Governor Satya Pal Malik, who took charge of Jammu and Kashmir two months after the state was placed under Governor’s rule following the collapse of the PDP-BJP government, speaks to Naveed Iqbal on his priorities, the upcoming polls and the way forward in resolving the Kashmir issue. Excerpts:
What according to you is the current situation of the state?
I have been here about a month. I have tried not to view the state from the point of view of officials, but from the point of view of the people. I have understood the problem and am looking at where it has been mishandled, what needs to be done immediately. Someone told me I should start “baat-cheet” (conversation) but that cannot be done right now. What people need, what needs to be done, I have understood that agenda and I’m working in that direction already.
My utterances are in that tone as well. I have not tried to offend anyone. I want people to notice, that this is not someone from an enemy state but someone from among them. Governor’s house is open at all times. I meet people at all times, my phone is always on. My information is not from the bureaucracy or agencies but locals here. Whoever comes to meet me, I make my opinion based on that.
And what is that opinion?
My mandate from the Prime Minister is that there has to be no politics, but outreach. You have to give people a feeling of comfort, that the Governor’s house is yours, be available to the people and address their issues. Delayed projects have been to put on track, we have mobilised Rs 8,000 crore for that.
I respect the mainstream parties. I have great relations with Mehboobaji (Mufti) and Farooq (Abdullah) sahab. I have no intention to meet the Hurriyat, but I respect them also. They have a viewpoint, we may differ but mutual respect should be there.
But the problem that has to be addressed and that will improve the situation here is the younger generation. Boys between 13 to 20 years old, they are filled with immense frustration, they have lost faith in the system, in political parties, in Pakistan, in India, everything.
Since I have taken over, there have been no major killings and incidents of stone-pelting. Although 31 terrorists have been killed since. People will tell you that Governor’s raj is better because their issues are being resolved, work is happening. I would want that a government to power as soon as possible, this is difficult work.
We are not in a position to address the basic problem right now, but we can create an environment of faith, to initiate talks between the Centre and the people of Kashmir, and we are doing that. Major problem will be addressed when the Centre talks to the mainstream parties, to the Hurriyat, if they come without the condition of Pakistan.
And what about Pakistan?
Pakistan se baat ho sakti hai, kyun nahin ho sakti, kabhi toh hogi. (We can talk to Pakistan, it is inevitable). But India will not bring Pakistan in on a dialogue on Kashmir. They will bring up the issue, this is in the Shimla Pact also, that we will address issues through bilateral talks. But the condition of Hurriyat, that if Pakistan comes, we will talk, toh hum panchayati nahin karwane wale hain (we will not mediate if Hurriyat insists on the condition of involving Pakistan in talks).
But dialogue on this is not my mandate or my agenda.
What is your understanding of the problems of the younger generation of Kashmir at the moment?
Right now the younger generation is living in the dark, and in their frustration they are not understanding things clearly. The narrative given to them is a fundamental narrative, dreams of heaven. We cannot argue with them and bring them back. We can only bring them back through love and the understanding that we are friends and you tell us what needs to be done.
They have very little to do. They are interested in sports, so I have decided to pay attention to that. International stadiums will come up here in Srinagar, and two in Jammu. Every district will have stadiums. In the districts, I have told the DCs to provide space to be used as a playing field for children. If you don’t give them a ball, they will pick up stones.
I have also spoken to the IPL chairman and once our stadiums are repaired I have asked them to give us an IPL match. We will also try and put together a J&K IPL team. I have to bring coaches from outside. Another person has agreed to have a cinema hall here.
Central schools, Army and police schools – on the CBSE curriculum – should be opened, especially in South Kashmir. And I tell you this with guarantee that terrorists will want to admit their children in these schools, because this opens the way for them to go forth in life.
I have told vice-chancellors to start free counselling and coaching for all-India services, to become DM, SSP, Collector, DIG and IGs, and to feel they can rule the country.
I want to tell them respectfully that the dreams they have been shown in the last 15-20 years are unrealistic. From Sheikh sahab’s time till now – azaadi or Pakistan – I want to say to them that they are not even one-fourth of the LTTE. The LTTE had such a committed cadre that 12-year-old girls would fight barefoot in cobra-infested jungles. They got money and weapons from 12-14 nations. A superpower like India was after them. When they could not take over a country, it is not possible here (in Kashmir).
Aapko toh ek tarha se mila hua hai (In a way you have what you want). The flag is separate, the constitution is separate, if you want any more concessions you take them, and stay here in the most beautiful place in the world. Why are they spoiling generations?
In my opinion, Narendra Modi will come back to power for another five years, and while he is in office, J&K will see no political machinations. Elections will be absolutely fair.
What about the formation of a government in the state?
Sometimes there is talk of government formation here, but I can guarantee that there will be no underhand government in Jammu and Kashmir. Elections will be held and whoever is elected will form the government.
It is possible that Parliament and Assembly elections may take place together, or maybe later. I don’t have the brief to provide a time-table for that. However, the election will be fair. There will be an election, no government will be formed through defection while I am in office, this is my guarantee to you.
We will make no such attempts and I have no such indication from the PM that we will do such a thing. This is how things turned for the worse in Kashmir. The mistrust in Kashmir is because of these antics of New Delhi. Making and breaking governments, declaring those who had lost elections as victors and those who won as losers. We will not do this at all. People have lost faith in the system and we will restore that faith.
What are your priorities for the state?
The first priority is to reach out to the people. Secondly, to make them believe I am one of them. Thirdly, to stay available to them. Fourthly, we have decided that for all projects that have not been completed – several of them – we have created a corporation (JK Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation Ltd) and mobilised Rs 8,000 crore from banks. All of these projects will be completed in six months to a year.
All projects in Kashmir are delayed. The contractors have run away, they were not paid in time. Bigger companies do not come here because they say at other places they are asked for 3-4 per cent commission, but here they are asked for 12-14 per cent. People curse the politicians and parties, but look at what the officers are doing.
Details of assets of all IAS officers are online, but now officers of the J&K service also will also have to declare assets within the next month.
Do you think, with your political background, you understand the landscape of this state better?
Of course. Even the worst politician will get 10 things done in his day. Getting someone a job, a bed in the hospital, or push someone’s file. Ye toh ab rajniti badnaam ho gayi, warna main isse noble profession nahin manta hun (Politics has earned a bad reputation, otherwise there is no profession more noble than this). If an officer does not respond to someone’s plea, the person will not speak badly to him but with us, they will curse us on the road. A political person is more open with approach and thinking and more responsible.
That way a political governor is 100 times better, no disrespect to the others who have been here. They handled things very well – generals or officials – but the benefit with a political person is that he understands all nuances and knows how to deal with politicians. I have great relations with everyone, Muftiji was a very dear friend. I have helped Farooq sahab hold several meetings in western UP. I have good relations with the civil society here. I draw them all out and I’m learning from their grievances. An MLA from the south met me. I asked him about his concerns and he said the basic problem is that there is no employment, development, or the police pick them up. Shopian does not have a hospital. We are going to address all these complaints, and it will make some difference.
I also want to appeal to everyone through your newspaper that the media should not demonise Kashmir. There are good people here and it is a wonderful state. I have found many friends here. These (militants) are 250-odd boys, they must have had their own complaints if they have stepped out to die. Demonising all of Kashmir for them is making matters worse. I request them that when they discuss Kashmir, they should do it with some sensitivity. I will tell this to the PM also but my message is primarily for the (TV) channels.
What about the upcoming polls in the state?
Only about 17 per cent of the voters are likely to remain unrepresented, at all other places there will be voting. People will come out and vote. I had requested political parties here not to boycott the elections. One sarpanch will get about Rs 1 crore a year, this will lapse if there is no sarpanch. I will still appeal. If there are representatives, money will come in and development will take place. You can hold this person accountable, not the officers. Therefore, vote and elect. I don’t hold the brief for any party.
NC and PDP are mainstream (parties) in Kashmir and these will be the parties we have to deal with. Some of them said that the security of their people was being withdrawn, I issued orders that no one’s security will be withdrawn and no one’s house will be taken. MLA fund has been opened again. I have spoken to them even after announcement of boycott.
This election will be fine. We are giving candidates insurance of Rs 10 lakh and if they face any danger, we are giving them a secure location to live. He can meet his electorate before filing nomination, people in jails win elections. The process is legitimate. Democracy ke pahiye ko kabhi toh dhakka dena hai (we have to push the wheel of democracy). Or we will be sitting like in the case of Anantnag. That should have been conducted, instead of seven, may be five per cent would have voted.
The decision to conduct polls was taken before me, the PM had announced it from the Red Fort. I am only implementing it.
Is there an atmosphere of fear ahead of polls?
There will be elaborate security arrangements. Terrorists will be more worried for their own security than picking people up. Polling booths and centres will be secured properly. That is why we delayed this. Central forces will be here.
I will make another final appeal to the mainstream parties, that if they are not contesting, so be it, but do not discourage people from voting.
What is your stand on the Article 35A issue?
I told them (parties), 35A is not issue. This is posturing for the Assembly elections.
I am not an elected representative, but my stand is that arguments on 35A should be deferred until there is an elected government in power. And in January, when we go back to the court, we will say the same thing. Party (BJP) toh is mein gayi hui nahin hai. Modi ji ka toh koi aadmi muqadmein main hai nahin. Woh toh pairvi nahin kara rahe hain.(BJP is not involved. Modiji’s men are not in the case. They are not pleading.) But to blame us is not correct. My position is endorsed by the Centre and even Omar sahab has said the same thing.
Even in Himachal (Pradesh) and (states of) North East, you cannot buy land. Ye kaun sa bada gunaah hai (How is this a major sin)? These are issues raised due to political reasons.
How can radicalisation be tackled?
I am given to understand that there is wahabi impact – with their masjid and teachings. Internet is also playing a big role – boys watch IS videos and they don’t know the position of these groups in Syria and how much they have been beaten. I will still say, terrorism is not in the weapon but in the mind. Those on the path of terrorism intellectually have to be addressed. Look at Zakir Musa, he does not want Pakistan or Azaad Kashmir, he wants a caliphate for Muslims of the entire country. Now he does not know that caliphate could not be made where it was set to be made (Syria). How will they make it here?
And India’s muslim is a first-class Muslim, he is not going to be caught in this, he is not oppressed. And look at Bhagwat ji’s statement, he is against violence by fringe elements. This change is slowly being demonstrated in the thinking of Hindus and Hindu-wadi parties and the Muslims. Caliphate is a utopian dream given to the young and they are destroying them like this.
The young are the same here as in Delhi. Un mein koi gadbad nahin hai (There is nothing wrong with them). However, what is happening, attracts as wells as scares them. No one wants to say this. I will open dialogue with the young. And I will listen more and speak less.
What is the sentiment of occupation in the state?
Firstly, this is not occupation in my mind. If there was a plebiscite during Sheikh Abdullah’s time, the people would have been with us. Kashmir is with India and the sentiment of the people during Sheikh Abdullah’s time is what led to accession. Then things escalated and the Army came in and militancy began. This is not an occupation. It is another matter if someone chooses to use the occupation term. But no, that is not correct. You can say we have mishandled. India has made mistakes, and its mistakes have, in the process, alienated itself. Because of what has happened, India is being presented as an occupation force. But Kashmir is not an occupied territory, it came to us of its own free will.
In today’s time, no side can meet the conditions of a plebiscite. Pakistan will not leave Occupied Kashmir. Those conditions do not stand today. Neither Pakistan, nor India. This is raked up to mislead people. Talk about now and what will help you become self-sufficient. If there is a friendly government in Delhi, this will happen.
Is the current BJP government that friendly government?
Narendra Modi is that friendly Prime Minister. You can take anything from him with affection. He is worried about Kashmir. He has asked why there has been only 10 per cent expenditure under PM’s Awas Yojana. I was in Odisha, there the implementation is 100 per cent. We have asked officers about this. Half of the PM’s Rs 80,000 crore fund is lying unspent. That has to be spent or it will lapse.
Is the dialogue process initiated by interlocuter Dineshwar Sharma still valid?
He is valid, he has been sent here and he is meeting people. He is a good man and people are opening doors to him. I don’t know what his mandate is but people are meeting him and he has been meeting me and he has told me about it. My basic job is “ki aap aisa mahaul paida karo jiski wajah se Centre ki aur in logon ki baat ho sake (create an atmosphere due to which talks can happen between the Centre and these people).” The bitterness has to be reduced. People are angry right now.
I don’t have the authority to start a political conversation with the Hurriyat, but if they want to come and talk about anything else, my gates are open. I have respect for them but I cannot discuss any issue with them. Kashmir ke maamle mein too Dilli hi baat karegi unse (Only Delhi will talk in the case of Kashmir).
There is a perception that the forces will be given a free hand during Governor’s rule.
All three GOCs have met me, no one has asked for a free hand. CRPF, BSF and police have excellent coordination, they (Army) intervene when they need assistance in difficult operations. They themselves are not doing anything.
I want to tell the people of Kashmir, the Hurriyat and the ones holding guns, that Modi is the most suitable and friendly Prime Minister for you and take benefit from that. Whatever you wish to achieve in a democratic system, I’m certain, that can be achieved (with him). He is serious about resolving this issue. He is for you.
What was his one line to you when you were appointed as J&K Governor?
His one line is that we have to give them the impression that we are their friends.
Do you think dialogue is the only way forward in resolving the Kashmir issue? If so, dialogue with whom?
The gun is no way at all. Forces across the border are of no use in settling this. Only dialogue, and with all sorts of people. Not only the Hurriyat. Both these parties (NC and PDP). If terrorists wish to nominate someone, and he keeps his gun down and talks, he should also be spoken to. No one will talk while killings are on.
Pakistan se aur saare maslon pe baat hogi jab one to one baat hogi, ye bhi aa sakta hai. Par yahan ki baat mein hum Pakistan se panchayati nahin karayenge (This can come up when we have one-to-one talks with Pakistan on other matters. But we will not involve Pakistan on matters of Kashmir). We are open to people here. For us, Pakistan is nobody in Kashmir. And if they want to discuss, they will have to discuss PoK also, lihazaa wo nahin karien to better hai.
I always give the example of LTTE. A general there was my relative. I asked him why are we failing there, he said, “my soldier did not understand who are we fighting and why are we fighting them”. Secondly, the cadre was totally committed. I’m sorry but the militancy here is nothing in front of that. And the resources they had, every single Tamil boy was with them but they couldn’t take a country.
Do you think militancy can be wiped out?
I’m not in favour of wiping out militancy. I’m in favour of talking and settling affairs here in a way that they become redundant. Main unko marne ke paksh mein nahin hun. Militants ko nahin marna hai, humko militancy ko maarna hai. Logon ki nigah men militancy ko useless banana hai, ki iski koi zaroorat nahin hai. (I am not in favour of killing them. We have to kill militancy, not militants. We have to make militancy useless in the eyes of the people, that they don’t need it). You kill one militant and five more will join, but I’m not for that.
What about the killing of SPOs?
I am with them. We have increased their honorarium, but I am not happy. I will raise it again. Still, I am with them on this and not with the government. Their pay should be respectful, it can be increased further. Home Secretary will be here in a couple days, I will tell him this. They should try and stand in their shoes for a day.