Why has BJP made Satya Pal Malik J&K’s Governor?  

The BJP has departed from the time-tested tradition of appointing bureaucrats and retired Army generals in Raj Bhawan

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Aasha Khosa

In appointing veteran politician Sayta Pal Malik as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership is congratulating itself for taking yet another right step in the direction of changing the political discourse in the conflict-ridden state and paving the way for furthering its ambitious and out-of-the-box solution to the Kashmir’s perceived alienation from the mainland.

It goes without saying that Malik’s nomination was cleared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after ticking off the name of the front-runner, Rajiv Maharishi, former Union Home Secretary, and many others including some middle-rung BJP leaders.

Giving a political Governor to J&K was BJP’s way of treating the state at par with other states and breaking off from the tradition of former bureaucrats and Army Generals being lodged in Srinagar’s picturesque Raj Bhawan.

With Malik’s appointment, interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma’s role in the state comes to an abrupt end. Sharma, a former IB man, was asked to interact with the public and prepare a report to point out the precise reason for unrest among the youth in Why BJP made Malik J&K’s Governor Kashmir, post the 2016 killing of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani. “These bureaucrats are just able to list grievances of people and they don’t have the vision to think of a political solution for these,” a BJP leader from the state told this reporter.

A politician in Raj Bhawan is also BJP’s way of repudiating the past governments’ approach on Jammu and Kashmir wherein Kashmir was dealt by bureaucrats, Intelligence chiefs and Army Generals as a technical issue. The fact is that BJP has a longterm plan for Jammu and Kashmir up its sleeve.

In fact, the first major experiment in that direction was taken by the mother saffron organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), way back in 2008 by organising a never before seen mass protest across Jammu on the issue of the Amarnath shrine.

The Jammu agitation had surprised everyone and it was to counter the separatist- led agitation against purported allotment of land for the annual Himalayan pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath in Kashmir. Ram Madhav, who was in the RSS back then and was deeply involved in building BJP’s support base in Jammu, had admitted this to me in an interview for Business Standard. He said the Jammu experiment involved the RSS network on the ground, mobilising people to rise up in arms on an emotive issue. Till then, Jammu city had the dubious distinction of never closing businesses for the sake of making a political statement.

The next bold move of the saffron party was seen in 2014 when the BJP formed the government with archrival and its ideological enemy, Peoples’ Democratic Party. The combination was so brazen, it had left the supporters of both the parties redfaced till the two separated a few months ago. Posting a political Governor to the state is part of furthering its future strategy. “We believe a Governor with a political vision can communicate better with leaders of the state and also work towards resolving issues through political moves,” a Kashmir-based senior leader said. He termed this as a “fresh chapter in Kashmir.” The BJP leadership is totally opposed to opening talks with the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat Conference.

At the moment, when all mainstream parties are insisting on Hurriyat-New Delhi talks, the BJP believes a political Governor could work with leaders and motivate them to restart communication with people. Right now, an upsurge in insurgency particularly in south Kashmir and targeted killings of local policemen have virtually sent politicians into hibernation. “The Governor can talk to the legislators and inspire them to become politically active,” the BJP leader claimed. Sources said although the formation of political government in the state is the BJP’s priority, the immediate task for Malik is to hold the civic and panchayat elections in the state.

The Municipal elections were last held in the state in 2005 and panchayat elections in 2011. The elections are likely to be held in October November and the notification could be issued next month. Meanwhile, the BJP is slowly working on its agenda of removing special status of Jammu and Kashmir in the Constitution; challenging the validity of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution in the apex court by private citizens and NGOs is certainly a part of the plan.

The BJP is clearly hoping it could form the next government in J&K with the help of 14 or so PDP legislators, who are believed to be ready to cross over in due course. A party man in Raj Bhawan would come handy in such a scenario.

With a political Governor in charge, the BJP is assured that any flare-up in the ground situation would be handled well. The BJP, led by general secretary Ram Madhav, is trying to raise its team in Kashmir; it would essentially comprise Muslim men and women. It believes there is ample space in Kashmir to channel the strong sentiment against dynastic politics – represented by the Abdullahs, Muftis and even Hurriyat Conference leaders – for it to make use of.

The party believes it has a strong ally in Sajjad Lone, leader of Peoples’ Conference and a former minister in the Mehbooba government. No wonder every second day, the Kashmiri media speculates Lone as the next Chief Minister to be sworn in soon with BJP’s support.

The BJP is clearly hoping it could form the next government in J&K with the help of 14 or so PDP legislators, who are believed to be ready to cross over in due course. A party man in Raj Bhawan would come handy in such a scenario.

However, BJP leaders are keeping government formation in abeyance till the civic and panchayat elections are held. Thereafter, it can take credit for restoring grass root democracy in J&K and become a legitimate claimant to lead the government.

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