Satya Pal Malik | Point of no return

The former Governor who once praised Narendra Modi for being the best Prime Minister for Jammu and Kashmir has trained his guns on him

Updated - May 15, 2023 10:18 am IST

Published - April 30, 2023 01:52 am IST

It is not always that a Governor affiliated to the ruling dispensation speaks against the government. So when Satya Pal Malik, then Meghalaya Governor, chose to unequivocally support the farmers’ agitation over the now-repealed farm laws in 2021, his remarks not just left the Modi government red-faced but also made national headlines.

Dragging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah into the controversy, Mr. Malik, while speaking at a function at Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh in March 2021, said he urged the two leaders not to use force against the farmers and not send them back “empty handed”. His assertion in support of the agitation made him a darling of the farmer unions and the khaps in Haryana. Mr. Malik sharpened his attacks in the following months, even calling Mr. Modi “arrogant” at a function in Haryana.

Mr. Malik, a three-time MP, fired a fresh salvo at Mr. Modi in an interview to The Wire earlier this month, targeting the Prime Minister over the Pulwama terror attack, the handling of the Kashmir issue and his stance on corruption.

The 76-year-old leader, whose hobbies include poetry, music and photography, has been known to be “outspoken”. Several of his off-the-cuff remarks and actions during his stints as Governor of four States over the past six years have raised eyebrows. As Bihar Governor, he wrote to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was then heading a coalition government with the BJP, on the Muzaffarpur shelter home sex abuse case, stressing the need for “developing an institutional mechanism” to ensure a regular social audit of shelter homes by competent institutions.

In March 2020, he said: “Governor has no work. In Kashmir, the Governor usually drinks alcohol and plays golf. In other States too, the Governor lives peacefully and does not get involved in any dispute.”

Joining politics

Mr. Malik entered politics in the mid-1960s inspired by the socialist ideology of Ram Manohar Lohia. He joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2004 and was appointed its national vice-president in 2012. He was a member of Mr. Modi’s team in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

He had a brief stint with the Congress in the mid-1980s. Mr. Malik was the general secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha before quitting the party in 1987 over the Bofors scam. He was one of the founders of the Jan Morcha, which later became the Janata Dal in 1988.

Mr. Malik was appointed Bihar Governor in 2017. He was sent to Jammu and Kashmir in August 2018, which was seen as an elevation for him. In an interview to a news channel the same year, Mr. Malik called Mr. Modi the “best Prime Minister” for Jammu and Kashmir.

But the relationship started to sour thereafter. Mr. Malik was at the helm when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 was revoked in August 2019. In the interview, Mr. Malik claimed he was not aware of the move till the night before and would have advised the government not to demote Jammu and Kashmir to a Union Territory. He was transferred to Goa in October 2019.

After serving for around nine months, he was transferred to Meghalaya. Mr. Malik claimed he was shunted out of Goa in a hurry after he informed the Prime Minister about the corruption in the State. He retired as Meghalaya Governor on October 4, 2022

Belonging to the politically influential Jat community, Mr. Malik hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat and also has ancestral roots in Haryana. He draws support from the socially powerful khaps and farmer unions in the State and neighbouring Punjab.

Soon after his interview, khap and farmer leaders came out in his support for “speaking the truth”. However, many are also doubting the credibility of his claims and see a political motive behind it, given the timing of his “revelations”, his changing statements, and praise for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

But Mr. Malik seems to have reached a point of no return on a possible truce with Mr. Modi, which is evident from his recent visit to the Jantar Mantar in support of the wrestlers protesting against former Wrestling Federation of India Chairman and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

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