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

Keeping former J&K Governor NN Vohra in this role would have been beneficial for the Govt of India.

3 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

The violence, demonstrations, and heckling that erupted in Kashmir on Eid (22 August), put to test the newly-appointed Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik, even before he took on his extremely challenging role.

Malik brings to this role, years of political experience in Uttar Pradesh and on the national stage. He is known for his affability, and outreach across the political spectrum. Malik is well-read and articulate, engaging readily even with his political opponents. Those who have known Satya Pal Malik as a politician, say that he is likely to take a soft approach in J&K.

Malik’s Old Connections

Since Satya Pal Malik has been associated with various political parties, he already has links across the political spectrum. Even before assuming office, Malik made a statement praising (late) former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. This seemed to be a calculated move to put the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at ease. Malik has worked closely with Sayeed. He was Minister of State for Civil Aviation when Sayeed was the Home Minister of India. Both joined the Jan Morcha of VP Singh when it was formed in 1988 in the wake of the Bofors scandal, and both were then part of the Janata Party.

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Malik Needs an Image Makeover

For now, however, Malik will have to overcome the general impression that he is in J&K to promote the BJP’s agenda. 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.

People at large, and a range of political parties in Kashmir, have been deeply uneasy about the possibility that special Constitutional provisions regarding the state might be removed.

Kashmiris are also uneasy about the fact that Malik might seek to promote the interests of the Jammu province of the state, which is a stronghold of the BJP, potentially at the expense of the Kashmir Valley.

Satya Pal Malik – An Unexpected Choice

Most Kashmiris are foxed by the choice of Malik as the newest occupant of the Raj Bhawan. He is not known to have experience in security or foreign affairs, and certainly not with regard to Kashmir. Nor does Malik have a political stature similar to that of the former Congress Vice-President, Arjun Singh, who was appointed as Punjab Governor in the late 1980s, at the height of Sikh militancy in the state.

On the other hand, the high profile this appointment gives Malik, might possibly have a positive effect on his Jat kinsmen in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

J&K’s Rocky Tryst With Changing Governors

Changing J&K’s Governor has proved costly in earlier instances. Doing so in the third week of January 1990, for example, turned out to be a disaster. Massive demonstrations and a shrill anti-Pandit campaign emerged in the two days immediately after General KV Krishna Rao was replaced—and Farooq Abdullah promptly resigned as chief minister to protest Jagmohan’s appointment in Krishna Rao’s place. Abdullah was upset over the coup through which his party had been split, and his brother-in-law installed as chief minister in his place, when Jagmohan had been appointed for the first time, in 1984.

A change of governor proved very costly in terms of political stability and national security on both occasions.

Why Replace NN Vohra in J&K?

Narinder Nath Vohra, the outgoing Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, had established a reputation for concerned responsiveness. In fact, he was uniquely popular in both Jammu, and the Kashmir Valley.

Vohra had not only gained vast experience as the state’s Governor over a decade, he had also competently handled an extremely challenging situation when he first took charge at the height of the crisis, that followed the transfer of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008.

He had already been successful as the Centre’s interlocutor in the last phase of Vajpayee’s time as Prime Minister. That was the only time leaders of the Hurriyat Conference publicly met the Prime Minister and the Home Minister (LK Advani). During the 1990s, Vohra had handled Kashmir as Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, and as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister IK Gujral.

With so much experience behind him, having Vohra in the Raj Bhawan would be of advantage to the Government of India, if its intention is to maintain relative calm in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. Whether or not the alternative will work out, remains to be seen.

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and senior journalist. He can be reached at@david_devadas. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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