On August 22, amid Eid celebrations, came another reminder of the fraught environment in the Valley. Three policemen and a BJP worker were killed, in separate incidents, allegedly by militants. The death toll on Eid is symbolic of the enormous challenges Satya Pal Malik faces as he takes over as the new Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ever since the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in 2016, a new wave of militancy and a new idiom of agitation and protest, arguably the strongest since at least 2010, if not the 1990s, gripped the state. Increasingly, the killing of militants in “encounters” has become a lightning rod for disaffection and anger and the recruitment of young men into the militancy. A report by the state government in June found that “41 per cent of all new recruits (since Wani’s death) were within 10 km of the encounter site, 27 per cent within 11 and 20 km and 18 per cent between 10 and 15 km”. Dealing with local youth who have been drawn into the militancy, as well as the stone-throwing protesters, cannot be a task for the security forces alone. The anger among the young, their alienation and disenchantment, must be addressed head-on by the political class, which itself seems to have become trapped in an isolationism broken only by the scramble for power. The hopes raised of a new middle-ground being created by the alliance of the BJP and PDP have been thwarted by the collapse of the coalition, after the former withdrew from the political pact earlier this year.
Malik is the first career politician in nearly three decades to be appointed Governor of J&K — his recent predecessors were either bureaucrats or military men. In a long political career, Malik has worked with leaders across the ideological spectrum, from Charan Singh and VP Singh to PDP founder Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. As he enters the Raj Bhavan in Srinagar, therefore, he will hopefully bring to the table a flexibility that can help break the frozen silences and expand the spaces for engagement in the state. Differences have erupted and sharpened internally between Jammu and Kashmir. The distance has lengthened between the ruling regime at the Centre and political actors in the state because of the attempts to bring into question its special status. As the bridge between the state and the Centre, as a constitutional functionary who can use his high office to apply the healing touch, Governor Malik must tread with care. He must help lay the ground for the resumption of the political process in the state.