In Kashmir, New Delhi is searching for a modern day Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad

In keeping with a Dogra tradition initiated by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1872, the Darbar in the now Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will move from the summer capital of Srinagar to the winter capital of Jammu from November 4. But a more significant shift that should not go unnoticed is the firm and relentless displacement at ground level of bureaucrats appointed from the Prime Minister’s Office as control passes into the hands of the Union Home Ministry.

The Governor and most appointed to run the state have been shifted out. Satya Pal Malik, who was expected to continue to hold joint charge of J&K and Ladakh as Lieutenant Governor has been moved to Goa. Also gone are his advisors appointed by the PMO – retired police officer K Vijay Kumar, former bureaucrats Khurshid Ganai and K Skandan and Farooq Khan, a retired police officer and former BJP Secretary.

Dineshwar Sharma, a former Chief of the Intelligence Bureau and Kerala cadre police officer like the National Security Advisor, was PMO’s Interlocutor for J&K. His inputs developed from forays into J&K will have little relevance as he has been moved away as far possible as Administrator of Lakshadweep. Only Chief Secretary B V R Subramaniam, remains from the ancien regime.

The first Lt. Governor of J&K, G C Murmu is a former Home Secretary of Gujarat and considered close to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He was also principal secretary to the chief minister of Gujarat when the post was held by Narendra Modi. He was questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) about an attempted cover up of the Ishrat Jehan fake encounter case. Murmu is also alleged to have helped those who were involved in the “Snoopgate” case regarding the controversial surveillance of a young woman.

There is an attempt apparently to put together an “Executive Council” or an advisory council to assist the new Lt. Governor. It is likely to comprise some pliable and power-seeking Kashmiri politicians.

The government has suggested that a new political leadership will come from the elected representatives of the panchayats and Block Development Councils, the indirect elections to which have been recently concluded. Such leaders are unlikely to have much heft. The elections were patchy if not a total charade. These representatives have no party affiliations and no organisational or public speaking skills. Those from the Valley are unable to even visit their constituencies and are living in hotels in Srinagar at state expense. Clearly such newbies cannot form the core of a new political leadership in J&K. They can at best be a part of a chorus once the lead singers have been chosen.

No wonder then that Delhi is in search of a modern day Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. Bakshi had conspired against Sheikh Abdullah to oust him in 1953 and ruled as the head of state (the Chief Minister was then called Prime Minister) thereafter for nearly a decade while Sheikh was jailed.

Srinagar: Women walk towards a barricade of barbed wires as a security person stands guard during restrictions, after the abrogration of Article 370 and bifurcation of state, in Srinagar | Photo: PTI

Possibly the renegade Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) leader Muzaffar Beig is being groomed for this role. Initial indications of this came when Beig attended a lunch hosted by the National Security Advisor for a bunch of largely right-wing MEPs (Members of European Parliament) on a “Potemkin tour” of J&K. Another disgruntled PDP leader Altaf Bukhari and a former Congress general secretary in the state Usman Majeed also attended.

Whoever assumes political leadership, unlike Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, will not have to topple the government of the day. The job has already been done. Real and potential challengers have also already been imprisoned. All he has to do to assume power is to go to bed with those ruling from Delhi.

Beig fits the description. Earlier he played facilitator in the unnatural alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the PDP to form a government in the state. Now, he again seems eager to break bread with it. He hinted at forming a new political configuration, “either a new one will come up or an old one could be revived.” That suggests that either a faction of the PDP could be broken away or a new party or platform could be yet formed.

He has suggested that for a new political alternative to be put in place, there would have to be “some agreement on the agenda”. The ‘big’ agenda for Beig has also been decided in advance by those who require his services – a demand that they can concede -- the restoration of full statehood for J&K. As if on cue, Beig has declared, “We will tell the Government of India, not with belligerence – nothing will come out of belligerence – I believe that we have to gently tell them we want statehood in future, not today or tomorrow but in the foreseeable future.” He has also offered to take leadership in this effort and talk to others. One of his colleagues in the PDP has apparently been already told to fall in line or choose a prison of his choice – Central Jail in Srinagar, Kot Bhalwal in Jammu or Tihar in Delhi.

The speed with which the political platform will be put together or its final form is uncertain. It is possible that some of the willing politicians may initially be appointed to the Lt. Governor’s nominated Executive Council or a similar body. Later, they may bloom into a full-fledged political party.

Using pliable politicians to run J&K from Delhi in the past has had short term success. After all Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s rule is considered by some as the golden period of the state’s development.

But such experiments do not have a lasting impact. They are recognised by the people for what they are – projects for manipulating them; warped and contrived, pretending to be the reflection of what people want. Real issues have their own way of surfacing and at their own time.

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