On April 2, a photograph from an official meeting of the Jammu and Kashmir administration created a buzz on social media in the Kashmir Valley. At first glance, the picture appeared unremarkable. It showed Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu holding a meeting with a battery of bureaucrats.

Social media users in the Valley were quick to point out that, out of the 19 men in the photograph, there was only one Kashmiri Muslim – Farooq Ahmad Lone, a former Indian Administrative Service officer from the Valley.

“Islam is the major religion practiced in Kashmir, with 97.00% of the region’s population identifying as Muslims and among them just Farooq Lone sb is standing alone in decision making with regard to highly Muslim populated Jammu and Kashmir as I could see,” said a Facebook user from Kashmir.

The picture cut to the heart of the anxiety that has gripped the Valley ever since August 5, 2019, when the Centre stripped Jammu and Kashmir of special status and split the former state into two Union Territories amid the severest lockdown the region has ever seen. Parliament also repealed Article 35A, which had empowered the government of the former state to define “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir and reserve for them specific rights, such as the right to own land and hold government jobs, in the state.

The common refrain among Kashmiris in the aftermath of the decision was this: the move was aimed at introducing demographic change to the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley, robbing its inhabitants of economic and political rights.

The legislative assembly of the former state, now disbanded, had traditionally been dominated by the Muslim-majority Valley. With the August 5 decisions, Valley residents feared the “comeback of Dogra rule”, referring to the unpopular Hindu kings of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which existed before 1947. In other words, they feared a government and administration that did not represent the Kashmiri Muslim majority of the region.

It was not just the picture that triggered these fears.

The picture of the administrative meeting that went viral on social media.

Vanishing Kashmiris

“In civil bureaucracy, police and judiciary, Muslims in Kashmir feel nowhere,” said Ghulam Hassan Mir, a former minister in the state and now a member of the newly floated Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, in a recent interview. “They are being sidelined and there is complete imbalance in the system. Kashmiris are found nowhere and even in the civil secretariat, which is the seat of power, the dejected Kashmiri officers are feeling detached.”

This marginalisation may not have started last year. Two former ministers who had served in the governments of the former state said that Delhi had always intervened in crucial appointments. A former cabinet minister who served in the People’s Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government traces the marginalisation of Kashmiri officers back to 1989, when militancy spread rapidly across the Valley.

“It has been like this since 1989,” said the minister, who was among the many Kashmiri politicians arrested just before August 5. “Most of the key posts in the administration and police were held by non-local bureaucrats and officers on Delhi’s bidding. But state governments did act as a bit of buffer in such a scenario because there was accountability before the people. Tomorrow, they would have to go to people for votes.”

That has changed dramatically since the state assembly was dissolved, said another former cabinet minister. “The bureaucrats leading this administration don’t even want to stay in Kashmir,” he said. “Either they stay in their fortified official accommodations or they prefer to spend their week days in Jammu or Delhi. There’s no connection with the public.”

The change in leadership starts from the top. For years, the state had coalition governments led by a Kashmir-based party and a Kashmiri chief minister. The coalition partner was usually a national party, which won most of its votes from Jammu. But after the PDP-BJP government fell in June 2018, Kashmiri Muslims have had a waning presence in government.

Since the BJP walked out of the coalition in 2018, Jammu and Kashmir has been governed directly by the Centre, first through the governor and then, after it became a Union Territory, through the lieutenant governor. Both acted in consultation with an advisory council. In these two years, only one Kashmiri bureaucrat has been part of the council – Khurshid Ahmad Ganai, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer. His term ended on October 31, 2019, the day Jammu and Kashmir officially lost statehood.

Since then, Kashmiris have disappeared from the core unit of the administration altogether. While the administration is closely controlled by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs – most important policy decisions have been announced by it – the lieutenant governor and his four advisors are now the face of government in Jammu and Kashmir. Each advisor has the powers of a minister, supervising different departments instead of holding portfolios. Three of the advisors are from Jammu. The fourth is from Uttar Pradesh. None of them is from the Kashmir Valley.

Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu and his four advisors. From left to right: Murmu, Kewal Kumar Sharma, Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, Farooq Khan, Basir Ahmad Khan.

Faces of the Union Territory administration

GC Murmu, a 1985-batch Indian Administrative Service officer of the Gujarat cadre, served as principal secretary to Narendra Modi during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat and later as expenditure secretary at the Centre. Back in 2004, he had also faced allegations that he “tutored” witnesses who appeared before the Nanavati Commission, set up to look into the 2002 Gujarat riots. The allegations were dismissed by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team. Murmu was appointed lieutenant governor on October 31.

Kewal Kumar Sharma, on the governor’s advisory council since 2018, continued with Murmu. A retired Indian Administrative Service officer from Jammu division’s Kathua district, he has been chief secretary of Delhi and Goa as well as advisor to the administrator of Chandigarh. He was also secretary in the Union human resources ministry in 2016. At present, Sharma supervises a wide range of departments – from revenue, planning development and industries to education and horticulture.

Also continuing from the 2018 advisory council is Farooq Khan, a former Indian Police Service officer from Jammu. After he retired from the police, Khan had joined the BJP at a public rally held by Modi in Kathua during the run up to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. He is the grandson of Peer Mohammad Khan, the first state president of the Jammu and Kashmir Jana Sangh.

Farooq Khan was instrumental in establishing the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s counterinsurgency wing, now known as the special operations group, during the peak of the militancy in the early 1990s. But his career was attended by controversy. In 2000, when five men were killed in an alleged fake encounter in Pathribal in Anantnag district, he was the senior superintendent in charge. In April 2003, he was suspended by the state government for two and a half years. In September 2005, he was exonerated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

At present, Farooq Khan handles food, civil supplies and consumer affairs, social welfare, tribal affairs, labour and employment, youth services and sports, among other departments.

The only person from outside Jammu and Kashmir to be part of the advisory council is Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar, who retired as director general of the Central Reserve Police Force. Bhatnagar is in charge of health and medical education, public works, irrigation and flood control, transport and animal husbandry in the union territory administration.

The most recent entrant to the advisory council is Baseer Ahmad Khan, appointed in March. This was soon after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had expressed concern about the “inordinate delay” in framing charges in the Gulmarg land scam. Khan is one of the accused.

Baseer Khan was due to retire from the Indian Administrative Service on June 30, 2019. But as the government secretly geared up for sweeping changes to the state, it gave him a one-year extension, calling it a “special case”. When Jammu and Kashmir lost statehood, he was divisional commissioner of Kashmir. As advisor, Khan handles power development, rural development & panchayati raj, disaster management, culture, tourism and floriculture.

Also aiding the council is chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, a 1987-batch IAS officer of the Chhattisgarh cadre. He hails from Andhra Pradesh.

The chain of command

Kashmiri officers have vanished further down the chain of command as well. There were 58 Indian Administrative Officers in the state cadre of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir – the cadre has now been merged into the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram-Union Territories cadre. Of those 58, only seven were Kashmiri Muslim. That included Shah Faesal, the star bureaucrat who went on to form his own political party. After August 5, he was among the scores of political leaders detained under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law. He remains under house arrest.

Key departments like home, finance, health, environment are headed by officers from outside Jammu and Kashmir. The only officer from the Kashmir Valley running an important department is Asgar Hassan Samoon, principal secretary for school education.

While Jammu division is headed by Sanjeev Verma, a local resident, Kashmir’s divisional commissioner, Pandurang Kondbarao Pole, hails from Maharashtra. In the 10 districts of the Valley, only four district commissioners are Kashmiri.

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir Police force is headed by Dilbag Singh from Punjab. Mukesh Singh from Delhi heads the police in the Jammu division and Vijay Kumar from Bihar is the inspector general of Kashmir. None of the five deputy inspector generals is from Kashmir. In the 13 police districts of the Kashmir Valley, only two are under the charge of Kashmiri superintendents.

Kashmiri judges are a minority in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, too. Of the 11 sitting judges, only two are Kashmiri Muslim while two are Kashmiri Pandit.

A logjam

The August 5 decision also brought about a crucial change in the bureaucratic structure. While Jammu and Kashmir had special status, only 50% of its All India Service officers were direct recruits chosen through examinations held by the Union Public Service Commission. The other came from Kashmir service officers who were promoted into All India Services. In other states, 67% of the officers are direct recruits while only 33% are officers inducted from the state services. When Jammu and Kashmir lost special status, it also became subject to the 67:33 rule.

Central changes apart, internal wrangles have meant promotions are stalled in both the Kashmir Police Service and the Kashmir Administrative Service.

“You can blame the failure to induct local KPS officers into the Indian Police Service on three reasons,” said a senior police officer in the Valley, speaking off the record. “The seniority disputes between officers, litigation and the failure of state governments in the past. There’s no word on when it’s going to happen.”

Since 2009, no Kashmir Police Service officer has been promoted into the Indian Police Service. At present, all 66 Indian Police Services officers in the Jammu and Kashmir cadre are those who were recruited directly through examinations held by the Union Public Service Commission. The total strength of the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s IPS cadre is 147, out of which 80 posts are for direct recruits and 67 slots are reserved for those promoted from the state service. A majority of the posts now lie vacant.

There is a similar logjam with inductions from the Kashmir Administrative Service into the Indian Administrative Service. “There has been no induction into the IAS for more than 10-11 years because of the dispute over the seniority list of the 1999 KAS batch,” said a Kashmir Administrative Service officer who did not want to be named. “There have been petitions, counter petitions and all those discussions but so far the logjam hasn’t been broken.”

Had the dispute been solved in time, the officer calculated, 50 to 55 Kashmir Administrative Service officers would have been inducted into the Central service over the last decade.

A poor track record

Even within the state services, observers have noted that recruitments have been skewed against Kashmiris for years. Historian and former civil servant Khalid Bashir Ahmad notes that between 1995 and 2014, over 65% of the state services were made up of recruits from Jammu and about 32.7% by recruits from Kashmir. This despite the Kashmir division being the most populous region of the former state.

As for Kashmiri representation in the police, Ahmad traces a long history of marginalisation that goes back to Dogra times. “During the last 102 years for which record is available, out of 34 police chiefs in the Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir, only 2 were Muslims,” he writes. “In Ghulam Jeelani Pandit, the state had its last Muslim police chief as back as in 1989.”

The former minister who was imprisoned after August 5 was unsurprised by this track record. “This is nothing new,” he shrugged. “But what’s happening now is the culmination of ultimate design of Hindutva which is the decimation of Kashmiri Muslims.”

This is the first part in a special series on the legacy of the sweeping changes made by the Modi government to the status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. Read the full series here.