NN Vohra may be on his way out as J&K governor. Who should replace him?
As tension continues to simmer in the Kashmir valley, the Narendra Modi government is looking for a replacement for Governor NN Vohra, who has been in the post since 2008.
Vohra took over from SK Sinha under similar circumstances as today. Then, the security crackdown on a mass Azadi agitation had left over 120 people dead.
No clear frontrunner has emerged yet to succeed Vohra, however. The Modi government is still figuring out who would be best suited for the job. Sources said the government is dwelling on whether Vohra's replacement should be a politician, bureaucrat or retired army person. This is also the reason why no formal announcement has been made about Vohra's exit, although the sources claimed that it could happen anytime now.
Political and security observers believe that with the summer approaching, tension is likely to escalate in Kashmir. If that does happen, immediate steps would have to be taken to keep the situation under control, not least by the governor.
“It shouldn't be a bureaucrat or a retired army officer because Kashmir is a political issue and not a security or administrative issue. I think it is time the government appointed a veteran politician who can talk to the prime minister and also to all the other stakeholders, including political parties and people, in the state,” said retired Admiral KK Nayyar. He added that the appointee should be someone like Arjun Singh, who was appointed the governor of Punjab at the peak of the insurgency and worked successfully to get the Rajiv-Longowal Peace Accord inked.
Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress said “professional background” should not be the determining factor. Whosoever is chosen should be sympathetic to the people, he said. “Not only sympathetic, he should also be empathetic to the people. The voice of Kashmiris is falling on the deaf years of the political establishment in New Delhi but it should reach the Raj Bhawan for further transmission,” Aiyar added.
The veteran leader warned that if the government chooses someone “tough”, it would be digging its own grave.
Echoing this argument, Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress suggested that the next governor should be someone who understands the ground reality and people's sentiments. “He/she should be someone who has the patience to listen and works with intellect. Kashmir can be resolved but you need someone who can be trusted by the people of the state. He should be a people's governor,” Trivedi said.
Trivedi, however, is of the firm belief that Vohra's replacement should be a political person but one who can rise above party affiliation. Choosing someone from the military or bureaucracy may not go down well with Kashmiris and should be avoided, he added. “You don't want to send the wrong message at the start of a new governor's term. It could make the situation worse,” he explained.
Former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, however, is believes that a former military officer “who is sensitive to the situation” can be given the job. He claimed that there are “many former core commanders who are favourites among Kashmiris because they brought in certain changes that were welcomed by the people”.
“Appoint the person who will meet the aspirations of the people. Vohra did a phenomenal job and has been very successful. He has been pleading with the Centre to resolve the issue politically, saying the government in Delhi should listen to the wailing voices of the people from Kashmir,” Kak added.
Kak accused the central government of indulging in “political foolishness” by not engaging the Kashmiri people. It is imperative, therefore, he said, that the next governor maintain a good balance between political compulsions and the demands of the people. “That is where statesmanship lies. He should not be just toeing the Centre's line,” he said while suggesting that the Modi regime should discuss the shortlisted candidates with the state government, and particularly the PDP. “He should have the acceptability of the majority party of the valley,” Kak explained.
In the summer of 2016, Kashmir witnessed one its worst seasons of violence in recent history that left hundreds dead and thousands blinded by pellets fired by government forces to disperse protesters. The onset of winter did calm things down, but many believe the protests are likely to intensify with the arrival of summer. It is for this reason that the government is keen to have a new face as its representative in the valley, one that is not weighed down by the baggage of 2016.
Whether such a move would materialise and then have any impact on the situation in Kashmir remains to be seen.