At a tourism festival in Kargil on Sunday, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik was incensed with militants in Kashmir. They had unnecessarily killed innocent security personnel, he said, when they should be directing their energies towards those who had “looted your country and your Kashmir”. The next day, Malik said that he regretted his comment, that it was made in anger and frustration with the “rampant corruption” in the state. Although his “personal feelings”, he added, remained the same.
Malik is the holder of a constitutional post. With Jammu and Kashmir under Central rule, he is also the administrative head of the state, with sweeping powers that governors do not have in ordinary times. Despite the expression of regret, it remains on record that a governor with special powers and responsibilities exhorted non-state actors to use violence against people he believed were valid targets.
There were other improprieties. The tirade about corruption was directed largely at Valley-based political parties. These leaders kept the powers-that-be in Delhi happy, claimed Malik, but incited unrest in Kashmir. After National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted to criticise the governor’s call to arms, Malik called him a “political juvenile” for voicing his opinions on social media.
But Malik does not seem to have noticed his own indiscretions – by getting into an open spat with a regional leader, he has banished even the appearance of political neutrality that the occupant of the governor’s post is required to maintain. When Malik was appointed last year, he was regarded as a political governor. He is the first governor of Jammu and Kashmir who was a career politician, starting out in socialist parties before joining the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2004. As he arrived to head the state head administration, it was feared that Malik would not only act as the Centre’s envoy to the state, but also as the BJP’s yes man, furthering its political ambitions in Jammu and Kashmir. His comments this week do nothing to dispel such fears.
With Malik at the helm, the state has launched a very visible project to clean up the system. The state’s anti-corruption bureau was reconstituted, with units in local police stations. One of the major projects of the anti-corruption drive was to crack down on the J&K Bank, one of the state’s most enduring institutions, curbing its autonomy and bringing it under greater public scrutiny.
In what was pitched as an attempt to streamline the administration, ease the strain on the public exchequer and dismantle the system of political appointments, Malik also sacked 44 public prosecutors and 400 standing counsels appointed by the previous dispensation.
But as he pressed forward with his admirable project, it was not clear what exactly Malik’s target was: corruption or the “ruling elites” he repeatedly invokes in his speeches. Once again, this week, he promised high-profile arrests of former ministers. The crackdowns have created a strong impression that the Centre means to undermine the independence of regional bodies, from the bank to the Valley-based media to political parties.
The BJP seems determined to rework the compact between the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir – abandoning greater autonomy the state is due under Article 370 for more direct control under Delhi. So as it cracks down on regional leaders, the Centre promises funds to panchayats, touting the revival of grass roots democracy – it is another matter that in the Valley, at least, most seats were won uncontested. And as the Centre discards the notion of dialogue with separatists, Malik invites militants to talk directly with him. There is a long-term cost to this policy, especially in the strife-torn Valley: genuine representative democracy, with institutions that the people of Kashmir can hold accountable.