Now let’s have a probe and some truth-telling.
Is Jammu and Kashmir’s former governor, Satya Pal Malik, a mindless loose cannon? It could be a relevant question for some, but what assumes more importance right now is his message.
In interviews with journalist Prashant Tandon on Deshbandhu’s YouTube channel and Karan Thapar on the Wire, Malik has made allegations pertaining to grave issues of security, federalism and corruption at the highest level. These have come from a man in authority, a man who has been an insider as a BJP leader since 2005 and a constitutionally appointed governor of four states between 2017 and 2022.
If true, they reveal an abject abuse of power and authority by the present government and a complete lack of accountability on key issues of democracy and national security.
In an interview with Karan Thapar, Malik spoke at length about security lapses, violation of safety protocols and intelligence failures that led to the Pulwama suicide attack of February 14, 2019, in which 40 CRPF men were killed. These questions have been conveniently swept under the carpet in the last over four years.
The former governor had a seemingly incriminating indictment of the government. He asserted that on the question of lapses, he was asked to keep quiet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He minced no words in saying that the silence was aimed at directing the post-Pulwama narrative towards Pakistan-bashing for electoral benefits. He said the government hid evidence to “use it for something else” and that “I realised that this entire onus is going to be put on Pakistan so it’s better to be quiet on the subject now.”
That a prime minister should willfully ignore the vital questions of security lapses and intelligence failures only to win elections is a shocking claim about how the elected head of the state functions, giving precedence to political expediency over strategic security.
A Frontline report, two years ago, pertinently pointed out how intelligence inputs about Pulwama were ignored 11 times from January 2, 2019. Malik’s allegations bring the spotlight back on such reports. If intelligence inputs were ignored, was the prime minister privy to them and did he choose to ignore them?
Making scathing allegations of corruption against businessman “Ambani”, BJP’s former national general secretary Ram Madhav, and former PDP minister Haseeb Drabu, whom he describes as ‘wheeler-dealer’, Malik also suggested that deep-rooted corruption stems from the prime minister’s office and people close to the prime minister.
Though he did not accuse the prime minister of corruption, he added that the prime minister “doesn’t care” and “is not much averse to corruption”. Malik reiterated his previous claim that he was offered a Rs 300-crore bribe for clearing files in two cases of Reliance Insurance and a hydro-electric power scheme during his tenure as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, but he did not let that happen. Again, these allegations pointing to a possible deeper rot in the PM’s own den are grave charges that merit a probe. Interestingly, in October 2022, after Malik was removed as governor of Meghalaya, the CBI questioned him in connection with his claim.
It is not known whether a formal case has been registered and whether there has been a follow-up. If not, why? Does the prime minister indeed regard the issue of corruption casually as insinuated by Malik?
About the Article 370 abrogation, Malik admitted that he had some indication that Modi had plans to go ahead with the decision because that had been the BJP’s election agenda but the government never sought his advice on the matter.
Without giving any specifics about his meeting with the prime minister prior to this move, Malik said that Modi had asked him “if we do something, will anything happen?” He said that he told him not to worry and also apprised the prime minister about the “sense of fatigue” Malik had managed to instill in Kashmir.
About the final action on August 5, 2019, he said, “I was merely called by the home minister one day prior saying, ‘Satya Pal I’m sending a letter tomorrow morning, please get it passed by a committee before 11 tomorrow and send it to me’.” He added that when it comes to Kashmir, Delhi takes things for granted and “do as they please”.
This is perhaps the most glaring and damning of all his assertions that reflects the abuse of constitutional authority and chair of the governor by the central government in weakening federal powers and compelling governors to sign on the dotted line without any mandatory consultation. That one of the most sensitive regions of the country is taken for granted by the government to act in the most whimsical fashion is equally shocking.
The J&K Reorganisation Act of August 5, 2019, which dismembered and demoted Jammu and Kashmir while robbing it of its special status was tabled in Parliament and hastily passed without much debate. Several petitions challenging its constitutional validity remain pending in the Supreme Court for the last nearly four years.
Constitutional experts like AG Noorani and Rajeev Dhawan have pointed out that Parliament had no right to legislate over the matter. A decision on Article 370 could have been taken only by the J&K Constituent Assembly which was disbanded in 1956, and this power could have been transferred only to the J&K state legislature which was dissolved in November 2018.
Using the president’s modification powers, the power of the state legislature was relegated to the governor who is nominated by the centre and not elected by the people. However, interestingly, even the governor was not in the loop.
Satya Pal Malik’s assertion that he simply got the letter and instructions to dutifully sign it is a horrifying indicator of how constitutional norms and authorities are abused both by the central government and the governors whose loyalties shamelessly lie with those who appoint them.
Malik’s outburst is not just an indictment of the Modi government but also a self-confession of being a silent partner in at least some of the wrongdoings. “How could I object,” he said about the Article 370 revocation, “It was their decision…how was I concerned.” Clearly, as a governor, he forgot his obligation of being guided by the constitution and protecting constitutional propriety. Instead, he chose to be dictated by the ideological whims of the Modi government.
Even on Pulwama, as per his own admission, he understood that Modi wanted to use the attack for electoral dividends and thus chose to be silent. In his silence, he played the role of a tacit approver. Any governor with a bit of a spine would have raised objections or resigned. If he could put his foot down to corrupt deals, as Malik claims he did, he could well have stood up to the deliberate neglect of important questions related to security.
This is not the first time that Malik has betrayed his weakness of his unquestioned loyalty to the ruling party. In November 2018, he had unceremoniously dissolved the J&K legislative assembly, two years before the end of its tenure without any reasonable grounds. He had become the butt of many jokes when he blamed the fiasco on a non-functional fax machine at the Raj Bhawan and a missing ‘rasoyia’. In his latest interview, he reiterated the same and ended up tying himself in knots without a cogent explanation.
He was equally evasive about the crackdown on journalists after August 2019. Summons, raids and arrests of journalists were lesser heard about till Malik was in office until October 2019. But they were not unknown.
Malik also presided over the stringent internet and mobile phone blockade which had a chilling impact on journalists, compelling them to work out of internet kiosks run by the government under complete surveillance. He chose to justify the internet shutdown and spoke about regular official press briefings (where journalists were not even allowed to ask questions) as if journalism survives only on what officials say.
Malik, who allowed the flagrant abuse of his gubernatorial powers to please his bosses, is not above the board. But his charges against the government are even more grievous.
Similar questions about corruption, security breach and constitutional legality of Article 370 revocation have been raised also by journalists, strategic experts and critics of the government. But this time they have come from a man who held a constitutional position and was close to the power circuits.
These allegations, true or otherwise, can’t and must not be ignored. Only a thorough, credible and independent probe can now bring out the truth and put the matter to rest. The public of India has a right to know the truth about how the government deals with serious matters of federal authority, national security and corruption.
The writer is the executive editor of Kashmir Times and author of ‘A Dismantled State: The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370’.