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Why J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik's unpredictable utterances leave him with few friends
jkupdate.com | 11-Dec-2018 08:45 AM
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  • It is believed that Satyapal Malik was instated in Jammu and Kashmir to do Delhi’s bidding.




-Asit Jolly/Moazum Mohammad
The comparison is inevitable between N.N. Vohra’s quietly efficient manner and the incumbent Jammu & Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik’s recurrently outspoken ways that invariably keep him in the thick of controversy. On November 21, he ordered the dissolution of the 87-member state assembly even as the BJP’s rivals the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC) and Congress closed ranks to stake a claim to form the government. As expected, Malik’s inexplicable move provoked a political snowstorm that refuses to blow over.

Some of this is because the governor smugly sat through several weeks of parleys between the People’s Conference (PC) chief Sajjad Lone, the BJP and a group of rebels from the PDP and NC, who were desperately trying to cobble the numbers together to form the government. It was in telling contrast to the alacrity he showed later when former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, and the Congress, began talking of a coalition. This, in the wake of broad hints from PDP founder and Baramullah MP Muzaffar Hussain Baig about joining ranks with Lone.

Malik later tried to justify himself by citing the impossibility of forming a stable government by the coming together of political parties with opposing ideologies and the fragile security scenario in the state. Speaking out in support of the governor’s decision to dissolve the assembly, which had been kept in suspended animation since the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government, a section within the saffron leadership argued that the proposed PDP-NC-Congress alliance would have been non-representative and detrimental to the interests of the Jammu region. Besides blocking a government minus the BJP, by pre-empting the PDP-NC-Congress alliance, he also effectively scuttled what could have halted the attrition within the PDP’s ranks.

Days later, he set the cat among the pigeons all over again. Addressing the convocation at Gwalior’s ITM University, Malik let slip that had he asked Delhi, he would have had to instal Lone as the CM, and that such a decision would have made him a dishonest person in history books. He insisted the decision to dissolve the house was the right one. While Omar and Mehbooba had their bit of fun congratulating’ Malik for refusing to bow to Delhi’s wishes, Lone was publicly furious and wanted Malik to withdraw his words. Internally though, his loyalists saw Malik’s statement as an endorsement of Lone’s growing clout in Delhi. The polity in Kashmir is different from the rest of the country. Here, people support those who have influence in Delhi, says a PC supporter.

When appointed by the Centre on August 21, it was evident that Malik the first career politician to be made the J&K governor since 1951 was there to do Delhi’s bidding. People across the Valley viewed the move as the BJP’s bid to push its agenda on the abrogation of Articles 35(A) and 370.

Surprisingly though, many within the saffron leadership don’t seem too happy with Malik. His allusion to who Delhi would have wanted as the CM to more recently citing the threat of transfer looming over him is being viewed as symptomatic of his souring relations with the BJP leadership. Former speaker and BJP deputy CM Kavinder Gupta says Malik’s frequent bayaanbaazi (public utterances), followed by denials, have marred the institutional credibility of the gubernatorial office. He indulges in loose talk and then retracts statements, chuckles Gupta, hoping that fresh assembly polls would change things in the state.

Besides politics, Malik’s administrative decisions have also been controversial. The move, for instance, to alter the status of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank has drawn flak from both pro-India politicians and the Hurriyat separatists. On November 22, just a day after the dissolution of the assembly, the State Administrative Council (SAC), headed by Malik, exercised the state government’s controlling 59.3 per cent share in the J&K Bank to convert it from being a privately-run banking entity listed on the National Stock Exchange into a public sector undertaking (PSU). Apart from giving the government (state legislature) unbridled control, it also brought the bank under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and subject to the guidelines of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Suspicious of Delhi’s motives, people in the Valley see Malik’s decision as another blow to J&K’s constitutionally guaranteed autonomy. Besides being the single-largest lending agency, contributing over 60 per cent of the credit available in the state, the bank, established in 1938, also has an emotional equity’ for Kashmiris.

Former state finance minister and NC politician Abdul Rahim Rather says Malik’s order has created space for political interference and it will put the J&K Bank at par with failing PSUs such as the State Road Transport Corporation. He points to 18 existing state PSUs, which have accumulated more than Rs 200 crore in losses over the past two years. Rather says many PSUs are bleeding J&K’s finances and have been rendered defunct following years of political interference. Tassaduq Madni, a senior bank executive, who is leading a J&K Bank Officers’ Federation agitation against Malik’s decision, says it has opened the doors to devastation. The order, he says, contravenes the Banking Act (as applicable to J&K), which puts the bank under the regulatory ambit and supervision of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Now, he says, instead of the chairman being appointed after approval by the RBI, ministers or bureaucrats could occupy the position.

Observers say that Malik’s decision also smacks of autocracy. The order was pushed through without any consultation with the bank’s board of directors (comprising the RBI and state government nominees), the remaining 41 per cent shareholders, or the employees. While mainstream politicians, including the BJP’s friends’ like Lone, have criticised the move, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq declared on November 25 that it was Delhi’s ploy to crush J&K’s economic independence. He called for street protests like those that followed Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016.

The escalating row prompted Malik to allay fears by issuing point-by-point reassurances on December 4 to a delegation of bank officers in Jammu. In contrast to the decision, the governor maintained the word PSU had no legal connotation and the government would re-examine the issue of accountability to legislature, but considered RTI good for the bank in the long run and assured safeguarding the autonomy and operational independence of the bank as the key objective of the administration at all times. He also promised to re-examine the order and that the bank would continue to be regulated by the RBI.

Malik then signed another order, ostensibly aimed at depriving Muslim Gujjar and Bakarwal tribesmen of their rights to forest land. On November 28, the SAC approved the annulment of the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act. Brought in by the Farooq Abdullah government in 2001 and known as the Roshini Act’, it was aimed at raising Rs 25,000 crore for power projects by transferring ownership of some two million kanals of state-owned or nazool land to those in occupation. Though it is seen as one of the biggest scams in the state’s history, wherein influential people grabbed prime land the transfer of 21,530 acres of land fetched a mere Rs 76 crore its annulment effectively deprives scores of hand-to-mouth tribals of their homes. Malik’s order suspiciously follows a call by Ankur Sharma, the lawyer for the accused in the Kathua rape and murder case. On November 18, Sharma had demanded that the act be repealed to defeat the jihadi war and the demographic invasion of Jammu. This was in reference to tribal settlers and Rohingyas in the Jammu region. Officials say that over 70,000 applications for transfer of land rights, including from Muslim Gujjar and Bakarwal tribesmen, stand cancelled after the annulment of the act.

These controversies have pulled a blanket over all the good’ work that Malik’s administration has achieved over the past three-and-a-half months. This includes the establishment of a winter secretariat in Srinagar to supervise governance in the Valley while the durbar shifts to the relatively warmer climes of Jammu. A mid-rung official in the summer capital says it has made for unprecedented punctuality in government offices despite the winter freeze in Srinagar. Everyone’s on their toes, thanks to the unpredictable visits by senior officers from Jammu, he says.

When heavy snowfall hit the Valley in early November and devastated 53,000 hectares of orchards and 9,000 hectares under paddy, Malik lost no time in proclaiming a special natural calamity and announcing compensations. Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry head Sheikh Ashiq lauds the prompt announcement of compensation to apple growers and rice cultivators. In the South Kashmir apple basket’ Shopian, Mushtaq Ahmad Malik, who heads the Fruit Growers and Zamindar Association, compares Malik’s prompt response to the delayed one in the wake of the 2014 floods. The government is more accessible now, he says.

To be fair, barring the 10 years when N.N. Vohra ran an effective administration, the governor’s office has always been mired in controversies. Lt Gen. S.K. Sinha’s tenure, for instance, was particularly stormy given his bitter relations with the then CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and the order to transfer forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008. Earlier, Jagmohan’s term was troubled amid allegations of extra-judicial killings in the Valley. Malik may only be part of a recurring pattern.(Courtesy:India Today)

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