The four-decade chequered history of Governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir began, as is likely again, with the party in power at the Centre pulling support for the government of the day. And while Kashmiris have protested Governor’s rule many times as a subversion of democracy, the likely imposition of an eighth spell of Governor’s rule after the PDP-BJP coalition’s collapse is not upsetting anyone.
The first time was March 1977. Two years earlier, in 1975, Sheikh Abdullah had taken over as Chief Minister of a Congress government after signing the historic 1974 accord with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He remained in power through the Emergency. Five days after lifting the Emergency on March 21, 1977, Indira pulled support for Sheikh Abdullah’s chief ministership.
After 105 days of Governor’s rule under L N Jha, a Cambridge-educated economist and ICS officer who served as RBI Governor prior to his J&K appointment, elections were held in June 1977. Sheikh Abdullah had revived his Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (which had earlier merged with the Congress), won the election and formed the government.
The 1980s were a period of great political instability after the Sheikh’s death in 1982, as his son Farooq fought off rivals within the NC and revived the alliance with the Congress through an accord with Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.
In this time, Jha was succeeded as Governor by B K Nehru, who lasted just three years. In his memoir Nice Guys Finish Second, he wrote that his disagreement with Indira on her plan to dismiss Farooq Abdullah led to his being shunted out. He was succeeded by Justice V Khalid, who had the shortest tenure as J&K Governor — just 12 days.
Indira then sent her trusted lieutenant Jagmohan for his first stint as Governor of the state. A split was engineered in the NC, Farooq was dismissed, and his estranged brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah was installed as Chief Minister.
Governor’s rule was imposed in March 1986 for the second time when the Congress withdrew support to Shah. The Farooq-Rajiv accord was on the anvil, and after it was sealed and signed, Farooq was reappointed Chief Minister.
The 1987 Assembly election, contested jointly by the National Conference and Congress, went down in Kashmir history as one of the most fraudulent with allegations of open rigging. Kashmir’s tryst with militancy is often traced back to this election, which Kashmiris accuse Delhi of stealing.
In 1990, two days after the government reappointed Jagmohan as Governor to deal with the huge upsurge in protests, the Gawkadal massacre, in which CRPF personnel shot dead at least 50 protesters on a bridge in Srinagar, prompted Farooq Abdullah to resign as Chief Minister. Around the same time, the exodus of Pandits began from the Valley, amid incidents of killings of members of the community by militants. What followed was six years of Governor’s rule, the longest period without an elected political leadership, which also coincided with the period when militancy was at its height.
The NC won the 1996 election, and its government became the first to last its six-year term. The 2002 elections threw up a hung Assembly. Governor Girish Chandra Saxena took charge after Farooq Abdullah refused to continue as “caretaker” Chief Minister after losing the elections. This spell of Governor’s rule lasted 15 days, from October 17 to November 2, the shortest in the state, until the PDP, the Congress and independents cobbled together a government.
Then followed a period of relative stability, and decrease in militancy. India and Pakistan began the LoC ceasefire in 2003. Dialogue followed in 2004, after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Pervez Musharraf joint declaration in January that year in which Musharraf committed that Pakistan and PoK would not be used for terrorist activities in other countries.
The first Congress led-UPA government also initiated the Kashmir roundtable dialogues. There was an outreach to the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq-led faction of the Hurriyat.
Under the PDP-Congress agreement, Chief Ministers switched halfway through the term. After Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s three years, it was Ghulam Nabi Azad’s turn in 2005, and he continued until the PDP withdrew support in June 2008 over the Amarnath land row. N N Vohra replaced Lt Gen S K Sinha as Governor at the end of June 2008. Two weeks later, the state came under Governor’s rule for the fifth time from July 11, 2008 until January 5, 2009.
Vohra’s two terms have seen three periods of Governor’s rule until now. After the one in 2008-2009, the next imposition of Governor’s rule was after the 2014 elections, which once again threw up a fractured mandate. The BJP had won 25 seats, and as the PDP worked up the courage to make an alliance “between the North Pole and the South Pole” in Sayeed’s words, Vohra ran the state for 51 days from January 9 to March 1, 2015.
Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed’s death at the end of 2015, and his daughter Mehbooba’s resistance to the alliance with the BJP and the delay in her taking over as Chief Minister necessitated another period of Governor’s rule for 87 days, from January 8 to April 4, 2016. During these four months, Vohra pushed the administration to keep working and ensure delivery on the ground. Such was the unpopularity of the alliance in Kashmir, and the partners had such a strained relationship, that there were voices demanding Governor’s rule even back in May 2017.