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Saturday, June 9, 2012

All eyes on Raj Bhawan’s judgment in appointment of CVC, VCs

Govt’s obstinacy as well as PDP’s dissent has to be dispassionate

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jun 8: Broadly, there are two types of Governors in India: Career bureaucrats and public servants including retired military, Police and intelligence officers; and, politicians, or call them public men. Being ‘agents’ of the Central government, they genetically and instinctively act in the direction of the breeze blowing from the North Block and the South Block in New Delhi while taking crucial decisions. In the special status state of Jammu and Kashmir, we have had both. Some of them act blindly to enforce New Delhi’s writ but others stick to their own conscience in making assessment on politically sensitive matters.

L K Jha, in 1975-77, was no exception. Head of the Emergency era government at the Centre, Indira Gandhi, wanted him to dislodge Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, following withdrawal of support by J&K Pradesh Congress Committee, and restore Government to a nominee of her party. Sheikh called upon the Governor to dissolve the Assembly and hold fresh elections. The pro-establishment intelligentsia all over the country wanted Jha to go by the Centre’s advice and unseat Sheikh through Mufti’s no-confidence motion. Sheikh firmly stuck to his wicket and argued that the Governor was legally and constitutionally bound to dissolve the Assembly and hold fresh elections on Chief Minister’s advice.

Amid a nation-wide controversy, Jha went by Sheikh’s advice. He dissolved the Assembly. A year later, he further established his credentials as a conscientious Governor when he conducted the history’s fairest ever election in J&K---unbeaten till date. By the time elections happened in June 1977, Morarji Desai’s Janata Party (JP) had taken over at the Centre. An opportunistic alliance between almost all the opposition parties in the state and the JP Government at the Centre joined hands to defeat Sheikh. Sheikh’s National Conference swept the polls in Kashmir and returned to power with a thumping majority.

Middle of the next decade witnessed Jagmohan taking all the diktats from Indira Gandhi-led Congress government at the Centre. It did not take him long to dismiss Sheikh’s successor, Farooq Abdullah, who had grabbed the throne with a massive mandate after his father’s death in 1982. Former chief executive of Delhi Development Authority, Jagmohan, was a tropical plant in a temperate zone as the NC’s votebank in Valley knew him only for his demolition of Turkman Gate in Delhi. Inspite of emerging as a great builder---in the Governor’s rule following Shah’s termination---Jagmohan failed to correct his image of being “New Delhi’s agent”.

None of the career politicians manned Raj Bhawan in the last 23 years of armed insurgency.  Still, even the most unexpected of them, like Lt Gen (retired) S K Sinha, did one or the other act to pose themselves as guardians of the constitution as well as protectors of Raj Bhawan’s sanctity, integrity and propriety.

Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed forcefully pushed fresh entrant Rafi Mir’s nomination as a Member of Legislative Council. Governor Sinha returned the file with his recorded objection, making it clear that Mr Mir had no contribution to education, science, art and culture or social or cooperative service as was mandatory for the nominee under section 5o sub-section 3 of the J&K Constitution. Mir was nominated a year later--- only after Mufti pressed hard and repeated the Government’s recommendations.

It is purely for Governor N N Vohra whether to base his judgment merely on “legality and technicality” of the law and a signal from the corridors of power in Srinagar and New Delhi or to uphold the wider canvas of propriety in judging recommendations of a high power committee before appointing Chief Vigilance Commissioner and the two Commissioners for State Vigilance Commission. Contrary to the three Government members’ recommendations in favour of the outgoing DGP, Kuldeep Khoda, as CVC besides two retired IAS officers (RK Jerath and MS Khan) as VCs, PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti, has recorded her dissent to Mr Khoda’s nomination. Wild, yet serious, allegations have been leveled to block Mr Khoda’s appointment.

Meaningfully, Ms Mufti has avoided making comment on Mr Khan’s nomination as VC. Khan happens to be intimately close to several leaders of her party and falls in close relation of two key functionaries of the PDP. Late last year, when Omar Abdullah’s government called for nominations for the SVC top brass from General Administration Department (GAD)--- regulator of KAS, IAS and other civil services in J&K---Mr Khan put his own name on the top of the list. Then Commissioner-Secretary GAD, Mr Khan was due for retirement in next few months. This blocked entry of a number of IAS officers who too were about to reach superannuation and were not in any manner inferior to Mr Khan in competence, honesty and integrity.

Ms Mufti did not stop with her critique of the outgoing DGP. She assiduously projected retired Financial Commissioner Samuel Varghese as well as retired DGP (Prison) Dr Ashok Bhan as the “most suitable incumbents” for the top position of CVC.

Before treading on, one needs a rehash of the not-so-old past. Like invariably all the successive Chief Ministers, head of the PDP-Congress coalition Mr Mufti made it a point that Varghese did not get a very important position. He retired unceremoniously on a dull note. Not even a valedictory ritual-- let alone the grand gala that was witnessed at the state’s most expensive hotel on June 1st--- was held in his honour. Similar was the case with Dr Bhan over a year back.

Uncharitable labels were attached to Bhan, not only by NC but also by PDP. Some of the NC leaders publicly accused the former IG CID of burying the infamous ‘Srinagar sex scandal’ under the carpet during Mufti’s rule. In a little over two years, Ms Mufti and her PDP trained their guns on Bhan. As DGP Khoda was on leave in USA, Bhan was officiating as head of the state Police when two young women were found dead in mysterious conditions in Shopian, in May 2009. Ms Mufti, alongwith 18 of her party’s MLAs, marched through Lalchowk and courted arrest with her forceful demand of dismissing the DGP and proceedings against the “killers and rapists” of the Shopian females.

Even when the NC-led coalition stonewalled constitutional and intellectual opinion in nominating five of the coalition’s defeated candidates as “representatives of intelligentsia and academia” in violation of Section 5o (3) of the J&K Constitution, PDP did not raise the question of propriety and morality. Two of the State Accountability Commission convicts were proudly retained in Mufti’s party. One of them, formerly a senior official, was even blessed with a seat in Legislative Council.

Governor alone can not be held responsible for the ‘shortened distance’ between Chashma Shahi and Nawa-e-Subah. He can not be expected to proactively function like a leader of the Opposition. It was none other than Mr Vohra who returned the file to the Civil Secretariat in 2009 when the ruling coalition submitted recommendations for appointing two of the retired judges of J&K High Court as Members of the State Accountability Commission. It was duly pointed out to Chief Minister that the Leader of the Opposition, who happened to be a member of the selection committee, could not be bulldozed in the matter of such recommendations.

Clearly, the ball of agitating the issues of propriety and morality in the SVC appointments is lying in the court of the principal Opposition party. It has got to push the merit of its argument without restricting itself to individual bias and hatred or wild allegations. Now that it has questioned why Supreme Court’s directions, passed in PJ Thomas case, were being “brazenly ignored” in J&K, it has to convince Raj Bhawan how appointment of CVC was far wider an issue than the bureaucratic exercise of appointing an executive engineer. PDP’s flexibility or silence at this stage could be potentially harmful to its image and interest.

On the other hand, Government too has built considerable prestige on its recommendations. As desired by law, it has to convince Governor on the ‘deficiency of merit’ in the opposition member’s dissent. Crucially at a time when voices are rising for a “locally elected” Governor and the demand has been upheld by the Centre’s interlocutors in their report, Mr Vohra has got to assess all pros and cons of accepting and rejecting the Government’s recommendations as well as the opposition’s dissent thereto. One thing is clear that the man at Raj Bhawan can not be seen to be taking cues from the political and bureaucratic corridors in New Delhi or Srinagar. It is none other than Mr Vohra who can define whether his Government had a real commitment to fight corruption or the institutions were simply being created for post-retirement rehabilitation of his regime’s blue-eyed officials.


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