The following afternoon, I reached the airport to find the entire Cabinet present, and the plane ready for the governor’s departure. Shortly thereafter, General Krishna Rao arrived. He shook hands with everyone, inspected the guard of honour, boarded the plane, and took off.
As we stood there with Dr Abdullah and his ex-cabinet ministers, we suddenly saw a small plane approaching the airport. “The new governor is arriving!” someone exclaimed.
There was a mad scramble as all the politicians rushed to the exit, called for their cars and took off in a hurry. Only the police, the guard of honour and the civil servants remained behind. When the flight landed, we found that it was not Jagmohan who had arrived, but Bhutani, who had gone to Srinagar and was returning in a BSF plane. We all had a hearty laugh at the unseemly hurry of the ex-ministers to avoid encountering Jagmohan. Bhutani joined us in our wait for the new governor, whose plane landed in the next few minutes.
Jagmohan was received with a guard of honour. I introduced him to all the officials present and accompanied him to the Raj Bhavan. Shortly thereafter, he was sworn in as the governor of J&K – to start his second stint and to face severe turbulence as the insurgency intensified.
When I informed the new governor that I was going on leave to Delhi on account of my wife’s health, he was most unhappy. He tried to persuade me to hold on as he had plans to create a new post and appoint me as the chief-advisor- cum-chief-secretary. I thanked him for his kind offer, but said I would discuss it with him on my return.
Late that night, I received a call from Jalil Ahmed Khan, who had taken over as divisional commissioner from MS Pandit, He told me that there was unprecedented turmoil in Srinagar.
The police and the CRPF had undertaken a cordon-and-search operation in the highly sensitive area of Chhota Bazaar. More than seven hundred families, including women, children and old people, had been taken out of their houses and made to sit out in freezing temperatures in the middle of January.
“Were you aware of this operation?” I asked Jalil.
“I had no inkling at all,” he replied.
I rang JN Saxena, who had replaced Ghulam Jeelani Pandit as the DGP, and asked him why such a large-scale operation was being undertaken. Saxena had joined the IPS the same year that I joined the IAS. We had done the foundation course in Mussoorie together.
“It’s a routine cordon-and-search operation to ferret out terrorists,” he replied.
“Do you have any actionable intelligence that there are terrorists hidden in those houses?” I asked.
“The operation was planned quite some time back. I’ll check all the details,” he said.
“Why wasn’t I kept in the loop if you were planning such a large-scale operation?”
“It was a routine operation, so I didn’t think it was necessary,” he said.
As the operation was a fait accompli, I advised Saxena to detain those who were identified as terrorists and let the remaining go home before they fell victim to the intense cold. The response of the DGP did not satisfy me. As chief secretary, I too was responsible for the law and order situation in the state and I felt I should have been consulted or at least informed before any operation was undertaken in a sensitive area. I told the governor as much, and registered my protest at being sidelined.
“Oh, that was only a routine operation and falls within the purview of the police,” he replied.
I realised then that Jagmohan, as he later wrote in his reminiscences, had “decided to follow, in the first phase, the model of the Governor’s Rule of 1986”. He did not understand that 1990 was not 1986. Much water had flowed under the bridge. New factors had come into play.
The kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed and the release of the five militants had infused a sense of euphoria, not only among the militants but among ordinary people, that “freedom” was just round the corner. There had been processions on the streets of Srinagar, Anantnag, Sopore and other towns, with slogans being shouted in favour of “azadi”. And Jagmohan believed that the situation could be retrieved by following the 1986 model of Governor’s Rule.
Jagmohan later wrote about what he meant by the 1986 model: “justice can be established as a new religion... administration is imagination. It is vision. It is creativity. It is commitment. It is Napoleonic, precision, speed, timing and leadership.”
In pursuit of Napoleonic precision and speed, based on the impressions gathered from highly exaggerated reports in the national media, he had decided that starting grievance redressal durbars, implementing neglected development projects, eliminating militants with the help of the armed forces, enforcing PSA and AFSPA, and using police and other paramilitary forces to maintain law and order was the way to keep things in control and to be hailed once again as the saviour of Kashmir. But he was sadly mistaken.
Meanwhile, Dr Abdullah had not abandoned the Valley. He and his ministers had travelled to their constituencies in the aftermath of VP Singh’s decision to release the militants. Though the militants had targeted those they believed to be pro-government political agents, there did not seem to be any communal motive behind the killings.
The first militant attack was on the house of the DIG, Ali Muhammad Watali. The intelligence chief then was so ignorant of the situation in the state that in his report to me, he wrote that a weapon called “Clacincope” had been recovered from the attacker. He had not even heard of a Kalashnikov!
Muhammad Yusuf Halwai, an activist of the NC, was the next target, in August 1989, in what was seemingly an attempt to demoralise the ruling party. Similarly, the leader of the BJP, Tika Lal Tapiloo, was killed in November 1989. In the same month, N.K. Ganjoo, a retired judge who had earlier sentenced Maqbool Bhat, the founder of the JKLF to death, was gunned down.
Later, in February 1990, Lassa Kaul, the chief of the local Doordarshan station, was shot dead. Then, in March, a non-Kashmiri vice-chancellor of the University of Kashmir, Mushir-ul-Haq, and his secretary Abdul Gani were abducted and killed. The state IB had employed some Kashmiri Pandits, both officially as well as informers. A list of such employees was leaked, perhaps from the office of the IB itself. The militants targeted and killed some of them.
Though these killings were politically motivated, the Pandit community was justifiably perturbed. There was a longstanding history of hostility between the Pandits and the Muslims of Kashmir. Just as Gujaratis were brought up on stories of Mahmood Ghaznavi and the destruction of Somnath, and on accounts of Mahmood Begda’s conquest of Junagadh and Pavagadh and his imprisoning of Rai Khengar, the last ruler of Junagadh, in the Bhadra fort, the Muslims of Kashmir frequently recalled their suffering, through begar and mujawaza, as well as the famine of 1877 when the government of the day did not even allow them to migrate to Punjab and let them die of starvation by the hundreds of thousands.
Throughout the rule of the Sikhs and Dogras, the Pandits had played a crucial role as servants of the rulers and as a pampered minority that was encouraged to oppress and harass the subdued majority of Muslims. The collective memory of this harassment was still alive. I heard such remembered tales of oppression even from the hanjis and ponywalas.
The militants, therefore, found a fertile ground among the disgruntled populace. Muslims now began to directly or indirectly show their hostility to the Pandits. Just before the Durbar move of 1989, I received a call at midnight from Habbakadal from a frightened man who identified himself as a Pandit and said that calls of “Allah-o-Akbar” were being heard over the loudspeakers in mosques nearby. I reassured the caller, alerted the police, called my driver and went to Habbakadal. It appeared that since it was the last week of Ramadan, the mosques were calling devotees for the night prayers. But the Pandits were still jittery. I had to stay with them until the prayers were over and the devotees had dispersed.
The frightened community of Pandits later demanded that Governor Jagmohan help them migrate outside the Valley.
At first Jagmohan attempted to set up refugee camps within the Valley itself. But this did not work out. So the state helped move some families to Jammu and many to Delhi and the rest of India. This attempt to terrorise the Pandits was not only foolish, but also not in the interests of the militants themselves, as it soon became evident.
Two decades later, a visitor to Chennai from a Muslim village next to Bijbehara in the Valley threw some interesting light on the situation. He told me there were still about a dozen Pandit families living in the village.
I asked this bearded visitor, who himself looked like a fierce member of the Hizb, “Why didn’t these Pandits migrate when the rest of their community did?”
“Oh, we reassure them constantly. We take great care of our neighbours. We don’t allow anyone to harass them. We pamper them and keep them happy,” he replied.
I was a little surprised at this response and probed further.
“They are protection for us,” he said. “As long as they are present among us, the security forces don’t undertake any cordon-and-search operation in our village.”
Excerpted with permission from Kashmir: Land of Regrets, Moosa Raza, Context.