, General K V Krishna Rao coming down the stairs together. Rao handed over to Chief Secretary, Dr Abdullah’s resignation that he had signed at 11 pm. At that moment, Dr Abdullah handed over his official car and conveyed he would not be using any official facilities.

“As three of us settled down on the visitors’ sofa in the drawing-room, the governor told me that he had tried to persuade Dr Abdullah to remain as caretaker chief minister until further arrangements were made, but he had flatly refused,” Moosa had written. “The governor said to me, ‘I have submitted my resignation and it has already been accepted. Now the Chief Minister has submitted his resignation and I have to accept it. In light of this, a constitutional crisis seems to have arisen wherein neither the governor nor the cabinet is in existence. What do you advise we do.’”

Rao, who, many years later, had another stint as governor, directed Moosa for arranging his departure well before his successor, Jagmohan Malhotra lands in Jammu.

On January 19, afternoon, the entire cabinet – that had resigned last night was queued up at the airport to see off Rao. After inspecting the guard of honour, Rao took off. As they were about to disburse, somebody saw a “small plane” approaching the airport and there was a shout – the new governor is arriving.

“There was a mad scramble as all the politicians rushed to the exit, called their cars and took off in a hurry,” Moosa remembers. “When the flight landed, we found that it was not Jagmohan who had arrived, but Bhutani, who had gone to Srinagar and was returning in a BSF plane.” Jagmohan landed soon after. (O P Bhutani, a retired Director General of BSF, was appointed as advisor to Jammu and Kashmir’s Home Department.) After making the ceremonial welcome, Moosa took the new governor to the Raj Bhawan and soon after the oath-taking ceremony, he proceeded on leave, making the new governor unhappy because he wanted him to be his Chief Secretary and the adviser.

Jagmohan’s Agenda

It was the day that changed Kashmir forever. Moosa being the Chief Secretary and the closest person to the Chief Minister and the then cabinet secretary T N Seshan knew the happenings first hand. Moosa’s memoir gives a lot of details about his displacement from Gujarat to Srinagar in which everybody from the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and Chief Minister were personally involved. The government’s in Delhi and Srinagar wanted somebody to manage the faction-ridden bureaucracy divided between IAS officers Mehmood-ur-Rehman and Sheikh Ghulam Rasool with M P Khosla, the then Chief Secretary as good as nothing. An assertive Rehman had literally sidelined Khosla.

After the VP Singh government took over, Moosa smelled the changes taking place in Kashmir. “My greatest regret is that I could not remain longer in Kashmir and contribute to a peaceful resolution,” he has written in his book’s preface. “But by then, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had found a place in Delhi and Jagmohan in Srinagar. I realised on the very first day of Jagmohan’s joining that he had come with an agenda of his own, with the full backing of the Mufti. And he believed in taking full control.”

Interestingly, Moosa lived in the same bungalow where Mufti lived before becoming the Home Minister. He has written that Muftis’ were rearing a cow in the backyard as the politician was fond of cow’s milk. Though the cow moved out of the premises after Mufti went to North Block, the well-fertilized piece of land was so much enriched that it produced the best strawberry in the town.

Mufti Decision

From the day, the then Home Secretary Shiromani Sharma rang up Dr Abdullah to convey that Rao has resigned and it has been accepted by VP Singh, Moosa knew the crisis was brewing. Dr Abdullah was conveyed that there were three suggestions for Rao’s successor – Naresh Chandra, Rustomji and Krishna Kant. When Dr Abdullah was suggested by Moosa to support Chandra, the response was clear: “..the Government of India will immediately disqualify him. They will assume I have some special relationship with him.” Dr Abdullah conveyed that he was ready to work with anybody, other than Jagmohan. Eventually, Delhi discarded its penal and decided to send Jagmohan only.

Knowing that it will push Jammu and Kashmir into a constitutional crisis, Moosa literally went from door to door to get the decision reconsidered. He met the new Home Secretary and convinced him to accompany him to a meeting with the Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Moosa detailed his grounds against Jagmohan.

The response was revealing:

Moosa-Raza - Book Cover Photo KAshmir Land of Regrets‘Mr Moosa Raza,’ said the Mufti, as though pacifying an agitated child. ‘You have been in Kashmir for a very brief period. I am a Kashmiri who has lived in Kashmir all my life. I know Kashmir like the back of my hand. I have known Sheikh Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah and that family for decades. In fact, I have known Farooq practically from his childhood. He was never a serious political leader. He is an accidental CM. In his youth, he was known as a khilandra. Even as the Chief Minister, he was taking actresses here and there on his motorcycle. Every weekend, he would take the state helicopter to go to Udhampur and play golf there with the army officers, invite friends to his house and have his whisky and soda. He never bothered about the administration of the state. He is too attached to the pleasures of this life and therefore, I do not think that he will resign. Once we appoint Jagmohan and give Farooq a helicopter and a motorcycle, he will relax and enjoy his life. He will be happy. Jagmohan will take care of the real administration.’

Moosa did not give up. He met the new cabinet secretary Vinod Pandey. After Panday asserted that Prime Minister will not undo the decision taken by Mufti, Moosa stopped his campaign to make Delhi change its mind.

In his book, Moosa swears by Jagmohan’s honesty. He has not any problem with his ideological beliefs either. “The problem was that in his zeal and enthusiasm, Jagmohan went about his tasks like a bulldozer. He was impervious to his own comforts and to the discomforts of others,” Moosa has written. “He believed that the first thing to do was to eliminate the militants.”

Kashmiri Pandits

The migrant Kashmir Pandits are observing January 19 as the “holocaust day”. It coincides with the Jagmohan’s takeover as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The last week witnessed the observance quite impressively across India and at a few offshore places too.

What has Moosa said about the migration? Terming them a “pampered community” and “servants of the rulers” whom Sikh and Dogra masters “encouraged to oppress and harass the subdued majority of Muslims”, Moosa has admitted that in the start of the turmoil Muslims had begun showing “their hostility to the Pandits”. Just before the 1989 durbar move, Moosa mentions midnight panic calls from Haba Kadal over the calls of Allah-o-Akbar from the mosque loudspeakers. He has written that he personally visited the locality.

“It appeared that since it was the last week of Ramadan, the mosques were calling devotees for the night prayers. But the Pandits were still jittery. I had to stay with them until the prayers were over and the devotees had dispersed,” Moosa has written. “The frightened community of Pandits’ later demanded that Governor Jagmohan attempted to set to refugee camps within the valley itself. But this did not work out. So the state helped move some families to Jammu and many to Delhi and the rest of India. The attempt to terrorise the Pandits was not only foolish but also not in the interests of the militants themselves, as it soon became evident.”

A Death In Custody

Moosa’s memoir has many details to offer about the happenings between the Jagmohan’s two tenures in Raj Bhawan. One revealing story is about the death in custody of the father of Shabir Ahmad Shah, whose brother, Mohammad Sayeed Shah was a sitting lawmaker in Jammu and Kashmir assembly.

The memoir suggests that in response to stone pelting in an Anantnag locality, cops chased the boys and barged into a residence where they entered into an argument with an old man, a retired Tehsildar. “The constables refused to listen to him…They felt he deserved to be taught a lesson for his temerity in questioning their authority. So they dragged him out of the house by the scruff of his neck and dumped him in the back of the police jeep” he has noted. “When the jeep pulled into the station, they found to their horror that the old man had died on the way. It was not clear whether he had died because of the rough handling by the constables or if he was suffering from an ailment that was aggravated by their maltreatment.”

It put Anantnag literally on fire as the news spread about the death in custody of Shabir Shah’s father. Shabir Shah was underground but topping the popularity charts unlike 2020. The situation was so serious that Chief Minister flew from Jammu to assess the situation on ground. The town was under strict curfew with shoot at sight orders issued already.

Rajiv Gandhi (centre) with Farooq Abdullah (left) and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (right) in 1986.
Rajiv Gandhi (centre) with Farooq Abdullah (left) and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (right) in 1986.

“But the helipad happened to be within the cantonment area, and the local army commander advised the pilot of the approaching helicopter not to make an attempt at landing, as there was a probability of snipers shooting at it,” Moosa has written. “Dr Abdullah had to return to Jammu without landing in Anantnag.”

The government’s worry was that the entire town will respond to the lawmakers call to offer Fateh prayers at his father’s grave will break the curfew and lead to another bloodshed. Moosa said he sought permission from the Chief Minister and flew in the same chopper to Anantnag and ignored the army commander’s advisory. Nothing happened. Soon after, he talked to Shah on phone, offered condolences and sought permission to visit him.

Moosa, according to his memoir, took the milk and sugar that he had flown from Jammu, refused to take army escort and moved in a car with his SPO and the state home secretary M L Koul and the local Deputy Commissioner, Ali Mohammad Mir to the town’s interiors. They finally walked to a tenet where according to Moosa there were various militants and interacted with Shah. “After a long discussion, Sayeed consented,” Moosa recorded. “He withdrew the call for a procession. The situation was defused, and the curfew was lifted a couple of days later.”

Mir’s enquiry later led to the sacking of four cops who were found responsible in dragging Shah Sr to the police station.

1987 Elections

The book mentions various meetings that Moosa had with the Muslim United Front (MUF) lawmakers. In one instance, he mentions an anecdote about how Syed Ali Geelani led a team of four MLAs walked to him to seek a share in the jobs on the pattern that was allegedly in vogue for the ruling NC lawmakers. Moosa said they could establish the allegation, however.

Post-retirement, Moosa, as member of a civil society team met Geelani and has recorded how he broke down while discussing the blinding of Insha during 2016 unrest.

But, more importantly, Moosa has collected the first-hand instances from various officials and the political beings during his posting that established the rigging in 1987 elections. Seemingly, he is unconvinced that the rigging was restricted to four constituencies where the ruling party heavyweights were losing the election.

Rubaiya Sayeed(centre) with Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti after her release.
Rubaiya Sayeed (centre) with Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti after her release.

Moosa has given graphic detail about his briefing to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asserting that the ill-fated alliance between NC and Congress has seriously impacted Kashmir.

“I mentioned to the PM that I had been informed by the Chief Electoral Officer of the state in a private conversation that there has been rigging in at least five or six constituencies, and a few important leaders who would otherwise have lost, were saved through vote manipulation and the arrest of polling agents from the opposition,” Moosa has written having told Rajiv. “The PM listened to me patiently. I think he was rather upset with my analysis, especially since I was questioning the wisdom of forming a coalition with the NC.”

Interesting Revelations

By linking the Kashmir of the nineties with its medieval past, Moosa has been able to explain the crisis that Kashmir has been passing through for the last many decades. He has given graphic instance about how Masood Samoon, his erstwhile personal assistant who retired as Commissioner, was barely saved from an army officer when he was on way to a relative’s wedding in Bandipore. He has mentioned instances about how the young boys were systematically tortured and abused thus creating a situation for them to rebel.

Despite being close to Dr Abdullah, he has not forgotten to mention first-hand assessment of senior NC leaders about the party founder, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, especially about his post-1975 stint in power when he was suggested by his own party leaders against making corruption an issue.

He has given first-hand instances about how Kashmir was being seen as a picnic spot by the top men in politics, administration and judiciary in Delhi. He has passed judgements over the efficiency and capacity of various police officers who were pushed in to crush militancy. The then intelligence chief was so ignorant that he did not know the actual spellings of Kalashnikov. In an official communication to the Chief Secretary, he mentioned the recovery of a Clacincope.

There are various controversies hidden between the lines apart from the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping in which he had a mandate for a major role but was forced to follow the orders from Home Ministry. He has disputed many things that A S Dulat, the then top IB man in Srinagar, has written. Both Dulat and Moosa had gone without any escort and had a sitting with a mediator as the militants were sitting next door in the old Srinagar city.

Contributions In Development

By Moosa’s own version, he was persuaded by almost everybody to go to Kashmir against his wishes; he used this unwillingness to push for certain developmental issues after he finally took over. He was single-handedly responsible for setting up the thermal power plant in Pampore. In order to manage unemployment, a desperate Moosa wanted the security set-up to alter the physical requirement (height and chest size) as had been done in case of Dogras and Gurkhas. His proposal, he had written was shot down from the local commanders to the cabinet secretary.

Srinagar, however, fascinated him. In 1979, he had found Srinagar a city where ‘the rich and the well to do lived luxuriously, dressed well and long queues outside liquor shops’. As an administrator, he felt the old city’s inhabitants “deeply resentful” of the disparity between them and the political, judicial and civil service elites.

The officer had his memories from 1960 at the peak of Bakhshi rule. Part of a young group of IAS probationers on Bharat Darshan, he had gone to Maisuma for a chicken dinner when a “mischievous gentlemen” suggested them to go to a house for a “very good murgi”. As the four IAS officers climbed up the narrow wooden staircase and walked into a carpeted room, they found a middle-aged woman dressed in bright, shiny clothes and chewing paan. “Come in, I have some very beautiful girls. I will call them and you can choose whoever you want,” the lady told them without any introduction. They had actually got into a parlour of a bordello and they quickly beat a hasty retreat.

While this incident led him to get into the history of Kashmir’s white leather market that Dogra exploiters enforced to fill their family coffers, the young officer – now the Chief Secretary, realised that most of the funds are spent on projects lacking any direct benefit to Srinagar and other major towns. This led him to set up Core Area Development Project (CADP) requiring a whopping Rs 150 crore, mostly for improving the basic facilities to an old city.

As he discussed his idea with Seshan, the response was: “Moosa, we did not send you to Kashmir to bankrupt the GoI (Government of India)’. Soon, the urban development secretary landed in Kashmir, visited the city. Later, Seshan rang up him saying KC Sivaramakrishnan has given him an “alarming report” about the conditions of the city. So Seshan flew to Srinagar personally.

By then, Srinagar was in turmoil. Moosa wanted to show him Maisuma but it became impossible as crowds gathered around. Seshan still went where, interestingly, ‘an old lady wearing tattered Pheran, grabbed Seshan’s collar and shouted: “You must come to my house and have a look at how we live?”

Seshan’s Maisuma Visit

With crowds watching the lady wearing ‘necklace of beads and deep wrinkles on her face’ took India’s cabinet secretary and state’s chief secretary to her home. She first served them tea at her single big room having a portion being used as a kitchen. The lady told him: “In this one room. Eleven people live; myself, my two sons, their wives and their children. All of us sleep in this small room, on this durri. In the middle of the night, I wake up because I am not able to turn to the left or the right. On both sides, I have others pressing against me for want of space. Then I cry…. How you do you think I and my family can survive in this tiny room with eleven people utilising the space? There is no privacy even for many sons and their wives to have a private conversation.”

Maisuma in Srinagar was always tense. A file pic. Bilal Bahadur

It made Seshan “teary-eyed and silent”. As he flew to Delhi, the project was sanctioned. The cabinet put on record the appreciation for Moosa. It was during the initial spadework that situation took implementation.

Post-retirement, he was told that certain things have started happening on the project. But the congested Srinagar continues to live in a ramshackle city: Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est La Meme Chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same).


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