It would seem that a politician has replaced a bureaucrat as governor of Jammu and Kashmir, but in fact N.N. Vohra, the outgoing governor, was no less astute than the most wily politician. Indeed, such was his skill at handling a range of people, journalists and politicians that one could describe him as a wise statesman.
With little security and less publicity, he would go to dangerous places and interact with ordinary citizens. For instance, late one evening in 2008, he met boys on the ‘cement bridge’ at the heart of Baramulla – a hub of stone-pelting.
It is remarkable that he lasted for more than a decade almost without controversy in a graveyard of reputations, doing this while governing directly for four stints.
Vohra is popular in both Jammu and the Kashmir Valley, which is extremely rare. Indeed, several observers have attributed the decline in the graph of violence and unrest during the first two months of governor’s rule (since 19 June this year) to his personal popularity and ability.
Vohra worked hard throughout his tenure, but over the past couple of months, he clocked 14 hours and more on a daily basis, even at the age of 84.
Even more creditable is the fact that he was liked and respected by every political party. Close aides of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti maintained that she got along well with him, adding he treated her with grace when her government was brought down.
On the other hand, former chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference too tweeted yesterday his ‘sincere thanks and appreciation’ for the ‘wise counsel’ the outgoing governor gave while he was the chief minister.
Vohra had high expectations of Abdullah when the latter first took office, but was disappointed. However, instead of obstructing Abdullah, he advised the relatively young chief minister – and evidently did so with such grace and maturity that the chief minister treated him as a father figure and has chosen to record his appreciation as Vohra leaves office.
As Governor Vohra prepares to hand over charge as @jandkgovernor I would like to place on record my sincere thanks & appreciation for his term in office & especially for the wise counsel he provided me during my 6 years as CM of the state. God speed Vohra Sahib & ma’am.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) August 22, 2018
Meanwhile, a citizen tweeted that ‘I don’t think JK will ever get such a wise administrator and man of wisdom’.
Many observers outside the state have not given Vohra due credit, since his life as a bureaucrat shaped an understated style. The fact is, however, that he had learnt a great deal about the state in various official capacities before he became the governor.
He handled Kashmir at the peak of its rebellion in the first half of the 1990s, first as home secretary and then as defence secretary, and then, in 1997-98, as principal secretary to prime minister I.K. Gujral.
During the last few years of A.B. Vajpayee’s stint as prime minister, Vohra had immense success as the Centre’s interlocutor for talks with separatists, although his work remained characteristically low profile. The result was that top separatist leaders met the prime minister and the then home minister.
He also had the key advantage of having been in the armed forces; he was an officer cadet before an injury on the football field made him leave that career. So, as governor, he had a good equation with army commanders.
Also generally unknown is the fact that Vohra had field experience too. As a fresh IAS officer in the aftermath of the 1962 Chinese aggression, he went to recce the situation as far as Daulat Beg Oldie, an extremely remote point on the disputed border between India and China.
There were no roads in Ladakh then, but so intrepid was the young Vohra that he trekked all the way to the Rohtang Pass.
At a time when external threats have been building up on both the western and eastern fronts, this experience of more than half a century was hugely valuable.
David Devadas is a journalist based in Srinagar.