Challenges Before Governor Malik

It was widely known that Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, N N Vohra was not keen to continue beyond the two-month extension he was given on June 28. But he could not have bargained for such an unceremonious exit after ten years of distinguished service. In Delhi apparently for a dentist’s appointment, he had to rush back that very next day as the new Governor flying in to take over charge.

The outgoing Governor may have earned the ire of the Centre for not encouraging a rebellion in the PDP to facilitate the formation of a new coalition government. His written advisory to the Centre to refrain from tampering with Article 35A until a popular government was in charge in the state is also unlikely to have pleased Delhi. A copybook Governor, any speculation that he was about to dissolve the assembly must also be rejected outright.

Some un-named officials have been reported as saying that the Centre has sent the new Governor to J&K for a genuine effort at talks within the framework of the Indian Constitution and that he would be guided by Prime Minsiter Modi’s reference to “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat (Humanity, Democracy and Kashmiri Culture)”.

This is blatant nonsense. The Agenda of Alliance of the recently-dismissed BJP-PDP government, accepted by both parties, had set the explicit goal of following the principles of “Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat” articulated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It promised to initiate sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders and political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections.

When the Union government did not opt for such a dialogue for four years, what sense does it make to do so at the fag-end of its tenure? What credibility would it have when the BJP is openly committed to abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution which provide for a special relationship with the state and special status for its permanent residents, respectively?

Governor Malik may also find it difficult to install a new BJP-led coalition in Srinagar. The prospect of forming a ragtag coalition of PDP rebels, some independent legislators and the BJP now seem bleak. This is because PDP President Mehbooba Mufti has largely been able to hold her party together.

As Governor Malik is a close personal friend of Farooq Abdullah the leader of the National Conference, there may be an attempt to forge a BJP-NC coalition government. However, Abdullah’s isolation within the Valley was evident from the way he was heckled at the Eid namaz at the Hazratbal Shrine, a stronghold of the NC. The NC leaders know that the PDP lost support precisely because of the public unacceptability of a compromise with the BJP.

With the general election barely months away, everything that the Narendra Modi government does must be understood within the framework of seeking re-election. Malik, a friend of Farooq Abdullah and an admirer of the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed by his own admission, is the ideal political Governor to have in Srinagar to provide the right ground assessment both before and after the general election.

He can also facilitate an early hearing on the constitutionality of Article 35A coming up before the Supreme Court on August 27. The law officers of the state up to now, have sought postponement of the hearings. Their instructions can now change. An early and possibly a favourable decision in the case will allow the Central government to present it as a step forward in the “assimilation” of J&K. This could be a popular election issue in the rest of India.

The recent appointment and transfer of governors in other states can also be best understood for the impact it will have on the general election.

It must be apparent to the BJP that each Lok Sabha seat will count after the latest India Today Mood of the Nation poll. It shows that with the alliance of the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the existing Untied Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Opposition could get 224 Lok Sabha seats. That is only four seats less than the 228 seats projected for National Democratic Alliance.

In this scenario, every vote and every seat will matter. It is being speculated that Satya Pal Malik’s appointment may help to attract the Jats of Western UP where he comes from. The BJP has failed to create a Jat leader of stature from this region. Sanjiv Baliyan was promoted as minister of state in the Modi cabinet but dropped in September last. The former Mumbai Police Commissioner, Satyapal Singh, was appointed Minister of State in-charge of Higher Education, but he also failed to shape up. He is in the news mostly for his advocacy of “creationism” and tirade against Darwin’s theory of evolution. The Jats of Western UP have meanwhile moved to Chaudhary Ajit Singh’s, Rashtriya Lok Dal, leaving the BJP clutching at straws.

The gubernatorial appointments of Satyadeo Narayan Arya in Haryana and Baby Rani Maurya in Uttarakhand are probably an acknowledgement of the estimated 19% Scheduled Caste voters in both states. Both the new appointees are Dalits. The BJP will find tough to maintain its Lok Sabha numbers in the two states – seven out of ten in Haryana and five out of five in Uttarakhand.

An extremely experienced political hand, Kaptan Singh Solanki will be able to guide the novice Chief Minister of Tripura who is also given to making controversial statements. Both the Lok Sabha seats in Tripura are currently with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Lalji Tandon’s appointment as governor of Bihar projects hope of rallying the upper caste bloc in UP as well as ensuring that Nitish Kumar does not change sides after elections.

It is uncertain how far this kind of caste signalling works. Did all Scheduled Caste voters rally behind the BJP after Ramnath Kovind was appointed President? If the caste calculations behind the gubernatorial appointments are even partially true, then these symbolic gestures only point to the shambolic state of the BJP and its decision makers.

The Article First Appeared In Business Standard

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