It initially appeared as a routine official photo, before the uniform representation reminded many Kashmiris of their perfidious past under the Dogra Maharajas.
Dust was yet to settle over a dramatic flip-flop on the controversial domicile law, when the official battery of the union territory sat for a cabinet-style meeting. Along with its minutes, soon a photo dispatched to media houses set many people in Kashmir thinking.
Showing the government of union territory of J&K, the photo (Left to Right) showed Chief Secretary B V R Subramanian, FC Finance A K Mehta, Principal Secretary IT and Pr Secretary to LG Bipul Patak, Pr Secretary Planning Rohit Kansal, Pr Secretary Industries and Commerce Manoj Kumar Dwivedi, Com Secretary Labour and Employment Saurabh Bhagat, Secretary Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation Simrandep Singh, Pr Secretary Horticulture, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Technical Education Naveen Chowdhary, Commissioner Secretary PHE Ajeet Kumar Sahu, Secretary Power Dev Department M Raju, Secretary Rural Development Sheetal Nanda, Pr Secretary Social Welfare Shalinder Kumar, Pr Secretary Housing and Urban Development Dheeraj Gupta, Pr Secretary Home Shalin Kabra, FC health and Medical Education Atal Duloo.
The only Muslim name in Lt Governor G C Murmu’s administration governing the Muslim-majority region was Secretary General Administration Department, Farooq Lone.
Some netizens were quick to react.
“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,” a Facebook user reacted over the photo.
“Why there isn’t fair representation? Are Muslims less worth? Introspect.”
Another user wrote: “Is Dogra Raj back?”
The manner in which the majority community of the erstwhile state finds itself ousted from the positions of power and planning in the UT bureaucracy is alarming.
The shift in this regard was first noticed in the seething summer of 2018, when the BJP withdrew its support from North Pole-South Pole alliance in Kashmir.
As the controversial Governor Satya Pal Malik became a default guardian of the “crumbled democratic setup” in J&K, he made it clear that he wasn’t in Raj Bhavan to “play golf and drink”.
This former Rajya Sabha colleague of the PDP founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, as per his own admissions, was deputed as a tough taskmaster to hammer out some emergency changes in the ‘toothed political terrain’ of Kashmir.
On November 22, 2018, a day after he would dissolve the J&K Assembly on pretext of the infamous Fax-gate, Malik transferred Abdul Majid Bhat, Secretary to Government, Department of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to the Department of Cooperatives.
Bhat was replaced by his junior, Achal Sethi in the Law Department.
The transfer came close on the heels of controversial Government decisions on LAHDC, Leh and J&K Bank, and apprehensions of further misadventure with J&K’s special laws, which since stand scrapped.
The timing of the transfer also coincided with UP chief minister, Aditiyanath’s public remarks that Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir were safe under the patronage of Hindu kings with whose fall their debacle started.
While many felt that the controversial chief minister is only mainstreaming the fringe discourse in the Muslim-majority region, his party BJP had already put Kashmir on the ‘reclaim’ path.
In 1930, writes Khalid Bashir, a noted Kashmir historian, when the ‘last Hindu ruler’, Hari Singh, was in the saddle, Kashmir was ruled by him with a State Administrative Council comprising: Major General Janak Singh Bahadur, GEC Wakefield, PK Wattal and Thakur Kartar Singh.
Today, when GC Murmu is at the helm of affairs he too is ruling Kashmir through a State (now UT, post-abrogation) Administrative Council with his four Advisors: Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, K K Sharma, Farooq Khan and Baseer Khan.
“During the later years of his rule,” Bashir writes, “Hari Singh too had a Khusru Jung as his Huzoor Minister or Minister in Waiting.”
The Maharaja’s chief secretary in late 1930s was Ram Chander Kak, Murmu’s chief secretary is BVR Subrahmanyam. The Maharaja had Colonel Gandharabh Singh as his police chief, the Governor Sahib has Dilbagh Singh.
During the last 104 years since when record is available, out of 35 Police Chiefs of J&K, only two—Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah and Ghulam Jeelani Pandit—were Muslims whose collective tenure lasted for 6 years, 10 months and 15 days, notes the historian, whose book Kashmir: Exposing The Myth Behind The Narrative was lately hailed for its fresh insights into Kashmir history.
“The last Muslim Police Chief the State [J&K] had was in 1989,” Bashir writes.
Similarly, the historian continues, during the past 90 years since the Jammu & Kashmir High Court was established in 1928, only three Muslims—Mian Jalaluddin, Mufi Bahauddin and Bashir Ahmad Khan—from Jammu & Kashmir have reached the position of Chief Justice.
“Their combined tenure has lasted for 3 years, 2 months and 21 days which is about 1/6th of the 19 years, 8 months and 2 days Justice Janki Nath Wazir, a Jammu Rajput Hindu, alone held the post from 30 March 1948 to 2 December 1967,” Khalid informs.
The recent appointments in J&K High Court triggered the same unfair apprehensions in Kashmir.
“The President has appointed Vinod Chatterji (chairman Sales Tax Tribunal), Sanjay Dhar (Registrar General High Court) and Puneet Gupta (member Special Tribunal Jammu) as judges of the common High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh Union Territories,” senior Srinagar-based scribe, Peerzada Ashiq wrote on his social media handle.
“Representation of Muslim judges in High Court reduced to 7.1% (in a region where Muslim population is 68 percent).”
Amid all these developments, as all vital departments of bureaucracy are today headed by persons who profess Murmu’s faith, the viral photo has only come as a ‘reality check’ for many in Kashmir.
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