WITH LESS than a week for the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, to take effect, the government Friday shunted out the state’s last Governor, Satya Pal Malik, and appointed him the new Governor of Goa. Malik was the thirteenth Governor of J&K state and had a tenure of about 15 months beginning August 23, 2018.
The government appointed 1985-batch Gujarat-cadre IAS officer Girish Chandra Murmu, currently Expenditure Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, as the first Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, one of the two new Union Territories to be carved out from the state. Considered close to the Prime Minister, he was Principal Secretary to Narendra Modi when the latter was the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Radha Krishna Mathur, a 1977-batch Tripura-cadre IAS officer (now retired) has been appointed the Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Ladakh.
The J&K Reorganisation Act, which contains provisions to divide the state into two UTs, will come into effect October 31. Mathur retired as the Chief Information Commissioner last November and was the Defence Secretary prior to it.
Murmu and Mathur, who have replaced Malik, will now have the arduous task of overseeing the reorganisation and rebuilding process in the two UTs.
The government has also officially ended the interlocution process in Kashmir with the transfer of Kashmir interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma as Administrator of Lakshadweep.
With Malik’s ouster, the government’s brief experiment with a political figure as the Governor of J&K has come to an end and it appears to have fallen back on the time-tested bureaucratic administration of the state.
The government had announced its decision to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir, and abrogate its special status on August 5. The choice of Murmu as the first LG of the Union Territory of J&K suggests that the key criteria for sensitive appointments continues to be trust.
Malik’s ouster comes in the backdrop of his statements vis-a-vis Delhi where he hinted at a chasm between the administration in the state of J&K and the Centre. “Governor is a very weak office. a poor fellow who has no power to address a press conference or speak openly,” he said last week in Jammu.
“My problem is many a time when I do end up speaking, I remain scared for three days wondering if I have annoyed anyone in Delhi,” he had said. He also said that he did not believe information provided by the Intelligence Bureau, an agency that reports directly to Home Minister Amit Shah.
Earlier too, he had made controversial remarks about senior ministers in the government talking about winning back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
“Over the last 10-15 days, I have been seeing that many of our ministers, who don’t get a chance to speak on international issues, have been talking of attacks on PoK, how we will take back PoK, will capture PoK, that PoK is the next target. This is their thinking. I say if PoK is our next target, instead of war, we can take it back on the basis of development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he had said last month in Srinagar.
The three ministers who had made statements on PoK were Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Murmu, one among the first few officers to move to the Centre when Modi became the Prime Minister in May 2014, has kept a low profile, but was always considered amongst the most powerful bureaucrats in Gujarat.
In 2013, Murmu was among those officers summoned by the CBI in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case to probe audio clips contained in pen drives submitted by police officer G L Singhal of a purported meeting in which they were present. The voice recordings, now part of the chargesheet, contained alleged details of a meeting at Advocate General Kamal Trivedi’s office where a group of officers reportedly discussed ways to sabotage investigation in the case.
Murmu was then law and order secretary and later became principal secretary to the CMO when Modi was at the helm in the state. He came to Delhi in the Ministry of Finance in 2015.
(With inputs from Avinash Nair in Ahmedabad)