Governing principles

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik is no stranger to defection. Over the last five decades of a richly colourful political life, his Wikipedia entry shows him having covered the spectrum from the Indian National Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party after joining betimes the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, the Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party. So, knowing defection as he must do, it is hardly surprising that he spotted defection when he saw it coming in Srinagar.

Except that he turned a blind eye to every other version of ideological inconsistency that J&K has witnessed for as many years as His Excellency the governor has himself been switching allegiances. It was never more blatant than when the BJP joined hands with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in 2015, to cobble together the most unprincipled coalition since Mir Jafar defected to Robert Clive. The ideological gap was on full display at the very swearing in of this odd couple when the late Mufti Muhammad sahib, just after taking his oath of allegiance to India, thanked Pakistan for allowing the peaceful election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi glowered at him from the same stage for such an act of lèse-majesté.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Was that perhaps the first sign that Ram Madhav—the RSS/BJP’s point man for J&K and proud architect of this weird tie-up—found of his recent allegation of the PDP’s “links across the border”? That would be the logical conclusion to draw from the outrageous accusation that Madhav levelled (then withdrawn in a measly-mouthed manner) of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti receiving their instructions from Pakistan?

Governor Malik presumably had no objection to the transgressions by the BJP of key provisions of the alliance agreement that constituted the bedrock of the BJP-PDP coalition government. I wondered why Mehbooba was continuing to live with these transgressions long after it had become clear that the Union government would not allow her to carry forward her outreach plans to all disaffected sections of Kashmir’s population. I was particularly surprised when, in May 2017, in response to my telling her of the meetings my team had lined up with the Hurriyat, she wistfully said we were doing what her people “should be doing”.

Later, at a public meeting at the India International Centre, I asked her why she continued clinging to Modi’s coattails and she replied that she thought Modi was the only “strong man” who could deliver on Kashmir. I shook my head in disbelief. She has had plenty of time to shake her head in disbelief ever since the BJP pulled the rug from under her feet.

When this political marriage made in hell broke down in June 2018, the assembly should have been dissolved and fresh elections held, as demanded by all parties other than the BJP, to forestall what Raj Bhavan now deplores as “horse-trading” and “money exchange”. Instead, the assembly was kept under suspension as the BJP went full steam ahead weaning away PDP MLAs and propping up Sajjad Lone, their favoured defector, to form a government of defectors.

It was only when Raj Bhavan and Nagpur discovered that Lone was just that—a lone ranger—that moral concerns started getting jogged. The last straw was when Mehbooba sent the governor a letter saying she was joining hands with the National Conference and the Congress. Then, the stricken conscience of the governor suddenly woke and the very demand of the valley parties—fresh elections—suddenly commended itself to the governor.

Malik’s shenanigans, like those of Jagmohan before him, are stoking the fires that ought to be doused. Who then are the “anti-nationals”?

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.