Although Satya Pal Malik has a deep understanding of politics, the hurdles are just starting. With all that he has achieved, it is now important for him to make people believe that he is not just a BJP man but a good Governor. In addition to believing it, he needs to act and believe it himself.
Jammu & Kashmir has got a politician as a Governor after five decades. Former Bihar Governor Satya Pal Malik, with a socialist background, took over the reins of the State last week (August 21). 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 Malhotra, Girish Chandra Saxena, and NN Vohra or former Army officers, like KV Krishna Rao and SK Sinha.
Though Malik’s name was surprising, the process had begun a month ago. Even when Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led the PDP-BJP coalition, he had suggested Malik’s name as the Governor. The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi thought of sending a political appointee to the State sends a clear signal that he is keen to start a political dialogue with stakeholders.
But why Malik? He has massive outreach across the political spectrum. Before joining the BJP, he was a member of the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Indian National Congress, Janata Dal, Lok Dal and Samajwadi Party, where he maintained his contacts with all leaders. He was the vice president of the BJP before being appointed as the Governor of Bihar. Malik has served as the Union Minister of State, Parliamentary Affairs and Tourism and has also held many important positions in Central and State Governments. He also has some administrative experience. He served under Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as Union Minister of the State earlier. He also has excellent equation with National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah. Being a Jat leader, he has some influence in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Above all, Malik has excellent equation with both a majority of regional parties in the State as well as the PDP and the NC. The fact that both Mehbobha Mufti and Abdullah were present during 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 the reins of the State when it is passing through a difficult phase. His immediate challenges would be to carefully handle Article 35A in the apex court as well as the Panchayat elections, which was last held in 2011. Ensuring peaceful and fair conduct of polls is a big responsibility. Prime Minister, during his Independence Day speech, indicated his hopes to conduct the local body polls soon. How will he deal with Article 35A, pertaining to non-locals buying property in the State, remains to be seen. Even a small change can set the valley on fire. His inclination should be on keeping controversy at bay.
The third is to bring back normalcy and restore law and order situation in the State and at the same time continue with counter-terrorism measures. This will be his biggest challenge as he has to make peace between the local police and the Armed Forces.
Fourth, the youth in the State need to be stopped from choosing the path of violence and radicalisation. They need jobs and good education. They need engagement and proper direction.
The fifth and the most important thing is to win the confidence of 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 that he is the Governor for all regions. This image makeover is very essential to succeed.
After the first meeting with officials last week, while indicating his priorities, he said, “The focus has to be on working through transparency and consultation to promote a culture of excellence in governance characterized by integrity and highest standards of deliverance. Judicious and producing use of resources has to be ensured so that the funds are utilized according to priorities keeping in mind the larger public good and requirement of basic amenities.” Malik 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 crore rupees 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.
Sixth, Malik should try and engage other stakeholders for a political dialogue. He began well when leaders from most parties landed up at the airport to receive him. The question is how will he handle the separatists, particularly the 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. Let us hope Malik will succeed in his endeavour.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)
Writer: Kalyani Shankar
Courtesy: The Pioneer