Srinagar: The appointment of a career politician as J&K Governor, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address in which he spoke of a more liberal approach towards Kashmir, has generated cautious hope among political circles in Jammu and Kashmir.
Mainstream political parties are latching on to Modi’s invocation of late Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s formula – of talks on Kashmir based on “Insaaniyat (humanity), Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s pluralist ethos) and Jamhooriyat (democracy)” – seeing in it a fresh political initiative on Kashmir.
The expectations have risen with New Delhi departing from past practice in not appointing as J&K Governor an army general or a retired bureaucrat like NN Vohra, who served an unprecedented 11 years in office. Satya Pal Malik, former Bihar Governor, is the second politician to head Jammu and Kashmir after Karan Singh in the past more than five decades.
The 72-year-old politician hailing from Uttar Pradesh has vast political experience, starting off as a socialist, then a brief stint with the Congress and the VP Singh-led government, in which he was a colleague of former J&K CM, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, before ending up in the BJP. Malik’s proximity with Kashmiri politicians including the Muftis and Abdullahs gave him an edge over other aspirants for the top post.
Former Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak, who has been involved in Track-II diplomacy on Kashmir, said that the appointment of a politician as J&K governor has a “major advantage”. This, he said, removes the perception that New Delhi only relies on security officers or retired bureaucrats for helming the state.
The 2019 general elections to be held next year, however, might delay the political initiative on Kashmir, he said. But that, Kak said, should not make mainstream parties and civil society wait to engage with each other in their respective constituencies.
“They should not wait while young boys are being virtually scarified in a situation where they feel death is better than life. It is a challenge for both the mainstream and the civil society,” Kak told Kashmir Reader.
Malik, who assumed charge on Thursday, will be helming the state at a crucial time when a bunch of petitions challenging Article 35A are to be heard in the Supreme Court. Both separatists and mainstream parties have unanimously spoken of defending the Article.
“It will be the Governor’s first test. There is no merit in the petitions and the Government of India should also ask for the petitions to be dismissed,” said former Kashmir interlocutor Radha Kumar. “That will send out a positive signal.”
Apart from the legal wrangle, rising militancy and public protests are a massive challenge in Kashmir. Though the intensity of public protests slightly waned since Governor’s Rule was declared, and is attributed to the collapse of the unpopular PDP-BJP alliance, four persons including three policemen and a BJP worker were shot dead on the day Malik took over the new gubernatorial head.
For the National Conference, a change in the situation will come only when the Governor will assist the Indian government in starting a political initiative on Kashmir.
“That alone can prove that the Governor is a different person from his predecessors,” said NC general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar.
PDP chief spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir recalled Modi’s 2017 Independence Day address in which he called for “embracing” of Kashmiris rather than resorting to abuse or bullets. “That could not be translated into action,” Mir said. “But we hope that this time it does.”
The pro-freedom camp is silently but closely looking at the developments, hoping for some breakthrough in the coming months.
“His (Malik’s) appointment is a signal that the Government of India wants to follow a political approach, as the military approach has failed. Things may change now. The recent exchanges between the premiers of India and Pakistan have been encouraging,” said a senior separatist leader, requesting anonymity.