Monday, March 10, 2014

‘Nice guys finish second’



I am using the title of BK Nehru’s famous book ‘Nice guys finish second’ as the title of my column today because what follows would have certain indirect links with Mr. Nehru’s tenure as the governor of J&K from 1982 till he was shifted out by Indira Gandhi for refusing to remove Farooq Abdullah from power in J&K. 

The Times of India carried a news item the other day that there is a strong speculation that the incumbent National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon will replace Mr. N. N Vohra as the Governor of J&K, that too in the near future. I am not sure how much to trust this story but if indeed there is such a move underway, I don’t consider that to be a good choice for a variety of reasons. 

If Menon’s stint as the Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor is any indication of what kind of a Governor he will make, then one would have to say that he is unlikely to be any more than a guardian of the status-quo, something the people of Kashmir patently detest. Mr. Menon is a sophisticated diplomat who can articulate and justify New Delhi’s positions on various issues with élan and aplomb. But that’s it – he is no visionary who can put together a roadmap for conflict resolution in J&K considering the fact that governors in this conflict-ridden state have been given more powers than governors elsewhere. 

So what should the governor of Kashmir be like? Clearly, Kashmir and Kashmiris deserve someone better than Mr. Jagmohan whose tenure can easily be termed as one of the most disastrous in the modern history of Kashmir. First of all, the governor of J&K, where a number of internal and external security considerations converge, should be someone who can get out of the comfort of the Raj Bhavan and connect with the people of the state. He/she should be a statesman, sensitive individual, and who does not see governorship as merely a post-retirement perk. Again, when it comes to J&K, there is no point in suggesting individuals who may be very good but won’t be taken very seriously by New Delhi. So one has to be practical in one’s approach to what is ‘achievable’ as opposed to what is ‘ideal’, most certainly in this case. 

One of the individuals who, in my opinion, would fit these descriptions is Syed Ata Hasnain, who recently retired as a General of the Indian army after having commanded the strategically important 15 Corps in Srinagar. I realize that the Indian army is not among the most popular institutions in Kashmir for what it has done to the people of Kashmir for many years. But my understanding of this man gives me the confidence to say what I am saying. The other day, I was shocked to hear about the Indian Army’s decision to ‘close’ the Pathribal case wherein five Kashmiri civilians were summarily executed by the Indian army soldiers. In utter disgust, I called up Gen. Hasnain and asked his opinion. He was unambiguous in his words that it was terrible that five innocent Kashmiris lost their lives at the hands of the army and that it is even more disappointing that justice has not been done in the case. 

More so, he shows absolutely no hesitation in accepting that terrible mistakes have been committed in Kashmir and that it is important for New Delhi’s political leadership to make amends. While he led the Indian army in Kashmir, he succeeded in showing a great deal of sensitivity to Kashmiris. Remember, he was not making any political decisions but merely under orders from New Delhi. It is then reasonable to think that as a decision-maker he is likely to be even more sensitive to the Kashmiris and their predicament. And as the governor, Hasnain will undoubtedly tell the Indian army to restrain themselves from harming the human rights of the Kashmirs. I have my own differences with some of Gen. Hasnain’s arguments, but that does not prevent me from saying that here’s a man who can make a difference in Kashmir. 

On the other hand, New Delhi does not have to worry about him – he is a certified nationalist. But the question is whether New Delhi has the political imagination to differentiate between tactical and strategic approaches to conflict resolution. If indeed it wishes take the strategic approach to peace-building in Kashmir, then it should show the vision and courage to appoint a Muslim as the Governor in a Muslim majority state (one of the arguments detractors would make is that it would be unimaginable to have a Muslim governor as the Chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine board. That is clearly a silly argument which does not deserve any considered response).  

The other name I would propose is that of Amitabh Mattoo, a Kashmiri Pandit academic who grew up in the valley and close to the power circles in New Delhi. A great supporter of J&K’s autonomy in letter and spirit, he is often accused by the Hindu rightwing in the country as anti-national for consistently arguing that there should be a zero tolerance policy in place to deal with human rights violations in Kashmir. People like Mattoo understand how the government functions, the importance of being sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of the people of Kashmir and yet uncorrupted by the viciousness of state power. 

But I am not sure whether Hasnain or Mattoo will make it to the Raj Bhavan in Srinagar for they are simply not seen by New Delhi as conservative or pliable enough to be sent to Kashmir. It’s a tragedy that nice guys, as BK Nehru wrote, tend to finish second.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, February 2, 2014. URL:

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