This day, 28 years ago, New Delhi sent Jagmohan on his second term as JK governor to handle dissenting Kashmir. He ended up becoming Kashmir’s black hat by presiding over multiple massacres during his 127-day run at the Raj Bhawan.
A slick National Conference senior leader sporting the signature Johnny Walker moustache recalls an intriguing ‘order’ coming from London some 28 years ago. His faraway party chief Dr. Farooq Abdullah had sent a word for his party-men amid the chilling carnage campaign in the Valley: Do whatever you want—go even across the border for training in arms, but not to get caught by Jagmohan.
Such directions coming from the tested unionist of Kashmir perhaps gave away the intentions with which VP Singh had deployed Jagmohan as JK’s governor despite Leftist parliamentarians calling him “anti-Muslim”. But as the then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and senior Congressman Arun Nehru backed the controversial appointment, Jagmohan returned to JK as its second-time governor on January 19, 1990, forcing Dr. Farooq to tender a resignation.
For a spent force of the NC rank and file then, such commands from their chief who had ‘abandoned the ship caught in the gathering storm’ shortly showed results when scores of NC die-hards, foot-soldiers and supporters embraced the “gun solution”.
Jagmohan, whose alarming Kashmir reports had already piled in the President and Prime Minister of India’s offices, was well aware of the swelling insurgent ranks in Kashmir. For that, he would squarely blame Farooq Abdullah’s “pathetic, whimpering, sniveling government gone into hiding after releasing 70 hardcore terrorists between July and December 1989”.
“All of a sudden this organised campaign even against the known pro-India party showed Jagmohan’s all-out Kashmir lashing campaign,” says Tahir, a former Student Liberation Front insurgent whose party’s abduction of Kashmir University VC’s Mushir-ul-Haq did not click well with Jagmohan. As a militant constantly changing his hideouts then, Tahir witnessed how Jagmohan reiterated with harsher clampdown on city, even seizing truckloads of eatables.
For the former Delhi Lt. Governor accused of Turkmangate Muslim massacre, the incident exposed his unyielding posture. Srinagar, which had earlier burst into celebration over the prisoners swap involving home minister Sayeed’s medical internee daughter, had now become “deafeningly calm”.
Amid the bloodcurdling campaign, the pendulum was shifting back to the Indian State in Kashmir. At a distance, his archenemy Dr Farooq Abdullah kept unsettling Jagmohan, who had dramatically ousted him from the CM-ship in 1984.
When one known NC loyalist delivered a written Urdu press statement in Srinagar’s Press Enclave on Feb 15, 1990, many were smiling over the strong-worded content — otherwise being censored by Raj Bhawan then. In that handout, Farooq had termed Jagmohan as ‘Hallaqu’ and ‘Changez Khan’, bent upon converting the valley into a vast graveyard.
In the rebellious Valley, those were the hateful titles reserved for the man whose previous tenure (April 1984 to July 89) had earned him public goodwill for his public durbars. “But now,” says the NC leader, passing a hand over his moustache, “the same man returned to Kashmir to heap human bodies on Gaw-Kadal before overtaking the deserted Raj Bhawan in heavy army contingents.”
Jagmohan’s armed convoy reminded many of Kashmir’s last Maharaja Hari Singh’s run from Kashmir in the tumultuous fall of 1947.
The two rides separated by a 50-year time gap had one thing in common: Kashmir was revolting then, as it was now. Singh’s protégé however saw Jagmohan as the last Dogra monarch’s reincarnation “with a vengeful huff”.
His words gave away his mindset: “I’ve come as a nurse … But if anyone creates a law and order problem, Mere Aaath se Aman ka Patta Khisak Jaayega” (The cards of peace that I’m carrying will slip away from my hands).
A day before his televised “threat” and appointment on January 19, the government-controlled State Road Transport Corporation had begun ferrying thousands of Kashmir Pandits from Kashmir to Jammu. Militants termed the fleeing KPs as “victims of BJP propaganda” sponsored by Jagmohan.
Known for his BJP leanings, Jagmohan’s anti-Muslim measures had widened the gulf between Pandits and Muslims in Kashmir, writes a team of four members—Tapan Bose, Dinesh Mohan, Gautam Navlakha and Sumanta Banerjee—in India’s Kashmir War: “Jagmohan’s return to Jammu and Kashmir as governor signalled the unleashing of state repression on a massive scale.”
Then Special Commissioner, Islamabad, Wajahat Habibullah had requested Jagmohan to make a televised appeal and assurance to the fleeing Pandits for staying back in Kashmir. “Unfortunately,” Habibullah writes, “the only announcement to this effect was that ‘refugee’ camps were being set up in every district, and Pandits who felt threatened could move to them rather than leave the Valley.”
Later someone from Jagmohan’s inner circle would confide to Mohammad Yusuf Taing, an octogenarian biographer of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah: Jagmohan did facilitate the migration.
After Pandits began leaving, the man coming from West Punjab’s Chichoki Mallian Railway Colony ordered house-to-house searches, raids, cordons, arrests and many other atrocities in Srinagar.
Defying the curfew, people took to the streets in the morning on 21 January 1990. And by noon, Jagmohan was sitting over the first massacre in the militancy-era. Carnages were repeated in intervals at many other places around Kashmir.
On the streets, people were demanding Jagmohan’s ouster: “He sits over bloodbath and honour of our sisters, he must go!” For his sheer conduct of giving a free-hand to the forces, the governor entered into raging street slogans: “Jagmohan borukh teenas, Goule aayas seenas” (Put in tin, Jagmohan got shot in chest).
Then, clocks and wristwatches on Srinagar streets were running half an hour late. In case someone would give the Indian time, he would be forced to change it to the Pakistani time, running a half an hour behind. Freedom felt round the corner. But one man was still standing in its way.
In military-silenced Srinagar, he had brought everything to a halt. To curb the dissent, Jagmohan brought the Governor’s Act 8 of 1990 — even sacking 75 government servants involved in “subversive activities”. He banned the international media after militants vowed to declare Kashmir’s Independence through Radio Kashmir and Doordarshan Kendra on Jan 26, 1990—the day he would later term his D-day to “stop Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan”.
“Then inside Raj Bhawan and during his night-outs in BB Cant,” says a former bureaucrat, “Jagmohan would reiterate to repeat Assam in Kashmir.” To curb Assamese insurgency, New Delhi had forcibly opened government offices and other suspended activities in Assam in 1983 at the behest of the military and bureaucratic workforce brought from other states. For the man who had already sent “Warning Signals” to New Delhi about the “gathering storm in Kashmir”, the move was one of the face-savers at a time when he would see Kashmiri youth “sullen and angry”.
“Talking of the Irish crisis, British Prime Minister Disraeli had once said, ‘It is potatoes one day and the Pope next’,” he wrote to PM Rajiv Gandhi in April 1989. “Similar is the present position in Kashmir. Yesterday, it was ‘Maqbool Butt’; today it is ‘Satanic Verses’; tomorrow it will be the ‘repression day’; and day after, it will be something else. The Chief Minister (Dr. Farooq) stands isolated.”
Then he would send New Delhi regular Kashmir updates. He had even informed the President of India about how “the main secessionist outfit, the J&K Liberation Front has already announced setting up of ten hit squads with claimed support of the Islamic Jamhuri Itihad (IJI) of Pakistan.”
But after July 12, 1989, when he was removed as JK’s governor by Rajiv Gandhi, Jagmohan’s Kashmir briefing to New Delhi stopped.
He would later return as VP Singh’s “counter missile” to assert the authority of the state. His antidote to Kashmir’s dissent was employment and “spreading positivity through a lot of money”.
Seen as Delhi’s spin doctor, Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto—then vowing 1000-year war to liberate Kashmir—called him “Bhagmohan” (implying he would flee out of fear) in a series of speeches: “Ham us ko jag, jag, mo, mo, han, han bana denge” (implying he would be cut to pieces by militants).
Even Benazir’s “buddy” Rajiv Gandhi would later term his second stint of JK governor as “rabid communalist opinion”—besides calling him anti-Article 370.
“I was not seeking a certificate from anyone,” Jagmohan would later reply to Rajiv, accusing him of letting down the Bharat Mata in Kashmir in April 1990. “I had gone for the second term to do a national duty.”
To do that “national duty” he had asked for a free hand, which at times would be shielded by two other Kashmir power centres: home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Kashmir Affairs Minister George Fernandes.
When Fernandes reportedly negotiated with a team of militants and allowed a procession for the burial of JKLF’s first armed boss, Ashfaq Majid Wani on April 2, 1990, Jagmohan felt snubbed. Later he would watch in sheer disbelief as a crowd of three lakh mourners turned up for Ashfaq’s funeral.
But after both Sayeed and Jagmohan opposed Fernandes’ carrot-and-stick policy, Raj Bhawan once again became New Delhi’s Kashmir command post, standing just two hundred yards away from militant zone on either side.
Jagmohan’s Kashmir campaign finally ended with the assassination of Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq and the subsequent Hawal Massacre in which over 60 people were killed. Once ousted on May 26, 1990, he went back to Delhi’s India International Centre (IIC) where he began writing “My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir”.
Years later when he was given a Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award in 2016, Kashmir which had adopted a newly created cyber stance of resistance, used the hashtag #JagmohanTheMurderer.
For the new age Kashmiris brought up with the horrors and chilling stories of Jagmohan’s Kashmir conduct, it was honouring the “mastermind of all massacres” who once contentiously endorsed “bullet as the only solution for Kashmir”.