A tightrope to walk
There are many challenges before the new Governor in turmoil-stricken J&K
Jammu and Kashmir has got a political governor after five decades. Former Bihar governor Satya Pal Malik, who has a socialist background, has taken over the reins of the state last week. The last time Kashmir had a political governor was when Karan Singh became the state's first Governor (1965-67). Earlier governors had either been bureaucrats like Jagmohan, G S Saxena, and Vohra, or former Army officers like K V Krishna Rao, and S K Sinha.
Though it was a surprise name the process had begun a month ago. Even when PDP founder Mufti Mohammed Sayeed led the PDP-BJP coalition, he had suggested his friend Malik's name as Governor. The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi thought of sending a political appointee to the state signals that he is keen to start a political dialogue with the stakeholders.
Why Malik? He has an outreach across the political spectrum. He has been in Kranti Dal, Lok Dal, Janata Party, Congress, Samajwadi party and Janata Dal and maintained his contacts. He was the Vice President of the BJP before he was appointed as Governor of Bihar. He has studied in Aligarh Muslim university. Malik has served as the Union Minister of State, Parliamentary Affairs and Tourism, and has held many important positions in Central and State governments and has some administrative experience. He has served under Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as Union Minister of State earlier. He also has excellent equation with the NC leader Dr Farooq Abdullah. Being a Jat leader, he has some influence in Western UP and Haryana. Above all, Malik has excellent equation with both the major regional parties in the state — PDP and National Conference. The fact that both Mehbooba Mufti and Dr Abdullah were present in his swearing in ceremony shows that he might not have any difficulty with the two parties.
Despite all these, Malik will be wearing a crown of thorns. He has taken over when the state is passing through a difficult time. His immediate challenges would be handling the Article 35A in the court and the Panchayat elections, which was held last in 2011. The peaceful and fair conduct of the polls would be a big responsibility. Prime Minister, in his Independence Day speech has indicated his hopes to conduct the local body polls. How would he deal with Article 35A, pertaining to non-locals buying property in the state, which is being heard by the court, as even a small change in this would set the valley on fire? His inclination would be to keep out of the controversy.
The third is to bring back normalcy and restore law and order and continue counter terrorism measures. This will be his biggest challenge, as he has to make peace between the local police and the armed forces.
Fourthly, the youth in the state need to be stopped from choosing a path of violence and radicalisation. They need jobs and good education. They need engagement and a proper direction.
The fifth and more important thing is to win the confidence of the people of all regions. Malik himself had said after taking over: "My mandate is to meet people's expectations and to address the imbalance among the regions". He has to make them believe that he is not just a BJP stooge or the Centre's agent and he is the Governor for all regions. This image makeover is very essential to succeed.
After the first meeting with officials on Friday, indicating his priorities he said, "The focus has to be on working through transparency and consultation to promote a culture of excellence in governance characterised by integrity and highest standards of deliverance. Judicious and producing use of resources has to be ensured so that the funds are utilised according to priorities keeping in mind the larger public good and requirement of basic amenities." He must focus on health, education, rural development and social welfare sectors. While it is said that the state had been able to spend only half of the one lakh crores allocated to it so far, he must make plans to spend the rest speedily and also have an audit done for the money spent so far.
Sixthly, Malik should try to engage other stakeholders for a political dialogue. He began well when the leaders from most parties landed up at the airport to receive him. The question is how would he handle the separatists and particularly Hurriyat leadership, who are already discredited.
Will he try to install a popular government? Insiders say that he is in no hurry to do so. Malik is a moderate and a socialist and he is a fresh face in the state. Given a chance and support from both the Centre and the state, even if he could improve the situation by 10 to 20 per cent it will go a long way. The state has been crying for development and political dialogue and let us hope Malik will succeed.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)