Jagmohan Developed J&K. So, Why Is His Legacy Polarising?

While many Pandits see him as a ‘saviour’, many Kashmiri Muslims question his intent. David Devadas explains why.

7 min read
Former Governor of J&K, Jagmohan, died on 3 April 2021.

Mr Jagmohan, who died on the night of 3 April, aged 94, ought to be remembered for the time when he ruled Jammu and Kashmir directly, in 1986. Though he only held direct charge for six months that summer, he made a mark.

One might have expected Kashmiris to deeply resent being ruled by an ‘outsider’. After all, he was given charge after their furious and continuous protests over the installation of Sheikh Abdullah’s son-in-law as chief minister in coalition with the Congress. By and large, they viewed that son-in-law as a usurper.

However, within the few short months when he governed directly, Jagmohan became the darling of most Kashmiris for his clean, efficient governance. He built broad roads (most notably to the new airport), drainage works, and clean water supply. Believe it or not, Kashmir, for the most part, lacked these basics. To a large extent, it still does, owing to haphazard, unplanned growth.

Jagmohan was a planner, and excelled at executing plans efficiently. The past two governors (one a lieutenant-governor) sailed in and out of the place promising development, but could not even begin to match what Mr Jagmohan achieved in those six months.


An Economic Boost to Jammu

As his long-term legacy, what Mr Jagmohan initiated in Jammu that summer is even more memorable. He set up the Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board as a statutory body, chaired by the governor as long as the governor was a Hindu.

He could embed that in law since the state’s constitution vested all the powers of the assembly and cabinet in the governor during Governor’s rule (far more power than President’s rule gives).

Since the board remained directly under him even after Governor’s Rule ended a couple of months after he set it up, Mr Jagmohan developed the shrine into a massive magnet for pilgrims from across north India—while T-series tapes played a full-throated part in tandem.

Over the next couple of decades, spending by the millions of pilgrims who visited Jammu and Udhampur on their way to the shrine near Katra became a dynamo for Jammu’s economy.

From 13 lakh pilgrims the year the board was established, the shrine attracted more than a crore pilgrims 25 years on, in 2011. The region’s merchants, hoteliers, caterers, transporters, and general shopkeepers gained massively from what pilgrims spent before and after their cave visit.

A Scholarly Retirement After Controversial Career

Perhaps the image of himself that Mr Jagmohan might have wanted people to cherish was the studious figure in a corner of the India International Centre library. He spent a lot of time there over the past couple of decades, taking a quiet walk around the IIC perimeter in the late afternoon.

Nevertheless, Mr Jagmohan is far more likely to be remembered for the controversies that marked the start of his tenure each time he was appointed governor of J&K.

An Overnight Palace Coup

Mrs Gandhi sent him for the first time in 1984, expressly to unseat Farooq Abdullah and install his brother-in-law, GM Shah, as chief minister.

The palace coup was swiftly and smoothly executed quite soon after he took over Raj Bhavan that summer, so much so that Farooq had no idea what was afoot until the deed was done.

People at large were irate, but Jagmohan was able to win over the masses with his development work when Rajiv Gandhi finally decided that Shah was not working out.

No wonder. Jagmohan had, after all, been chosen partly for his reputation as a doer when he was vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority during the ‘70s.

That stint too had become controversial during the Emergency, when Jagmohan sent in bulldozers to clear slums in areas around Old Delhi, and forcibly relocated slum residents to DDA-built tenements in east Delhi.


Anti-Abdullah Positioning in Kashmiri Politics

Time heals, and Mr Jagmohan lived down those controversies—his role in the Emergency, and in that palace coup. But controversies around his role when he was appointed governor of J&K a second time have become his legacy.

A fact that is easily forgotten is that, within Kashmir’s prickly political matrix, his unseating Farooq Abdullah to install a rump of the National Conference in coalition with the Congress—the ‘Indian’ party of the Centre—cast him on one side of what had emerged since the ‘60s as the National Conference-Congress divide at the core of the state’s politics.

The two previous governors had refused Mrs Gandhi’s instructions to unseat an Abdullah and install the Congress or a coalition.

Association With Mufti & Arun Nehru

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the leading light of the Congress in the state back then. Jagmohan would remain closely associated with Mufti and Arun Nehru—who had been close to Sanjay Gandhi when Jagmohan was seen as their man in the mid-’70s—after the two left the Congress.

Mufti and Arun Nehru jockeyed hard within the VP Singh-led alliance that took office in November ‘89 to have Jagmohan sent back as governor.

Although he was the incumbent home minister of India, Mufti wanted nothing more than to be the chief minister of J&K. He hoped that Jagmohan would pave the way for that.

He knew Farooq would resign if Jagmohan was sent back. The memory of the palace coup still grated. The rest of India’s political leadership too knew—for Farooq had told an array of leaders he would.

His Healing Touch Got Blown Apart

Farooq did resign, even refusing to remain as caretaker, the night before Jagmohan landed in the state—a state that was about to erupt in ways that would stain his record. The unfortunate irony is that Jagmohan wasn’t even responsible for what happened on the couple of days after he took over.

In fact, on arriving in Jammu, the winter capital, he had announced placatingly that he had come as a ‘nurse’. The term was a precursor to what Mufti would call ‘healing touch’ when he finally became chief minister in 2002.

But Jagmohan’s olive branch was incinerated by a series of awful events over the next few days—which clung to his reputation as unshakeably as a thorny bramble.

It just so happened that Kashmir’s first cordon and search operation took place in Srinagar’s Chota Bazar area a few hours after he had taken over as governor in Jammu on 19 January 1990.

As explained in my book ‘The Story of Kashmir’, the operation had been planned earlier, but the top officers in charge of the police and the CRPF (which conducted the operation) had rushed to Jammu to salute Jagmohan after he took the oaths of office.

In Chota Bazar, hundreds of men were picked up from their beds in the dead of night and taken to the lawns of an interrogation centre not far from Srinagar's Raj Bhawan, to squat on that lawn in the freezing cold.

Some were selected by invisible ‘spotters’ for interrogation. The rest returned to stoke the hysterical shock, resentment and anger in their part of Srinagar.


A Night of Frenzied Slogans

Someone in the Doordarshan Kendra saw fit to screen a riveting documentary that evening about the recent fall of Ceausescu before masses of citizens marching through Bucharest. Groups of people gathered before muezzins’ mikes in mosques across Srinagar that night to yell slogans and beat metal plates.

Many slogans were crudely communal. Islamic sentiment had spread since the Iranian revolution, and been reinforced by the campaign of the Muslim United Front, which had emerged in the summer of ‘86—partly in response to Jagmohan’s crackdown on government employees that summer.

The fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and Ahle-Hadith too had gained ground during the ‘80s. The religious exclusivism they preached combined with economic resentment to create a vile cocktail of hate.

More and more sons of men who had gained from Sheikh Abdullah’s land reforms, and had got degrees owing to free universal education, sought government jobs.

Despite unstated reserved quotas for Muslims, Pandits invariably scored much higher. Education had been a cherished part of Pandit culture for centuries, and most Muslim graduates were from the first generation of their families to be educated. Unnoticed, economic resentment had gathered steam during the ‘80s.

Those chants from mosque loudspeakers on 19 January 1990 targeted Pandits vilely. Petrified, they clamoured for Jagmohan’s protection. His phone rang incessantly that night.

The Gowkadal Massacre

By the next morning, protest processions came up from various places. A big one was led out of Jawahar Nagar, where some of the top JKLF boys sheltered. It wound through Maharaja Bazar, Amira Kadal and Lal Chowk and up towards Chota Bazar.

At the Gowkadal bridge just beyond Maisuma, a para-military officer ordered his picket to open fire on the crowd in the procession. A large number were killed.

Jagmohan had had nothing to do with ordering that firing. Yet, for a lot of Kashmiris, the ‘Gowkadal massacre’ became the leitmotif of his governorship.

Many also accused him of getting Pandits to vacate the Valley, to allow (according to that bilious narrative) a more widespread massacre of Muslims.

The Kashmiri Pandit Exodus

Jagmohan did make arrangements for Pandits to shift to camps in Jammu, but the big decisions were taken in New Delhi by the then Home Minister Mufti Sayeed.

The arrangements that were made for the constitutional changes in 2019 demonstrated that blanket security could be provided across the Valley. It would have been far tougher in 1990, but it wasn’t even attempted.

Things went rapidly downhill. When Pakistan-sponsored terrorists shot Mirwaiz Farooq on 21 May, another para-military picket opened indiscriminate fire on his cortege. Again, if Jagmohan was responsible, it was for not giving instructions. Once more, ranking security officials were missing from the scene of action.

Mr Jagmohan was replaced four days after the Mirwaiz’s assassination by the low-key Gary Saxena. A former RAW chief, he worked effectively with another former RAW man, Ashok Patel, to control the situation over the next few months.

The exodus of Pandits petered out around August, after Yasin Malik and some of his top JKLF associates were arrested on 6 August.


The Pandit Issue — Not Development — Will be His Lasting Legacy

In the hours after Mr Jagmohan’s death, a number of prominent Pandits lavished praise on him for having ‘saved’ them in 1990. For good or bad, Mr Jagmohan’s memory will willy-nilly be associated with the Pandits’ terrified exodus from the Valley.

Most Pandits will continue to praise him as their saviour. Most Kashmiri Muslims will keep blaming him, shifting onto him the guilt-inducing responsibility for causing the exodus.

Amid that angry sniping, Jagmohan’s commendable work to develop both Kashmir and Jammu when he was executive governor in ‘86 seems destined to be forgotten.

(The writer is the author ofThe Story of Kashmir’ andThe Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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