His two tenures as Governor — he oversaw toppling of Farooq Abdullah government in 1984 — remain controversial
Jagmohan Malhotra (1927-2021), who served as bureaucrat and Governor, refused to be a rubber stamp and his two tenures as the Governor of J&K remained the most controversial.
Widely known by his first name, he is among a very few bureaucrats to witness and work through the different epochs of India: beginning with the Jawaharlal Nehru period, the Indira Gandhi rule, the Sanjay Gandhi ‘misrule’ and finally the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s new idea of India revolving around ‘Hindutva’, when he served as a Cabinet Minister.
Mr. Jagmohan served Delhi (twice), Goa and Daman and Diu as Lieutenant Governor. He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1971, Padma Bhushan in 1977 and Padma Vibhushan in 2016 for his contributions in different spheres as a public servant.
However, it was Mr. Jagmohan’s stints as the Governor of the erstwhile State of J&K, first in 1984 and then 1990, that till date remains the most enigmatic. He oversaw the toppling of the Farooq Abdullah government in 1984 and installation of a non-Abdullah regime.
On one hand, the political class of Kashmir disliked him for the 1984-episode but he earned people’s goodwill by focussing on road connectivity and development projects in 1986. He also worked to expand the scale and role of two shrines in J&K: the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir, which quickly turned into an elaborate pilgrimage from just around 1,500 sadhus trekking the cave shrine annually.
Mr. Jagmohan later defended his actions in his book My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir. “Acting in the overall national interest, the ideal Governor must display courage and vision at the time of a crisis. He should not act as a cipher, or as a rubber stamp, or as a foggy old man standing in a corner with a wooden face and stony eyes,” he wrote, in the book.
It was this tough approach as a Governor that shortened his second term in J&K to just four months in 1990 under the V.P. Singh regime, when he landed in a place to tackle the situation, which, he said, “had virtually reached a point of no return”.
Mr. Jagmohan, however, emerged as a messiah for the cornered community of Kashmiri Pandits as an armed rebellion was escalating in the 1990s. In the book, he revealed that he used to get SOS calls from the Pandits: “Tonight is our last night”, “Send us aeroplanes, take us out of the Valley.” He is believed to have arranged the safe corridor to the Hindu population out of the Valley.
However, this move was seen in Kashmir as a precursor to an all-out war against militants, sympathisers and anti-India protesters. What followed the migration of Pandits was an ugly massacre at Srinagar’s Gaw Kadal that left over 50 dead, just on the second day of his term in 1990. Similar incidents at Hawal, Zakura, Magharbal Bagh etc. only resulted in his recall.
While in Delhi, Mr. Jagmohan’s patriotism is praised by all, but in Kashmir, no mainstream political party, including the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, issued any statement of tribute or respect on his demise.