On some high-level appointments, rulers in Delhi are often of the same mind, whether they are from the Congress, the BJP or the third front. Traditionally, a Muslim has been appointed as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whereas the criterion is not applied to other Muslim-majority countries. Similarly, politicians are never appointed as governor of Jammu and Kashmir, though a couple of them have embraced politics after their gubernatorial stints. Karan Singh, who became the first governor in 1965, quit two years later to enter politics, and became a long-term MP and a successful Union minister. Another governor who started as a bureaucrat was Jagmohan, who later became a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.
But every prime minister, from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, has resisted suggestions that a mature political leader can bring a healing touch to the troubled border state. The deep state, represented by the military and intelligence services, backed by top bureaucrats, has also resisted these suggestions, and the Raj Bhavans in Srinagar (summer capital) and Jammu (winter capital) have been occupied by bureaucrats, generals and spies. The governors Bhagwan Sahay, L.K. Jha and B.K. Nehru were ICS officers; Jagmohan, a government official; K.V. Krishna Rao and S.K. Sinha, Army generals; G.C. Saxena, R&AW chief; and N.N. Vohra, an IAS officer.
Vohra’s second term got over on June 25, and the prime minister has asked him to continue. But there are many aspirants from the bureaucracy, military and spy agencies, including generals Dalbir Singh, D.P. Hooda and Syed Hasnain, former Intelligence Bureau directors Dineshwar Sharma, who is the interlocutor for the troubled state, Asif Ibrahim, and Comptroller and Auditor General Rajiv Mehrishi, who was an IAS officer, among others. Interestingly, the speculation in official and media circles does not give a ghost of a chance to any politician, though the BJP benches are full of experienced politicians who enjoy the confidence of Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, at varying levels.
Though politicians are generally reviled, they have achieved breakthroughs as governors in other states. When Punjab was burning, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had the bright idea to replace a general with a politician. He chose Arjun Singh, who had just won a second term as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. When Singh came to discuss his cabinet, Rajiv told him to find a successor, and resign. Singh went as governor, and worked for the historic Rajiv-Longowal accord, which was the first attempt to wrest back the alienated Sikh community after the Army had entered and damaged the Golden Temple. Though it took a few more years and many deaths, including that of Akali Dal leader Harcharan Singh Longowal, peace came to Punjab.
Similarly, the strategy of posting Bhishma Narain Singh as governor of Assam in 1984, after the ethnic and communal violence, helped in hammering out the Assam Accord. Singh, who had distinguished himself as a friend of all parties as parliamentary affairs minister, used the Raj Bhavan for the healing touch. Another parliamentary affairs minister who succeeded in northeastern states was M.M. Jacob, who died last week. He was an astute politician with abundant patience and common sense.
With the collapse of the coalition government, Modi could look for a politician known for efficiency and common sense to steer the state’s administration through the political and security situation, which is in high flux. But the question is, will Modi take a big gamble, which would have to go against the advice of the national security adviser, the Army, the intelligence agencies and, perhaps, senior ministers in the Cabinet Committee on Security.