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Indian Kashmir’s new ‘party-hopper’ governor just a ploy to cover the cracks?

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

The Indian Government has played a wild card in Jammu & Kashmir by appointing Satyapal Malik as Governor making him the first career politician to hold that key post since 1980s in the volatile, Muslim-majority province.

For over three decades, Malik’s predecessors were top army generals, intelligence chiefs or retired civil servants like N.N. Vohra who has after 10 long years now made way for Malik – described variously as a “chameleon” and “party-hopper” in political and media circles.

India clearly hopes that the appointment of even a political turncoat like 72-year-old Malik as Governor in insurgency-wracked J&K will blunt international outrage over rampant excesses by security forces and bolster the government’s claims that all it wants is a political solution and not a bloody confrontation.

As recently as in June the United Nations Human Rights Office released a damning report on the human rights situation in J&K but New Delhi retorted that it is “fallacious, tendentious and motivated… overtly prejudiced, and seeks to build a false narrative.” Army chief Bipin Rawat too gave his boys a clean chit.

In no other province is the Governor as powerful as he is in J&K. He is handpicked by the federal government to ensure that New Delhi’s writ runs there even if the state administration wavers due to populist pressure. The state occupies a special place in the Indian psyche as two of the country’s three wars with Pakistan have been fought over it.

A fig leaf

Malik, in that sense, is just a fig leaf to cover the widening cracks in Kashmir. Sans any administrative experience, he is bound to blindly execute orders given by Narendra Modi’s government, which still reposes its faith in a muscular, military doctrine in the border state despite the glaring failure of this approach.

The new Governor, however, insists that being a politician he is uncompromisingly “pro-people” and will therefore befriend and win over the alienated masses. He is also busy quoting Prime Minister Modi that a political solution is the only way out in Kashmir leaving everyone dumbfounded and speechless.

Malik started as a socialist student leader in Meerut before joining Charan Singh’s Bhartiya Kranti Dal in 1974 to represent Baghpat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly. Exactly 10 years later he joined the Congress Party only to dump it for the Janata Dal in 1988.

He flirted briefly with the BJP in 2004 but formally joined it only in 2014 and was rewarded with governorship of Orissa and Bihar before being dispatched to Srinagar.

Despite his non-RSS background, Malik has Modi’s and BJP president Amit Shah’s ear. In fact, he is widely seen as a Shah appointee.

But the BJP has such a terrible reputation in J&K after toppling Mehbooba Mufti’s government that his closeness to Shah and Modi might prove to be a handicap in the country’s most disturbed and troubled state.

Significantly, not a single Kashmiri leader has welcomed or criticized the new Governor. There is an ominous silence. According to an analyst, “Malik probably knows a little about Kashmir but for Kashmiris he is an entirely unknown commodity”.