Bihar governor Satya Pal Malik’s transfer to Srinagar Raj Bhavan was not expected, though it was felt in political and administrative quarters that the incumbent, N.N. Vohra, now 82, who was in office for a decade, was looking to bow out after being a steady, dignified, presence through a turbulent phase. Mr Vohra was a man of vast experience. He had served as Union home secretary, Cabinet Secretary and Prime Minister’s principal secretary. He commanded the respect of top officials in the system who dealt with Kashmir, including the Army, paramilitary forces and the intelligence services. Mr Vohra was appointed J&K governor by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi kept him on.
However, he is said to have been of a different approach than that of the Modi government on the sensitive issue of Article 35A of the Constitution. Also, he was thought to be in favour of tightening the flabby administrative setup in the Valley while the state is under Governor's Rule before fresh polls in the state. It is through Article 35A that the inherent rights of J&K’s permanent residents (known as “state subjects” from the time before the accession of the princely state of J&K to the Indian Union on specified terms, which includes the stipulation that those from outside J&K cannot acquire property in the state) are safeguarded. Also, it is through this article that permanent residents of J&K become citizens of India. This provision has been challenged by a RSS-friendly NGO and the matter is before the Supreme Court.
The Centre is apparently in favour of holding panchayat polls in J&K in a couple of months. This is certain to be a delicate exercise calling for boldness mixed with caution that comes from area expertise and experience. Mr Vohra could have been urged to stay on until the local bodies’ election. A fresh incumbent is bound to need time to adjust to the far from propitious circumstances in Kashmir. If this hasn’t happened, it’s likely that sudden differences cropped up between Raj Bhavan and the powers-that-be in New Delhi. To change the governor when J&K is under Governor’s Rule is, to say the least, extraordinary.
Since Pakistan-fed insurgency gripped Kashmir in the late 1980s, politicians haven’t been appointed governors in J&K. If the Centre wanted to insert a political figure into the gubernatorial slot in Kashmir, perhaps this was not the right time to experiment. And, if the Centre was adamant in having a political appointee in place at this particular time, a senior figure with Kashmir experience may have been ideal — perhaps even a senior statesman from Kashmir itself. Mr Malik, the new appointee, is unlikely to be in a position to render any useful local advice to the Centre.