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My mandate is to win hearts through dialogue: Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik

The first career politician in five decades to hold the governor’s post in Jammu and Kashmir speaks to Hindustan Times.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2018 07:30 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times
Jammu and Kashmir,Satya Pal Malik,Jammu and Kashmir governor
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 27, 2018. (PTI)

Satya Pal Malik, 72, the first career politician in five decades to hold the governor’s post in Jammu and Kashmir, says his mandate is clear: “Win hearts through dialogue”. In a phone interview with Sunita Aron, Malik spoke on several contentious issues confronting Kashmir, which has been under Governor’s Rule since June, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of the coalition government with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), prompting chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to resign. Malik, who replaced NN Vohra, says he has accepted his challenging responsibility with ‘himmat’ (grit) and determination. Excerpts:

Your immediate challenge is Article 35A (of the Indian Constitution, which restricts property ownership, government jobs, and a few other privileges to people defined as permanent residents of the state) listed for hearing in the apex court in the month-end...

How can we take a decision? As we are not an elected government, we cannot speak on behalf of the people (in the court). Thus, we feel the decision should be deferred until there is an elected government here. Our stand is clear and we will soon make an appeal before the apex court (seeking a deferral).

Is this decision also prompted by the forthcoming panchayat elections? How will you ensure increased participation of people as there were large-scale killings in the last polls?

I am confident of increased participation in the elections that is going to empower them (the people). We are going to tell them the elections are not for Delhi but for them. Once people understand that elections will only empower them, as they will get both power and funds, I am sure they will participate in large numbers. The funds will flow to them via their elected sarpanch.

Do you think the state will be ready for simultaneous polls to the J&K assembly along with forthcoming Lok Sabha elections?

Too early to comment on this but much would depend on the situation as well as the opinion of all stakeholders. Let me first have a dialogue with the people and political parties. As of now, we have decided to revive the MLAs’ fund till the assembly, currently in suspended animation, remains alive. This will help public representatives to provide succour to the people. Their interface with people must continue.

Similarly, there are apprehensions about abrogation of Article 370 (of the constitution giving significant autonomy to the state).

Yes, there are sentiments involved and I think decisions on such issues could be best deferred. It won’t be proper for me to comment on them or share my opinion without studying the issue thoroughly.

There is another sensitive issue about withdrawal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act).

It does not come under my domain. It’s a national issue and the central government will take a call on it according to the situation prevailing in the state.

What’s your plan then?

To win hearts, reach out to the people, start dialogue with them. We took some major decisions yesterday (Wednesday). I have directed the district commissioners to do ‘public sunwai’ (hearings) once a month to sort out and decide (on) public issues.

I have three advisers and they have been directed to visit one district every week to have an interface with the people. We have to heal wounds, resolve issues and use funds constructively for public welfare. We have also decided to construct residential quarters for the police and increase their financial compensation in case of death.

Are you planning to tour the state?

Yes, I will start my tour with Srinagar and then move to Ladakh and Jammu. Each region has its own demands. We must listen to the people and find solutions as far as possible. Today (Thursday), I am going to visit the Dal Lake, inspect it from three points as we have decided to launch a ‘Clean Dal Lake campaign’.

You have a socialist background but have a close rapport with leaders cutting across party lines. You are close to leaders of PDP, National Conference, Congress? Will that help?

Farooq Abdullah (National Conference) had come to the airport the day I landed in Kashmir with my new responsibility. He also attended the swearing-in ceremony and told people that they should take advantage of my stay in Raj Bhawan , saying that“he is a good person”. I have a good relationship with Mehbooba Mufti also. Politics apart, I am sure personal rapport helps in softening attitudes.

Once a suggestion was mooted that there should be an all-party committee or council under the governor. Are you open to that?

Such an idea has not come before me till now, but I am open to every suggestion if it is in the interest of the people of Kashmir. Let me find out more about it. In any way, I will informally consult all on every issue. (He recalls) Once, Mahatma Gandhi had gone to meet (Muhammad Ali) Jinnah, who kept him waiting for a full 40 minutes. When people asked him about it, Gandhi said ‘anything for the country.’ Similarly, I can approach anybody and vice versa. If they cannot come to meet me, I can go and visit them at their home; anything for the betterment of Kashmir. I don’t believe in protocol.

What about escalated terrorism/militancy in the region?

We have to remove it from minds, encourage youth to play a constructive role and build a climate for the same. We will come out with plans soon.

What is the Prime Minister’s mandate to you?

Go and win their hearts and confidence, restore normalcy. He believes in dialogue and not bullets.

But the challenges are huge?

Yes they are, and I have come here with determination and ‘himmat’.

When did you last visit Kashmir?

I had last come here ...to pay condolences after the death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 2016. We could hear the sounds of gun shots at the airport. Prior to that, I had visited the state in 1988. The place was so beautiful. Life was normal.

First Published: Aug 31, 2018 07:30 IST