Jammu and Kashmir governor Satyapal Malik has gone on a high-pitched propaganda spree in recent days, plastering newspapers with full-page ads about his administration’s supposed achievements – not only in the state, where he is the bailiff of the Centre, but also in New Delhi.
This action of the governor is wholly out of line. In a broader sense, it is a distortion of the governor’s constitutional mandate. No previous governor of J&K, or another state, has indulged in such tom-tomming. Malik’s action is invested with a degree of mystery, if not plain political chicanery.
These dull yet outlandish advertisements are a waste of public money, replete with routine actions that are inescapable such as the formation of committees, humdrum administrative clearances, or the setting of new goals (which is the staple of governments intent on drawing propaganda mileage.)
Let’s turn briefly to the contents of the propaganda adverts. They include:
- The successful conduct of municipal and panchayat elections, described as “free, fair and peaceful”. The fact is that the panchayat polls were mostly a cruel joke. Candidates from even faraway Jammu were escorted under guard to contest polls for village panchayats in the valley;
- Comprehensive Gram Panchayat Development Plan “to be prepared by converging schemes”.
These are just two examples taken from the anodyne list – there are dozens more.
The reproof from National Conference leader Omar Abdullah was a mild one: “Jenab Malik sahib has launched a PR blitz!” The former chief minister was even milder in his other public comments, saying that he would refrain from commenting on the “appropriateness” of the governor’s action.
Who is the governor’s target audience? If it’s the people of the state, then we may safely assume that the shot has missed its mark, and that’s exactly what Abdullah’s genteel rejoinder signifies.
Is it the Central government, then? That’s a silly thought. When a state is under Central rule – after the elected representatives have been sent packing under a clear political plan – the governor follows the directions of the government of India anyway. All the ‘achievements’ are in the files that have been run up and down the administrative ladder: in the present case all the way to the NSA’s office, which in effect is the prime minister’s office.
It is routine for elected governments to take out advertisements, especially before an election, in the hope that voters – and the newspapers that have been paid for their ad space – may think kindly of them on polling day.
Elected governments are also routinely pulled up by the public, by political opponents, and by state auditors for wasting taxpayers’ money for partisan purposes.
Who is going to be the referee for the governor’s extravagant act of self-promotion in Kashmir under president’s rule? Who is the governor of Kashmir canvassing for votes, anyway?
The exercise is self-promotion, of course – a vanity trip by the man in Raj Bhavan, sent there by the prime minister himself – as the governor said in media interviews when he took charge in August. But if we look more closely, there is more.
By issuing huge ads, the governor’s attempt is to make J&K – especially Kashmir – look ‘normal’. The propaganda pages underline everyday government business and make the country’s most abnormal place seem as ordinary as any other state, turning it into a place that admits of routine, ordinary solutions and remedies.
In line with such thinking, just days ago, the governor said in Jammu that Kashmir’s main problem was corruption and if this was sorted out there was nothing more to do. Some weeks prior, it was his considered view that if young people in the valley had assured avenues of entertainment, the pull of militancy would fade.
These are truly extraordinary ideas, but if they emanate from the NSA or the PMO, then India may be deemed to be in serious trouble in Kashmir. Let’s just hope – even to lull ourselves – that such thoughts are Malik’s alone.
Anand K. Sahay is a journalist and political commentator based in New Delhi with a special interest in Kashmir.