Narinder Nath Vohra has demitted office as discreetly as he entered it. An unfussy retirement from Srinagar’s Raj Bhavan would be no small achievement for any governor of Jammu and Kashmir. It is specially so for a governor who has had two uninterrupted terms, clocking a total of 10 years in that none-too-envied office.
The altogether unique inaugurator of that office, in 1965, is of course the sui generis Karan Singh. As the 18-year-old son of the last Maharaja of Kashmir, he had become in 1949, on the Maharaja’s stepping down, regent of the princely state and then its head with the first-of-its-kind title of Sadar-e-Riyasat, which was morphed by the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir Sixth Amendment Act, 1965, into ‘Governor’. The scholar-prince has, thus, been at the state’s crest the longest anyone has or perhaps ever will – for a total of 16 years.
Karan Singh was followed by three ICS stalwarts – Bhagwan Sahay (1967-1973), LK Jha (1973-1981) and BK Nehru (1981-1984). The ‘ICS-pattern’ for the state’s governorship ended with the appointment of the hugely skilful administrator Jagmohan to succeed BK Nehru. Jagmohan’s two terms were not continuous but in their two ‘broken’ halves (1984-1989 and January 1990 to May 1990) were unrelievedly turbulent, separatism and militancy acquiring grim proportions during that period.
There followed after the Jagmohan era what may be called the olive green or khaki years in the Srinagar and Jammu Raj bhavans with the ex-Army chief KV Krishna Rao doing two terms (1989-1990 and 1993-1998), the astute IPS veteran and ex-R&AW chief GC Saxena doing the same (1990-1993 and 1998-2003) and the reflective Army veteran SK Sinha holding the office from 2003 to 2008.
And so, with demission of NN Vohra and the arrival of his successor, a seasoned politician, the uninterrupted era of non-political governorships of Jammu and Kashmir comes to a close. One could say that Jagmohan though in terms of background was not political he was, by his instincts, so. But that would be splitting hairs. Jagmohan’s political innings as an elected legislator and Cabinet ministers lay ahead of him in the Himalayan state.
And so Satyapal Malik becomes the first ‘political’ governor of Jammu and Kashmir, after its first governor Karan Singh who reached that position by historical propulsions. Is this core-change to a political governor to be welcomed or pondered with doubts? Both, I would say.
I welcome it for the reason that howsoever supple and sensitive an administrator’s, soldier’s or policeman’s mind, it is at the end of the day a mind that thinks in terms of maintaining the peace, not creating it. The administrator, soldier or policeman is not to be faulted for this, his training is such. NN Vohra had been a valued interlocutor in the state before he became the state’s governor and his insightful report on criminalisation and politics showed a rare understanding of our political chemistry. But his value as governor lay, like that of his predecessors, in his impartial, neutral and essentially objective oversight.
A state, howsoever riddled by violence, insurrection, disaffection, separatism and militancy is nonetheless a political constituent of the Union of states that is Bharat. Its governor has to have political savvy, as much as administrative skill. And so a political appointment has to be welcomed on that score.
But I have this thought in parallel: a ‘political’ governor like a ‘political’ ambassador cannot but come with a political memory, a political orientation and – a political mandate. J&K is not just another Indian state; it is India’s most anxiously observed, most critically studied state. It is not at the nation’s crest for nothing. It is, therefore, vitally important that the Governor is seen to be one thing above all else: scrupulously non-partisan.
I cannot conclude this column without saying that it is puzzling why no government of India since 1947 has been able to find for India’s only state with a Muslim majority, a Muslim governor from outside the state. Why? A sense of insecurity in ourselves?
We must wish Rajyapal Satya Pal Malik a fulfilling innings as governor of Jammu and Kashmir, as the successor personifying Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s famous tripod for that State – Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat – without all that bedevils siyasat.