Srinagar: The men at the helm of Jammu and Kashmir before and after the scrapping of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories present a study in contrast. Former governor Satya Pal Malik and current Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu differ not only in their work backgrounds — one a politician and the other a career civil servant — but also in the style of functioning, and how they are perceived by their juniors and the public of Jammu and Kashmir at large.
Malik, who had dissolved the state assembly and taken charge of the state before the central government scrapped Article 370 on 5 August last year, and had hoped to stay on as the first L-G when J&K became a union territory on 31 October. But instead, the central government appointed 1985-batch Gujarat-cadre IAS officer Murmu, reassigning Malik to the Raj Bhavan in Goa instead.
Now, Murmu is handling the tough task of implementing post-370 policies and undoing some of the ill-will Malik’s tenure had generated among civil servants as well as politicians and the public.
ThePrint sent queries to Governor Malik’s office via WhatsApp messages Sunday evening, but received no response until the time of publishing this article. L-G Murmu, meanwhile, did not respond to calls or WhatsApp texts asking for comments.
Malik’s controversial tenure
Two days before Article 370 was scrapped, National Conference leader and former CM Omar Abdullah met Malik, at a time when speculation was rife about the Narendra Modi government’s plan to strip J&K of its special status.
“As far as I know, there’s no inclination that something’s going to happen here,” Malik had told reporters, but not without a caveat: “I don’t know about tomorrow, that’s not in my hands. But till today, there’s nothing to worry about.”
The statement summed up Malik’s perception in J&K — a media-friendly, outspoken and controversial politician. As governor, he attacked political parties, made corruption accusations against previous governments and important institutions such as the J&K Bank, and even predicted who the new mayor of Srinagar would be even before local body elections took place.
Although Malik’s tenure witnessed the biggest policy change by any government with respect to J&K, policies “never really seemed to interest him”, his juniors in the administration told ThePrint.
They described him as a “blunt” and “manipulative” administrator, whose tenure made the transition of the region from the state to a union territory without special powers “a rough affair”.
“For many in J&K, Malik’s outspoken nature and manipulations are traits that they would never associate with the office of the governor of J&K, which was one of the most important jobs in the country,” a senior government official based in Srinagar told ThePrint, requesting anonymity.
The ‘fax machine’ saga, when two different alliances were competing to stake claim to form a government, was the first blow to Malik’s credibility and that of the office he held, some officials said. The newly cobbled NC-PDP-Congress alliance, formed to block BJP-backed MLAs from trying to form the government, was not given time by the governor to stake claim. The alliance sent a fax staking claim, which the governor’s office said was never received as the machine was not working. Malik later dissolved the assembly.
A top government functionary alleged that in the lead-up to 31 October, the day the J&K Reorganisation Act came into force, Malik had lobbied strongly with the Centre to retain him as the first L-G of J&K, only to hear a hard “no”.
“The Centre realised that the trust deficit created between Malik and the people of J&K would create problems. After all, he is one of the poster boys of the abrogation of Article 370,” said another senior J&K government official.
“The Centre realised that the anomaly that Mr Malik was, had to be balanced with a calmer, more composed and low profile individual, given that most of Mr Malik predecessors had never been as outspoken or controversial.”
Murmu, a hands-on bureaucrat
L-G Murmu presents a stark contrast to Malik. His thrust is on administration, and he prefers to stay away from the media glare, something Malik couldn’t seem to do without.
Murmu has been close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he served as principal secretary to him when he was the CM of Gujarat. His method of working, though not comparable to the last two governors of J&K, N.N. Vohra and Malik, has shown why the Centre chose him — to make the head of J&K a non-political face.
Several officials speaking to ThePrint anonymously described Murmu as a “hands-on” bureaucrat. “He was among the officials who had designed the Rs 80,000-crore package announced by the Modi government for J&K, so he knows the needs of the territory well,” said a central government official.
Part of Murmu’s job is to ensure that the new rules and regulations are passed without resistance.
“Be it the domicile law or the new media policy, laws and rules passed under the L-G have gone through without any resistance, though the magnitude of these laws, which might be considered contentious by some in the Valley, is much smaller in scale compared to the abrogation of Article 370, a communications blackout was not needed. There were no protests either, especially by political parties,” added the official.
Difference in roles
A senior J&K government official based in Jammu said while Malik’s role and that of the bureaucracy he headed was to clamp down, Murmu’s role is much more difficult — to restart much of what was shut down last year, including political activity.
“The Malik-led government basically was asked to clamp down on everything, arrest people, enforce curfews, keep protests at bay and, more importantly, crack down on politicians. Murmu’s job profile is the opposite — it is to unlock and assimilate people to increase their trust in the government, including the trust of alienated politicians,” this official said.
“He has to bring the politicians back into the fray, keeping the policies up and running, and also keep the sensitive law and order situation from deteriorating. And he is doing it by solely focusing on policies, staying away from giving controversial statements and keeping a low profile,” the official continued.
“But not many would know that the L-G is a strict administrator who had the task to reign in lobbies formed during the time of Mr Malik, and he has so far been successful in doing that,” he added.
Dealing with infighting
Other senior government officials say being an upright bureaucrat is not enough, and that the upheavals in the Kashmir bureaucracy are not limited to only rivalries or a power struggle. There have been several allegations of corruption during Malik’s time.
“A certain kind of culture developed during Malik’s time, which the current L-G is finding difficult to navigate through,” said an official.
In fact, on 8 June, J&K Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam chaired a meeting to take stock of the measures to be put in place to check corruption in various departments.
“The chief secretary, while naming a few departments as highly vulnerable to corruption, urged the departments to promote transparency and accountability, follow model practices and carry out systemic reforms to curb corruption in the governance system,” said a government statement issued the same day.
“Rivalries, confrontations and difference of opinion within a government are normal, but certain precedents that were set during the Malik tenure have caused problems in government functioning,” another senior government official said, adding that while Malik issued controversial statements one after another, Subrahmanyam, in the absence of an elected government, became the all-powerful authority in J&K.
“The tussle between (Malik and Subrahmanyam) became common knowledge. The government machinery was divided into two. There was a campaign in which officials spread the news that the chief secretary would be removed due to the Pulwama attack. But in the end, the chief secretary prevailed and so did the bureaucrats loyal to him,” said a government official.
“When the new L-G arrived, some in the bureaucracy thought it would be business as usual. The L-G however had different plans,” the official recounted.
“If you see the last few weeks, you will get an idea. A senior commissioner secretary-level IAS officer went on protest leave due to the friction between the warring factions. Now, the officer has been given an important additional charge in the General Administration Department by the L-G. Prior to this, the LG transferred another Kashmiri bureaucrat considered close to the CS. But these tussles are part of the job,” the official further said.
“The new L-G has proven to be more effective than Malik while dealing with red-tapism and infighting. Some believe Malik during the end of his tenure had lost favour in New Delhi and the L-G has a lot of goodwill in New Delhi,” he added.
The official insisted that L-G Murmu’s focus is on policy, not politics.
“It is not that L-G does not, from time to time, get involved in the politics of the region. He met leaders of the Apni Party; its leaders were given accommodation and even offices even before they had registered. But the thrust of his activity remain on policy work,” the official said.
Experts highlight trust deficit
Srinagar-based political analyst Noor Mohammad Baba, however, is sceptical about the Murmu-led administration being much different to Malik’s.
“Both men are seen as Delhi-backed non-elected representatives of the government. We don’t have a democracy in operation; both the men represent Delhi more than Kashmir. People don’t trust them, nor do they identify with them. This is a non-democratic dispensation which has no legitimacy. One man (Malik) started the delegitimisation, the other (Murmu) is continuing the process,” Baba said.
Ibrahim Wani, assistant professor at the Institute of Kashmir Studies at Srinagar’s University of Kashmir, however, said the scrapping of Article 370, which was done using the plank of bringing development to J&K, is yet to provide dividends.
“The period since the L-G has come in has been one of tremendous change and an unprecedented emergency. On both these fronts, the response has been lagging — at least that’s how people see it,” Wani said.
“Also, there is a lack of connection between administration and the people, and there needs to be serious work in this regard. One of the ways it can be done is holding an all-party meeting of all J&K mainstream political parties,” he added.