6 Reasons Why J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik Faces an Uphill Battle
Satya Pal Malik recently swore in as the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
Satya Pal Malik recently swore in as the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.(Photo: Harsh Sahani/The Quint)

6 Reasons Why J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik Faces an Uphill Battle

Satya Pal Malik’s swearing-in as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir coincided with yet another Eid in the state being marred with violence, demonstrations, incidents of heckling and pro-azadi chants.

Moreover, Malik took charge in a state, which has been under the governor’s rule for almost two months now after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in June this year.

The challenges ahead of Malik are many. From bridging the Jammu-Kashmir divide to winning the confidence of the Kashmiri youth, The Quint finds out from experts what Malik should prepare himself for.

Also Read : Satya Pal Malik: Why He Is a Worrying Choice as J&K Governor

Shedding the Career Politician Image

The biggest challenge for Malik – the first career politician to be appointed as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir – will be to overcome the general impression that his appointment is based on a hidden agenda of the BJP, which wants to gain confidence in the state.

David Devadas, the author of The Generation of Rage in Kashmir, writes:

The fact that he has been the BJP’s national vice-president, is being highlighted. Resistance to the BJP has become entrenched in Kashmir over the past four years – a sea-change from the trust Vajpayee had won for his party in the early years of the century.

Devadas adds that Kashmiris are, in general, uneasy about the fact that Malik might prioritise the interests of the Jammu province above those of the Kashmir valley.

Also Read : Who is Satya Pal Malik, the Newly Appointed J&K Governor?

Bridging the Jammu-Kashmir Divide

How Malik addresses the increasing polarisation between the northern Kashmir valley and southern Jammu region will be his second litmus test, opines Lieutenant General (retd) DS Hooda – the Northern Army Commander under whose watch the Indian Army conducted the 2016 surgical strikes.

Lt Gen (retd) Hooda told The Quint, “The governor must work towards healing the divide between the Jammu region and the Kashmir region. Before a Delhi-J&K dialogue, what is needed is an intra-state discourse.”

Maintaining Law & Order During the Upcoming Local Body and Panchayat Polls

Holding the already announced local bodies and panchayat elections in the state in the later part of the year will be a major challenge for the new governor, argues senior journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his Independence Day address, announced that Jammu and Kashmir would hold the much-awaited panchayat and local body elections later this year. The then governor NN Vohra went one step further and said the elections would take place between September and October.

The panchayat elections were delayed in February this year, owing to the prevailing security situation in the state, as was the by-election for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in April, 2017, which was marred by violence. The seat, which fell vacant after Mehbooba Mufti took over as the chief minister, continues to be vacant due to law and order problems in the state.

Political observers are wary about how any large-scale elections can be held in the Valley amid the continuous spate of violence, given that the last urban local body elections were held after a gap of 23 years in 2005 and the last panchayat poll was conducted after a break of 37 years in 2011 under the Omar Abdullah-led government.

Still holding panchayat and municipal polls as well as by-elections on the south Kashmir Lok Sabha seat is very difficult. These polls will become possible only if governor’s administration can bring down the quantity of militants and proportionately fear of the gun with good governance and successful counterinsurgency operations. This is a big challenge for the new governor.
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

“It would be interesting to see what level of politics the governor empowers in the state to hold the election,” says Devadas.

Analysts also believe that the elections would be a ground check for the administration for the law and order situation in the state ahead of the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections to be held next year.

Taking a Stand on Article 35A and Article 370

Tackling the debate over Article 35A and Article 370, both of which are pending in the Supreme Court at the moment, will also be a major challenge for Malik.

While Article 370 guarantees special privileges to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Article 35A bars all, other than the original inhabitants of the state, from owning immovable property, settling, getting jobs under the state government or availing state scholarships.

If the governor is in favour of Article 35A, he would sincerely appoint the best of the lawyers to fight the case in the Supreme Court, but if he is against it, he would just fight the case for optics. This would be a litmus test for the governor.
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

The top court had, on 1 May, sought the central and Jammu and Kashmir governments' responses on a plea seeking Article 35A to be declared unconstitutional as it deprived generations of outside settlers in the state their right to property and employment under the state government.

The Centre has chosen to not take a stand on the matter as the issue has already evoked a political turmoil in the Valley with the state’s two main political parties, the PDP and National Conference contending that invalidating Article 35A will leave no J&K at all.

A judicial intervention in 370 and 35A has also the potential of making most of the Kashmiris rally around separatist hardliners. It can also lead to a new mass turbulence like that of 2008, 2010 and 2016.
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

Combating Attacks on Police, Govt Heads

Resuming counterinsurgency operations of police and security forces to restore peace at a time when recruitment of guerrilla cadre and mob attacks on forces have become routine, will be a huge task for the governor, says Fayyaz.

Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah was heckled during Eid prayers, on 22 August, at the 17th Century Hazratbal mosque in Srinagar, two days after he chanted "Bharat Mata ki jai" during a prayer meeting for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In recent times, there has been a rise in the number of militant attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir police personnel too.

The governor will have to bolster the morale of the police force in the face of continuous attacks.
David Devadas

Speaking to The Quint earlier, Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Dr Shesh Paul Vaid had said, “The biggest reason for attacks on our forces is the frustration that our counterinsurgency strategies and successful operations, have created among the people across the border in PoK and Pakistan. They know it well, that this efficiency and frequency of pin-pointed crackdowns and operations on the terrorist hideouts, is not possible without human intelligence gathering, in which J&K Police is playing an important role. They are desperately out to terrorise and demoralise the police force through brutal killings. But rest assured, it’s all proving to be counterproductive for them.”

Winning Over Kashmir’s Youth

The last but a pressing problem for any governor or government in Jammu and Kashmir is overcoming the growing alienation among the youths of Kashmir, who have taken to militancy and hold militant leaders Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa as icons. Some of Kashmir’s youths regularly engage in political and ideological separatism in the state.

Former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, on 6 February, informed the Assembly that 126 youths had joined extremist groups in 2017, 38 more than the previous year.

However, DGP Vaid had earlier downplayed home ministry reports that there had been a sharp spike in the number of young Kashmiris joining militant groups in 2017. Irrespective of the exact figures, it cannot be denied that the massive task of non-alienation of Kashmiri youths lies ahead for the new governor.

Lt Gen (retd) Hooda said he believed that the governor, in order to bring back the youths to the mainstream political discourse, must undertake outreach efforts like increasing employment opportunities, and crafting a good rehabilitation plan.

On the other hand, Fayyaz is of the opinion that the youth can be won over by winning the social media narrative. “Dealing with the completely unbridled social media, which is now the biggest driver of Pakistani/separatist narratives and is used with impunity to terrorise anybody standing neutral or identifying himself/herself with India.”

Devadas says the governor must make efforts to re-establish the legitimacy of the government in the minds of youths who have lost faith in dialogues and the institutional structure. One way to do that, he suggests, is by continuing to ensure responsiveness from police and government officials, like Malik’s predecessor NN Vohra had done.

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