Marred by wars and violence, the intensely contested political history of Jammu and Kashmir offers a story in the background to almost every date on the calendar. January 19 is one such date that is remembered for the sad mass departure of Kashmiri Pandits from their beloved valley in 1990. There are contesting versions of what exactly happened on that critical night but the central truth is common –the majority of Kashmiri Pandits had to leave their homes to never be able to return and the Valley was to face forever questions about its composite life and culture.
The Kashmiri Pandits continue to observe January 19 in many ways –the exodus day, the holocaust day, etc –recalling the horrific experiences of leaving their homes, the vagaries of life in exile as they also reiterate commitments to themselves to return to their roots. Every year, the governments are taken to task for doing little in ensuring their safe and dignified return to Kashmir.
Also on January 19, 1990, happened another important event which is not fully forgotten but it is barely remembered –arrival of Jagmohan as new Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and resignation of Dr Farooq Abdullah as Chief Minister.
Even as there are blames and counter-blames about the alleged role of Jagmohan in causing sudden displacement of Kashmir Pandits and complacency of Farooq Abdullah in allowing the situating to reach a level that January 19 events became inevitable, this piece is entirely about recalling the scene as it looked like that particular day.
Farooq Abdullah was running the government since 1987 in coalition with Congress –the first-ever such government in Jammu and Kashmir cobbled up through a pre-poll alliance. This was Farooq’s fourth term after the three truncated stints earlier in the decade –upon Sheikh Abdullah’s death in 1982, after general elections in 1983, and following Rajiv-Farooq accord in 1986.
Since 1988 the incidents of militant violence and terrorism, including targeted killing and abductions, were on an unprecedented rise making it difficult both for the State and Central government to restore any semblance of peace. The government looked clueless as militants roamed about freely.
Coalition partner of Farooq’s National Conference, the Congress, under Rajiv Gandhi, had lost the 1989 Lok Sabha elections paving way for the United Front government under V.P. Singh. One of the key features of V.P. Singh’s government was a Muslim –India’s first and the last, so far –as Home Minister in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. India’s first Muslim Home Minister was also a Kashmiri who had before becoming Home Minister spent nearly three decades in politics, all of those in the Congress.
Mufti carried behind him a long and interesting history of animosity against the Abdullah’s –Farooq and his father the late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. In 1977 Mufti had made first attempt to topple Sheikh Abdullah’s government but the then Governor L.K. Jha gave a passage to the latter even as the former had paraded the numbers at the Raj Bhawan. In 1984 Mufti had played key role in toppling Farooq’s government. In 1986, when Rajiv entered into a historic accord with Farooq, Mufti was pulled out of Jammu and Kashmir and inducted as Minister at the Center. In a couple of years, he made first exit ever from the Congress and joined the Janta Dal.
By December 1989, when Farooq was doing, perhaps, the most difficult job for any Chief Minister in the country, Mufti was the Union Home Minister. Irrespective of the stature of Chief Ministers or strength of their parties in the legislature, Jammu and Kashmir, since the times of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, has essentially remained a domain of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. But this time the chiefs in Srinagar and New Delhi’s north block were the sworn rivals.
Barely five days after the new Home Minister settled in New Delhi that his daughter was kidnapped by militants in Srinagar to demanded release of their militant colleagues from the Police. After five-day long negotiations, five hardcore militants were set free in exchange of Rubiya Sayeed’s release. The security experts and analysts have over the last three decades described this as an episode which emboldened the militants and lowered morale of security forces.
For rest of the month, the V.P. Singh government considered several measures to bring order in Kashmir. “After the Rabaiya Sayeed episode, the cabinet addressed itself to the tast of ‘selecting’ a new Governor for Jammu and Kashmir. The prevailing circumstances had made the dice fall once more in favour of Jagmohan..”, records the then External Affairs Minister Inder Kumar Gujral in his memoirs Matters of Discretion.
Lieutenant General K.V. Krishna Rao was the incumbent Governor of Jammu and Kashmir since July 1989. One doesn’t understand that why the need was felt to send a new Governor when law and order and connected affairs are responsibilities of the political executive.
Was Krishna Rao incompetent or the new Governor was being searched to provoke Farooq? Interestingly, Gen Rao returned as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir in March 1993 and continued till May 1999. He proved as one of the most competent administrators. Under his watch the Assembly elections of 1999 happened marking restoration of democratic process.
In December 1989, soon after the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping fiasco had ended, Gen Rao offered his resignation to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister but he didn’t hear back. The resignation was not accepted but it was much obvious that he was soon going to be replaced.
On one afternoon of January 1990, while Farooq was chairing a meeting of his cabinet he got a phone call from Home Secretary Shiromani Sharma. He sought Farooq’s views on three names that the PM was considering for new Governor –Naresh Chandra, Rustomji and Krishna Kant. The then Chief Secretary Moosa Raza recalls Farooq telling Shromani Sharma that he is willing to work with any of them or anyone else but not Jagmohan. Farooq’s own sources in New Delhi were feeding him with speculations over Jagmohan.
While in Srinagar, late in the evening of January 18, 1990, Farooq Abdullah heard from his sources that Jagmohan was surely going to be appointed the new Governor. He took the state aircraft to Jammu where he convened an emergency cabinet meeting. Later that night Farooq drove straight to the Raj Bhawan and tendered his resignation to Governor Rao who signed this as the last paper before his own departure early the next morning. Farooq’s two-liner resignation is reproduced below:
I tender my resignation as Chief Minister along with members of my Council of Ministers. This is in pursuance of the decision of my Cabinet.
I thank you for the cooperation I got from you during my tenure as Chief Minister of the state.
Back in Delhi, Inder Kumar Gujral called up Jagmohan who was in his sleep. He asked Jagmohan to immediately rush to Home Minister Mufti Sayeed’s residence for an emergency meeting on Kashmir. The next morning, he took a BSF aircraft and landed in Jammu. Hours before that Gen Rao had already left the Raj Bhawan. Gujral says, “Farooq mistook Jagmohan’s appointment as a personal ‘hit against him’, since the same Jagmohan had on an earlier occasion dismissed his government.
This is where the opening paragraph of Jagmohan’s book, My Frozen Turbulence begins:
The plane suddenly dipped low. It was an air pocket. The small BSF plane could not take it easily. I was a bit shaken. So were my wandering thoughts. I was, perhaps, reminded that I was proceeding to a State full of terror and turbulence. It was early afternoon of January, 1990. I was once airborne to Jammu and Kashmir.
As the plane sailed over Pathankote and tiled to turn towards Jammu, bright rays of sunshine pierced through its windows, dispelling the gloom inside. A new resolve dawned upon me. Maybe, I thought, I thought I would have to plough a lonely furrow. But the storm must be weathered. And with all the millstones around my neck, I should stand erect. I quietly worked out my approach and jotted down a few points for my policy statement.
Later that night, the Chief Secretary Moosa Raza was woken up by an emergency call from Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Jalil Ahmed Khan who informed him of an unprecedented turmoil in Srinagar. “The Police and CRPF had taken a cordon and search operation in Chhota Bazar. More than 700 families, including women, children, and old people, had been taken out of their houses and made to sit out in freezing temperatures in the middle of January”, Raza recalls.
Chief Secretary Raza called up Director General of Police J.N. Saxena to ask if the Police had any actionable intelligence to necessitate such a large-scale operation. “The operation was planned quite some time back. I will check all the details”, Saxena told Raza.
The two days saw mayhem, all the hell broke loose. The Kashmiri Pandits left the Valley in thousands. Elsewhere, at least 50 Kashmiri Muslim protesters died in firing by security forces.
Jagmohan, who could reach Srinagar only on January 21, blamed Farooq for authorizing the crackdown days before resignation. Farooq says the whole event was orchestrated by the new Governor. Both cite technicalities. The Chief Minister could not have issued orders to be followed after his resignation and the Governor could not have organised an action at that scale barely in hours after taking over at the Raj Bhawan.
That’s what one of the hundreds of stories of Jammu and Kashmir looks like!