In an explosive interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Satya Pal Malik, the last governor of J&K before it was divided and reduced to Union territory status, says “Mein safely keh sakta hoon Prime Minister ko corruption se bahut nafrat nahin hain” (‘I can safely say the PM has no real problem with corruption’). Malik, who was governor during the Pulwama terrorist attack of February 2019 and the scrapping of Article 370 in August that year, also says the prime minister is “ill-informed” and “ignorant” about Kashmir and told him not to speak about the Union home ministry’s lapses which led to the devastating terrorist attack on soldiers in Pulwama in February 2019. Read the full text of the interview below. The sections of the interview which were conducted in Hindi have been translated into English, and the text has been lightly edited for clarity.
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to a special interview for The Wire. My guest was the last governor of Jammu and Kashmir, he served there from August 2018 to October 2019, 14 tumultuous months that saw not only the Pulwama crisis, but more importantly, the abrogation of Article 370. At the moment, Satya Pal Malik is writing an account of those 14 tumultuous months. But in today’s edition, he’s also agreed to speak to me. Mr. Malik–
Satya Pal Malik: Yes.
KT: —let me start by asking you–
KT: If I ask you questions about your time as governor, would you tell me the truth, only the truth and as much of the truth as you can?
On dissolving the J&K assembly in 2018
KT: Surely? In which case, let’s start. You took over as governor of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2018, and at the time the state was under President’s rule. Three months later when Mehbooba Mufti was desperately trying to call you, to tell you that she had got support from the Congress and the National Conference, and as a result, she had 56 people supporting her in an 87-member assembly, not only did you refuse to take her call, but it was claimed that the fax machine in your residence hadn’t received her letter. And yet, literally minutes later, you dissolved the assembly. Why did you do that? Were you under pressure from Narendra Modi—
SM: No, no, no.
KT: —to let her form a government?
SM: I was not even in touch with him. It was the day of Eid. It was a holiday, even my cook was on a holiday. There was nobody to man the fax or anything in my office. I reached there at four o’clock, I was in Delhi, I reached there at four o’clock and there, my chief secretary and our chief of intelligence came and said that they have a majority. And if we send the letter, then we can make them take the oath. I’ll get it done, what is the issue? I’ll definitely get it done. But, what is the rule? Governments do not get formed through Twitter, Karan sir. To make a government, it is essential for the party that wants to form the government to have a meeting and decide that they want, say, Mehbooba to be their candidate. And then the supporting parties have a meeting, and send a letter stating that they support Mehbooba and personally deliver those letters to the governor explaining the entire situation.
KT: But if you gave Mehbooba Mufti the time to carry out due procedure, she would have delivered all those letters to you. Within minutes, you dissolved the assembly.
SM: No, no. They had the entire day. I dissolved the assembly after eight o’clock, the entire day was at their disposal, three flights (everyday) come from Srinagar to Jammu. She could have sent it through someone if she could not personally be there. Well, if my fax wasn’t working, the faxes of many people who know the both of us were functioning, she could have sent it to them who would have then delivered it to me.
KT: But, Malik sir, what is surprising is that your Chief Secretary had agreed that if they have the majority, let them form the government, what is the issue? You just said that–
KT: So what is surprising is that if you and your Secretary both knew that they have a majority, then why did you not give them one or two more days. What was the issue in doing that? Why the hurry to dissolve the council?
SM: No, there is a system in place. And that system requires you to show proof of your majority. That did not arrive.
KT: Yes, give them time, then. Give them some more time.
SM: In the proof, Farooq Abdullah’s party said that we are going to Delhi, we will decide tomorrow. Ghulam Nani Azad did not overtly claim that we support. Only Mehbooba was saying that I have a majority. So if my work was to form their government under any circumstance, then that’s okay—
KT: No, forgive me, not under any circumstance, it’s a different issue. If Mehbooba claims she has a majority and your chief secretary agrees that she does, then give her the time to establish it. Give her a day or two. You are the governor and it is your duty to allow someone who says they have the majority enough time to show they do. That time wasn’t given. Within hours you dissolved the assembly.
SM: No, no, I knew that they have a majority. But no claim was received by me.
KT: You should have given them time for the claim.
SM: So I should keep on waiting for them. But there horse trading was going on a big scale. She was herself demanding the hurried dissolving of the assembly saying that her MLAs were leaving, she was being pressurised. Farooq himself used to complain.
KT: Do you know what she has tweeted? I will read her tweet out to you.
KT: She writes, “In today’s age of technology, it’s very strange that the fax machine at his Excellency the governor’s residence didn’t receive our fax, but swiftly delivered one to us regarding the assembly dissolution.” She is clearly suggesting that the claim that the fax was not received at your residence is a lie. She’s clearly stating that the governor or his office is lying.
SM: No, it’s wrong. Nobody was manning my fax machine. And what we have sent to other places, about assembly dissolution we haven’t sent by fax, but informed by phone.
KT: Tell me something, is it true that nobody was sitting at the fax machine at the governor’s house? These things happen at comedy shows, not in real life. Really, is it true?
SM: It was a holiday for Eid, even my cook wasn’t on duty.
KT: Did you remain hungry on Eid?
SM: No, why would I? If the primary cook wasn’t there, then someone else could’ve cooked, but I am letting you know—
KT: So the same thing can be done for the fax. If the usual guy wasn’t there, then somebody else could have sit on the fax machine.
SM: No, if my work was to wait for Mehbooba’s fax then I would have. She had more means of communicating with me. She could have sent someone or faxed it to one of her men.
KT: Let me put it like this, Mr. Governor, you understand the Constitution better than me. You ended up dissolving an assembly that was viable and could’ve formed a majority government. That is not only unconstitutional, it is the worst mistake a governor can make and yet you did that. You didn’t give the time needed to show there was a majority and clearly there was, 56 out of 87 is a huge majority.
SM: Let me tell you frankly. Farooq and Mehbooba, for a week had been asking me every day to dissolve the assembly because our MLAs are being broken, they’re being pressurised.
KT: You’ve never said that before. You’re saying that for the first time.
SM: No, I said this even in the press conference right after the dissolution that they asked me to dissolve for their MLAs.
KT: Tell me this, are you proud of what you did or do you regret not giving Mehbooba more time?
SM: No, no, no, I don’t regret. They were incompetent. I am not responsible for that. If I had to form a government, six of my men would’ve gone to the governor.
KT: So you’re saying Mehbooba was incompetent and she’s putting the onus of blame on you to cover up her incompetence?
SM: No, it is not my responsibility to tell you how governments are formed if you don’t know. Had your man reached with a letter, given that Jammu is not so far from Srinagar, three flights come daily, you could’ve faxed it to someone you know, he could have delivered it to me.
KT: She said that she tried to call you and you refused to take the call.
SM: You try calling me at any time and I pick up. Even the common Kashmiri can’t say that I don’t personally answer my phone.
KT: So are you saying that Mehbooba is lying when she says that she tried to call you?
SM: Of course she’s lying. She never called me at that period of time.
On the Pulwama attack
KT: Okay, let’s then jump three months to February 2019 when Pulwama happened. Let’s talk about Pulwama in the sense that it was the first big thing after the dissolution of the assembly while you were governor. There were adverse intelligence reports right through January and I believe even till middle February and yet, despite those reports, a thousand CRPF soldiers travelled by a huge convoy. You were sitting governor at the time, how was it that this was permitted to happen? It was clearly asking for trouble.
SM: Let me tell you the facts. CRPF people asked for aircrafts to ferry their people because such a big convoy never goes by road.
KT: They asked you?
SM: Not me, the consultant. They asked the Home Ministry, Rajnath ji. They refused to give. Had they asked me, I would’ve given them an aircraft, no matter how. They only needed five aircraft, which wasn’t given to them.
KT: You’re saying an important thing, right now. They asked the Home Ministry for an aircraft, and the Home Ministry refused?
SM: Yes, and I told it to the Prime Minister in the evening that this has happened due to our fault. Had we given the aircraft, this wouldn’t have happened. To which he told me that I should keep quiet now.
KT: So the Prime Minister told you to keep quiet about all of your faults?
SM: I told him that it was our fault.
KT: And he asked you to keep quiet on the subject?
SM: I had also said it to someone, a channel or so, and then he told me to not say these things and let him talk.
KT: This is again very important. When you had told the Prime Minister that this has happened because of us, that they had asked for the aircraft and Home Ministry did not give them, and the Prime Minister asked you to keep
quiet. He said don’t let people know we made a mistake.
SM: Doval also said this to me.
SM: Doval, Ajit Doval.
KT: He also told you to keep quiet?
SM: He has been my classmate so we can talk about anything to each other. He said Satyapal, don’t say this.
KT: So what you’re saying, is both the Prime Minister—
SM: I can share with you that I realised that this entire onus is going to be put on Pakistan so it’s better to be quiet on the subject now.
KT: So this was in some way, a clever policy of the government that blame Pakistan—
KT: And we will get credit, and that will help our election.
KT: But you said two very important things that the prime minister knew that you had told him it was our fault?
SM: I distinctly remember. He was in Corbett National Park, getting his shooting done. There isn’t a phone there, so after getting out of there, he called me from a dhaba, Satyapal, what happened? I told him sir I am very unhappy that this happened solely due to our fault if we had given them an aircraft it wouldn’t have happened. He told me to keep quiet about it then.
KT: And Mr Doval said the same?
KT: In an interview to a YouTube channel [given to Prashant Tandon of DB Live], you said that the route was not sanitised, security was not—
SM: Of course it was not sanitised. The route has 8-10 link roads specifically in that area, not one of them was manned by someone to restrict access to people. Nothing was done.
KT: All link roads were unmanned?
KT: How many link roads?
SM: Around 8-10.
KT: 8-10 link roads were unmanned? This is a huge security lax.
SM: This also I told them. This was our lax. We were not in the loop, CRPF was planning everything.
KT: In you YouTube interview, you said that there was incompetence and carelessness. Whose?
SM: The Home Ministry’s and the CRPF.
KT: Both? And Home Ministry came under Rajnath Singh.
SM: Now whosoever was there, I don’t know.
KT: He was Rajnath Singh and that means the buck stops with Rajnath Singh who was home minister. He was the one to blame.
SM: If I was the home minister, I would have carried the blame.
KT: If you were home minister after this, would you have resigned?
KT: If you were home minister, after this, would you have resigned?
SM: Everyone has a separate behavioural system—
KT: Tell us yours.
SM: I would have left.
KT: You would have left? After Pulwama happened—
SM: It was a great, great tragedy in the life of the nation. Forty venerable soldiers were sacrificed due to sheer incompetence.
KT: You said another really important thing, 3-4 minutes back that you realised when the PM and Mr Doval asked you to keep quiet on the matter, that the blame would be shifted to Pakistan because they felt it would help their election. Was Pakistan, or Pakistani militants or Pakistani tanzeems actually responsible or did we make that up?
SM: The amount of explosives provided to that fellow could not be done internally. It was Pakistan, only, that arranged it. But the failure was on our part, mine too, that we could not locate that a car in that area was roaming around carrying so much explosive material.
KT: Around 300 kg? That is what the papers say.
SM: Yes, approximately, that entire car was full.
KT: And that car was roaming around on the roads of Kashmir?
M: Specifically in that area.
KT: For how many days?
SM: I think it was 10-12 days at the very least.
KT: For 10-12 days a car loaded with RDX was roaming around the streets and villages of Kashmir and no one knew?
SM: No one knew. No one intercepted.
KT: Well this is a terrible intelligence failure as well?
KT: 100%. So we have a security lax, roads not being manned and then an intelligence lax as well. The incompetence is that of the Indian system.
KT: You’re saying yes.
SM: Yes, even I am responsible for that. I was the head of the state at that time.
KT: The whole Indian system failed?
SM: Yes everybody failed at that time.
KT: From the home minister down?
SM: Everybody failed.
KT: There were reports in the papers a few weeks or months afterwards that a senior police officer named Davinder Singh had some sort of a conspiratorial role to play. You have said that you knew him personally. Who is he and what was his role?
SM: Davinder Singh was a police officer who generally met me whenever I landed at the airport. He was very pleasant and very nice and I never knew that he had got some corruption somewhere.
KT: Did he have a role to play?
SM: In this he did not.
KT: So those stories that he had a role to play are wrong?
SM: No, no, he was not that sort of anti-national person.
KT: So those stories about Davinder Singh are wrong.
SM: Are wrong. Absolutely.
KT: Tell me something, Mr Malik, will we ever know the full truth of what happened at Pulwama?
SM: Yes the government will have everything.
KT: But the government did not tell the citizens of India.
SM: No, it’s not necessary. The government doesn’t tell us hundreds of things.
KT: And if they tell us they’ll be incriminating themselves because that’ll be their fault.
SM: Of course.
KT: So the government has good reason to be hiding this evidence.
SM: Government will have good reason to hide this and use this for something else.
KT: You said this before and you’re repeating it.
SM: I’m repeating it. Instead of going to the root cause of the matter, we shift the blame somewhere else.
KT: So you are saying that Mr Modi deliberately consciously used Pulwama as an election strategy?
SM: I cannot say it in the language that you have used.
KT: Well, then say it in your language.
SM: In my language, I can just say that instead of going to the root cause or the starting point of that matter, or maybe if we also went to the start and completely investigated every thing, we might have to change things for our own personal benefit.
KT: So you are saying that this was used for the benefit of Mr Modi? Are you smiling? Is this a yes?
SM: I cannot say yes or no in this matter.
KT: Neither yes nor no?
SM: I am not saying either yes or no.
On Article 370
KT: Let’s come to August 5, 2019, the day on which Article 370 was abrogated. Two days prior to that you had given a public assurance that nothing of the sort will happen. Clearly you were misleading people. Did Mr Modi ask you to give that false assurance?
SM: No, no, they did not tell anything to me whether they are doing it or not doing it. I only told Mehbooba when she came to see me that this is not a small thing. They cannot just declare it, they will have to take it to the Parliament. If they will introduce it at 11 am, it will get passed by the evening. I said I do not have any knowledge of the subject till now – and I am being honest, I did not have knowledge of the subject.
KT: Let me go to what you said to ANI – and there is a video, so these are your words. You are saying this on video: “Only rumour mongering is going on. Till today” – and this you have said on August 3 – “I have no information, no inclination. I have talked to everyone in Delhi.” Please pay attention to this Sir. “I have talked to everyone in Delhi and nobody has given me any hint that they will do this or that. Somebody says they will be trifurcation. Somebody says Article 35, Article 370.” Now please pay even more attention sir. “Nobody has discussed these things with me. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister.”
SM: I can say it on oath, what I have said.
KT: This can mean only one of two things – either the prime minister and home minister did not keep you in the loop, and that raises questions about whether they trusted you, or since you are the governor of a state under President’s rule, you were aware but you are not telling the truth.
SM: No, no.
KT: It can only mean one of the two.
SM: I am not such a good actor, that I would really know and be able to hide it so much.
KT: So you really had no idea?
SM: Absolutely nothing. I did not know anything. I was merely called by the home minister one day prior saying, Satyapal I’m sending a letter tomorrow morning please get it passed by a committee before 11 tomorrow and send it to me.
KT: When you say you were called one day prior to this, means that you were called on August 4?
SM: The evening of the fourth, yes.
KT: So when you announced things on August 3 via ANI, you absolutely did not know anything?
SM: No, otherwise I would not have said the same.
KT: Shouldn’t you have been informed? It was president’s rule, you were the actual ruler and the governor, shouldn’t you have known?
SM: I knew from the very first day that this would happen. They also knew that I should know that they would do something like this. But it was not incumbent upon them to tell me all the details.
KT: But why did they not?
SM: They did not because they did not.
KT: Did you ever ask them why?
SM: I never felt bad about it.
KT: Never? You did not feel bad?
KT: And neither did you ask?
SM: Neither did I ask.
KT: You were the sitting government under President’s rule. Not the titular governor. Power was actually yours.
SM: President’s power was with me.
KT: It’s surprising that they did not even tell you.
SM: That is the problem of Kashmir, Mr Karan, that Delhi takes the entire system for granted. That what they say will go.
KT: Tell me honestly, did you not feel bad at all that you were ignored?
SM: I did not feel bad at all. It’s their government. They had to remove it. They can do it at their own discretion.
KT: And they did not even ask you?
KT: Absolutely never did they ask you?
SM: Once or twice, they may have asked me when I would to go to meet the prime minister, ‘How are things in Kashmir? If we do something, will anything happen?’ I can only say that they had created a sense of fatigue [in Kashmir]. I told the people there that look, these are your children who die. Their 250 kids fighting with an army that ranks second or third in the whole world, what will this achieve? Their own kids are studying in London. Violence will not lead to anything but talking things out may sort them.
KT: But not talking ever happened.
SM: Both parties need to be together to converse.
KT: What you have just said, that when you met Mr Modi, and I am using your words here sir, they said that if we do something, will anything happen? By this you understood that they had the intention and wish to do something.
SM: I always knew something like this would happen eventually. Look, when Mr Modi came to power, one of his first agendas was to abolish 370. This is something that we have said in every election campaign. The people who said that he did not have the popular vote forget that the people had voted for him for this very reason. He used to say it everywhere.
On J&K’s statehood
KT: Okay sir, I agree that the removal of Article 370 is a longstanding item on the manifesto of the BJP. But why did they divide the state and then demote it to the status of a union territory? To many Kashmiris, that looked like a deliberate attempt to humiliate them.
SM: They feel worse about this than they do about Article 370.
KT: Exactly so, why did they do that?
SM: Even in this, nobody asked me for my advice. If they had approached me, I would have advised against this. My idea of what is behind this is that by making a state into a UT, the police comes under the direct control of the Centre. Otherwise the police would not have been under their control. It would have been under the control of the governor or the assembly. Here there was the fear that the police could revolt. The same thing was said to me by the chief secretary when I told him that we need to get the letter signed by 11 in the morning. He said that we will need at least 1,000 people. Otherwise the people who are mad about the decision will come to the police stations and even the police will revolt. I told him that based on the work that we had done in the past six months, I was sure that even a dog wouldn’t bark and a bird would not chirp.
KT: But tell me this, if you had been asked, you would say do not demote it to union territory?
SM: Yes, 100%.
KT: So this was a mistake?
SM: Not a mistake, it was their concern.
KT: But you think it was a mistake?
SM: It wasn’t necessary. They did that out of the fear of the police revolting. But the police had done a lot of work.
KT: So you are saying that they made a mistake based on a fear that was unrealistic?
KT: Tell me this – would you have also advised against separating the state into two? Dividing Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir?
SM: I do not quite understand you.
KT: Would you, had you been asked, have also advised against dividing the state?
SM: No, I would never let them go through with it. I would have advised against it because it would have is hurt sentiments more.
KT: So you were against both things, both the demotion as well as the division?
KT: So in your eyes both were unnecessary and wrong?
SM: They were both completely unnecessary. Division I would have still understood, because I would travel a lot to Ladakh and people would face discrimination over there when they came to Srinagar and the bureaucracy would not be nice to them, so they would constantly feel humiliated being a part of Kashmir. But the demotion was a complete mistake.
KT: Clear this out for me, sir, you are completely against making the state a union territory, but you had a different thing to say about Ladakh. At first you said the division is wrong but then you also mention that in Ladakh, there was a sentiment of division. So what is your final say on the subject?
SM: My final position is yes that Ladakh should have been separated from Kashmir. Because they were extremely frustrated.
KT: So on the subject of division, you are with the government? It is only on UT that you disagree?
On press freedom in Kashmir
KT: Now this has also been said about you and it could very well be a rumour but I would still ask you – that after the removal of Article 370, you unleashed a reign of terror against Kashmiri journalists? Anuradha Bhasin, who is the executive director of The Kashmir Times, has written an article in The New York Times on March 8, just five weeks ago, and I would like to read a part of that for you to mention what she has said in English. “Journalists were routinely summoned by the police, interrogated and threatened with charges such as income tax violation, terrorism or separatism. Several prominent journalists were detained, at least 20 were placed on no-fly list to prevent them from leaving the country.” Why was this done?
SM: I challenge any one journalist to say that I was the one making complaints against them. Nothing of the sort happened. Every evening there was a place ready for a briefing. Our officers would sit there, and brief the journalists.
KT: Sir, but the entire internet was shut down.
SM: That is because Pakistan would use of internet against us. Just for Pakistan should we continue to give internet access?
KT: Sir just because of Pakistan, you cut off Kashmir from India. We do not even know what was going on there. But she’s openly saying, “Journalists were routinely summoned by the police, interrogated and threatened with charges such as income tax violation, terrorism or separatism.”
SM: This is rubbish. Nothing of the sort happened. I know all of the police officers.
KT: So is Anuradha Bhasin saying something wrong?
SM: Yes, she is wrong.
KT: The New York Times has printed this.
SM: That doesn’t matter.
KT: But in an interview to me, she also said the same thing.
SM: She knew me she could have phoned me and said the same thing to me. Even at 2:30 in the night I pick up the phone.
KT: She never rang you up to tell you this?
SM: Never, everyone in Kashmir had my number. The only person I did not entertain was Barkha Dutt, but that was for other reasons. Other than that whoever used to call me on the phone, I would answer.
KT: Why did you not entertain Barkha Dutt, she’s a very prominent journalist?
SM: There were local reasons. She was entrenched very deep in Kashmiri politics, so I was worried that no mistake should be committed.
KT: So out of fear that she would get close with someone who is deep in politics, you wouldn’t take the phone from her?
SM: She wanted to come and meet me. I avoided that.
On Ram Madhav and Reliance Insurance
KT: I want to speak about something else that you mentioned in that YouTube interview that you did, because I think it is very important. You spoke about Reliance Insurance wanting to open an insurance scheme in Kashmir. You said that Ram Madhav came to see you at 7 am at your residence to get you to clear it? You also said that you hadn’t even showered by then?
SM: I had [said that], and I don’t even meet people before a shower, but that day I had to meet him.
KT: He came to you at seven in the morning and asked you to clear it and you said, and I am quoting you, “I will not do anything wrong.” What was the wrong thing that he was trying to make you do?
SM: I also got a notice from him.
KT: Yes, it is also in the papers that he sued you for defamation. But that’s just proves that you are a brave man and that won’t put you off, so let’s not worry about that.
SM: Ask him to tell me why he had shown up at the residence, what did he want to talk about? Did he want to talk about murder? One day earlier we had closed the matter and he came back again very early in the morning. He asked me if I had closed the matter on insurance and I said that I had. He asked me if the letter had gone and I said that it had. Then Ram Madhav got upset.
KT: Tell me this, why did you refuse Reliance Insurance permission for starting the insurance scheme that it wanted to in Kashmir?
SM: I had initially passed this scheme but a lot of people asked me to take it back. The first thing that happened was that government employees were really unhappy with the coming of the scheme. That is because all government employees had to pay Rs 8,500 a year for the scheme. Retired officers had to give more than Rs 20,000. So I said in Delhi, under CGHS, we don’t have to pay anything, so why would they pay here? And on top of that, the hospitals that had been listed in the scheme were bad hospitals. None of the hospitals were of national repute. I realised that the hospitals were bad and then good treatment would not be meted out even after taking large amounts. That’s why I told them to do it on CGHS pattern.
KT: Then did Ram Madhav come to meet you in the morning because he wanted you to accept this scheme? He was quite happy with these charges; he was okay with having these bad hospitals involved?
SM: No, he did not ask me to do anything. He just asked me whether I had cancelled it and then whether I had sent the letter. He was upset; I understood what was happening.
KT: You also understood that he wanted you to pass the scheme?
SM: But I had already refused.
KT: But he came to get it passed?
SM: Yes, he had never before visited me.
KT: He wanted to change your mind?
SM: Yes, but no one can. Even if the PM had said I would not have agreed.
KT: But Ram Madhav tried?
On corruption in J&K
KT: That day in the interview you also said that somebody had given you an offer for Rs 300 crore?
SM: I have never said that.
KT: You have in the interview.
SM: No, you are mistaken. I did not say that I was made an offer of Rs 300 crore. Please listen to it carefully. I said that there was discussion in two separate deals, Rs 150 crore each was involved.
KT: What does that mean? How?
SM: It means that it has to be given to someone.
KT: Who is it to be given to?
SM: I am not sure of that but I do know it was to be given to someone. If I had done it, I would have got it.
KT: So that is what I was saying, right? There were two schemes – one was the hydelpower scheme which we haven’t spoken about because I think it went through, and the other was this insurance scheme?
SM: I cancelled them both.
KT: And you got the information from somewhere–
SM: That both these had 150 crore involved each.
KT: 300 in total. And if you had agreed, you would’ve gotten it. So this was a bribe being offered to you.
SM: It was not offered to me. The problem with Kashmir is that the rumours at Lal Chowk become news by the end of the day. Nothing remains hidden there. This was on every man’s tongue.
On Modi and corruption
KT: In the same YouTube interview, you said that when the CBI asked you about these things, and I think I’m quoting you directly, you said, “These are the people of the Prime Minister.” Are you suggesting that in some way Mr Modi is involved?
SM: I meant that all these people are close to him. One is Ambani, second Ram Madhav and the third was Hasib Drabu – every time I met the PM, he would ask if I had met Drabu. After saying I hadn’t several times, one day I called him home.
KT: Hasib Drabu? Who was also the Finance Minister in Mehbooba’s government?
SM: He was in J&K Bank also. He’s a wheeler-dealer. Now he is functioning from Bombay. When he came to see me, he mentioned that you have cancelled the hydel scheme but don’t worry, we will get it passed from somewhere else.
KT: He told you that you have cancelled hydel but he will get it done somehow?
SM: Yes, and then I think he managed to do it anyway. I also informed the PM about the same and told him that I have refused. Then the PM said that you did the right thing.
KT: But when you say that they are the people of the prime minister, and you also give their names and said that they are close to him. Does that also imply that the prime minister is somehow involved?
SM: I can safely say here that the prime minister is not very against corruption and I can say that because I had once told him about Goa corruption and the very next day he called me and told me that my information is wrong. When I asked him for a source, he mentioned someone’s name. And then I said that he [that person] himself was sitting at the house of the chief minister and taking money. The very next month I was transferred from there. How can I believe that he is against corruption?
KT: But you have said something wonderful – you just said that I can safely say the prime minister does not hate corruption.
SM: Yes, and there are many instances to prove the same.
KT: But it is quite surprising that the prime minister does not hate corruption, given that he is placing allegations on the Congress based on corruption and on other parties as well. At every rally he is swearing to end corruption single-handedly, you are suggesting that corruption goes down right under his nose?
SM: Show me one case where it was shut down. I am telling you about two cases where I had complained and nothing came out of them. The cases were 100% correct. You can ask every kid in Goa, what is the chief minister is like?
KT: And since you mentioned corruption in Goa, weren’t you also removed from there in about seven or eight months?
SM: Yes and the people stood outside the Governor’s house and sang songs in my defence. This has never happened for a governor, but there was an entire rally. They walked me out till I reached the plane that they had sent to get me out of Goa.
KT: They were in such a hurry to get you out they sent a special plane to get you?
SM: The reason for that was that the people of Goa started seeing me as one of their own, as somebody who stood up for them.
KT: You were becoming popular?
SM: Of course I was becoming popular. There were a few instances even during the spread of Covid that people thought that I was one of them.
KT: So you are admitting openly that when you told the prime minister that there was corruption in Goa, he transferred you out? Before removing you from Goa, they also removed you from Kashmir where you stayed only 14 months. Was that because of the Reliance Insurance case, because you realised that something wrong was happening there?
SM: No in Kashmir I had to leave because the state had been downgraded. And the post of L-G is several ranks below that of governor. Even if they had asked me to be L-G, I would not have stayed.
KT: So for protocol reasons you were removed from Kashmir, not because of the Reliance Insurance?
SM: That happened later.
KT: But are you absolutely sure? And in Goa—
SM: In the Reliance case he supported me. I went and told him about the proceedings just two days after cancelling and when I told him that I had cancelled, he said that I have done a good thing.
KT: Tell me this, shortly after coming to see you, Ram Madhav was removed as the general secretary of the BJP. Did that have something to do with you and the Reliance case?
SM: No, there were other reasons.
KT: The PM was upset about other things?
KT: But in Goa, since you were speaking about corruption, you were removed – which is why you say that the prime minister does not hate corruption.
KT: But when he mentions corruption in every rally, he says that I have done away with corruption and points fingers while saying that the Congress and regional parties are corrupt. Now this seems like a false claim, because you say that his own people are involved in corruption. Right?
SM: Why do you want me to say it? I have said all that I could.
KT: You are saying it! You know, people will be able to listen to this, so will the government. There is a possibility that it might reach the ears of the Prime Minister.
SM: In an hour, I guess.
KT: Are you worried about that?
SM: I am a fakir, what will they do to me? Send me to jail, I have nothing to lose. I have been to jail quite a few times. In the case of Kashmir I had strict instructions not say anything, in Goa I was told that if you ever speak about Kashmir again, I will never meet you.
KT: But today you have spoken about Kashmir quite openly?
SM: Why shouldn’t I? You’ll be shocked to discover that Kashmir’s advisory board had written that I had got a serious threat from Pakistan and should be given a house and Z+ security.
KT: And were you?
SM: I have one soldier.
KT: And the house?
SM: Not at all. I live in a rented house.
KT: So this means as someone who was governor to Kashmir when Article 370 was abrogated, you had a very high threat from Pakistan but the government has given you no security? Isn’t that careless of them?
SM: The government itself kills.
KT: And after this this testimony, the government’s hatred towards you will increase because you have openly said that Mr Modi does not hate corruption. He will be angry.
SM: He can be angry, facts are facts.
On Satya Pal Malik’s new book
KT: Okay, I had said in the introduction that you are writing a book about Kashmir and the 14 months you had spent there as governor. I will ask you about the book what I had asked at the start of the interview. Will you reveal the truth, the full truth and as much of the truth as possible?
SM: Please rest assured. I was two years old when my father died. I have grown from the ground up on my own, and I don’t lie unless someone has a knife to my throat.
KT: The book is all true, then?
SM: Whatever is necessary, I will reveal it all.
KT: Will you not conceal anything?
SM: I am saying nothing wrong or anti-national. The country won’t suffer.
Modi is ‘ill-informed’
KT: Okay, let’s go a little further. We have spoken about Kashmir, I want to speak to you about a few more things. In January, 2022, at a function in Dadri, Haryana, you spoke about a meeting with the PM when the farmers’ agitation was on. You said that you ended up fighting with him in five minutes because he was being very proud. After that, you met Amit Shah who told you that “Satyapal, people have attacked his brain.” So, I want to ask you that, what is your opinion on Narendra Modi?
SM: Look, I don’t have the opinion of him that the whole world does. There are a lot of things. Whenever I meet him, I realise he is an ill-informed person. He was no knowledge.
SM: Ill-informed. About Kashmir, for instance, whenever we have spoken, he has no information. I once told him, for example, that the Jamaat is the real problem of Kashmir. He asked me to submit a note and I submitted a 20-page-long note, which he did not act on. Amit Shah acted on that, and is doing so even now. The Jamaat is powerful, it has 20% of our officers.
KT: And our PM, who presents himself as well informed and knowledgable, you are saying he is not?
SM: Of course he is ill informed. I still think he doesn’t know a lot of things.
KT: Ill-informed means ignorant.
SM: That means he’s busy with himself, to hell with everything else.
KT: That’s his attitude?
KT: Tell me more?
SM: He doesn’t know about any real problem in Kashmir. He didn’t even understand how the Hurriyat could be operating there. I gave an interview as soon as I reached there to The Indian Express in which I said not all of Kashmir’s problems are created by Kashmiris – 50% are created by Delhi. The Hurriyat chief said that the governor is 50% right, and so I asked him to say something 50% right.
KT: But you said something very interesting, that when it comes to Kashmir, he is ignorant and ill-informed. You must have found that out in 2018 when you became governor, By that time, Modi had been prime minister for four years and he remained ignorant about Kashmir?
SM: 100% ill-informed.
KT: Okay, this is your first testimony. Tell us more?
SM: Mufti Sayeed’s deputy CM, Muzaffar Baig, was coming to meet me one day. And he got a little late so I asked him how. He said Gilani had called and asked where he was going, so he said to meet the governor. Then he said, this governor is one of a kind, a deal is possible.
KT: Gilani said this? About you?
SM: Yes, today he’s not alive anymore.
KT: Yes yes and he was the most pro-Pakistan of all the leaders.
SM: Yes and he said that is because when he talks he puts his heart on his sleeve, never speaks of violence or conflict.
KT: So what is your point?
SM: The point is that if we play fair in Kashmir, hold free elections, things will get better. Our conflict caters to disbelief.
KT: And if Gilani, who was the most pro Pakistan, had faith in you then you could have been used to do some negotiations and solve things.
SM: I gave the PM the impression that things could be solved. But they were not interested. I supported a football team there. Gave them a crore and got another crore from a bank. The Hurriyat boys went to watch the match because I believe that if they don’t pick up a ball, they will pick up a stone. So I identified sports everywhere.
KT: Tell me this sir, a PM who is ill-informed about Kashmir brought about the biggest change in Kashmir that has ever happened. And he did it in ignorance.
SM: No, not in ignorance. That was his agenda he was implementing.
KT: But was this agenda necessary?
SM: For him.
KT: No, what do you think, since you have a good understanding of Kashmir?
SM: I don’t condemn the removal of the 370 but I would never have downgraded the state, because that is what hurts the Kashmiris the most.
KT: What about post the abrogation? Has there been more that Delhi has managed to do wrong?
SM: But that is what. They don’t care. There is no initiative on the part of the people to take care. They play golf and have fun. The PM was only there when we had once had a flood.
KT: That was in 2014. But I am speaking of post 2019. Should they be holding an election or should they be restoring statehood? Are those important?
SM: They have promised statehood in the house but I don’t think the PM will do that.
KT: Is that a mistake? Should they do it?
KT: Before the elections?
SM: Yes, why not? If you want people to have faith, you won’t hold municipality elections. Have state elections, give them an assembly.
KT: So you think they should restore statehood?
SM: Yes, as they promised.
KT: And hold elections as quickly as they can?
KT: The delay is another mistake?
SM: Not a mistake, it’s their own agenda. I could be different.
On the alienation of Muslims
KT: I want to talk to you about 3-4 more things about the Prime Minister. Let’s first talk about the fact that him and his ministers are constantly taunting Muslims. That call them sons of Babur, Yogi Ji always calls them “Abba Jaan”, Amit Shah used to call them termites and tell them to go to Pakistan. The PM does the same. In fact he had once said Qabristaan or Shamshaan. Is that proper?
SM: We cannot survive without the Muslims. They’re a good community. We need to win them over.
KT: Have you ever discussed this with the PM?
SM: I have always had the conviction, but you can’t make a horse drink. Your interview’s fallout will tell you more.
KT: So this treatment of Muslims is a mistake?
SM: It’s a wrong thing for anyone to alienate such a vast majority of people. You can’t throw them out. Stay with them with love.
On the BBC documentary
KT: When it came to the BBC documentary, the PM forced social media to take it down. Three weeks later there were tax raid on BBC offices and as we are speaking the ED is investigating the BBC for FEMA violations. Is this the right thing to do for the PM of a democracy?
SM: For him, it maybe. In my eyes it was wrong. In fact more people ended up watching it now. They should not place restrictions. And BBC is very well reputed. In villages, people still listen to and believe the BBC.
KT: Second thing, he says very proudly that India is the biggest democracy. In fact, these days he says it’s the mother of democracy, forgetting Greece. Should the prime minster of the mother of democracy treat the media this way?
SM: Now that’s his value system. I wouldn’t do it. It’s wrong.
KT: Let’s come to Adani scandal. The Adani scandal is the worst scandal that has hit the stock market in the history of our country. It has never happened before. And the PM is absolutely silent on the subject. Is he handling the scandal properly?
SM: No, not at all. If I was in his place, I would have cut off any links with Adani on the first day, because a lot of damage has been done. In fact, I was listening to this song by this Dalit girl, Prabhavi Maurya, who speaks of him [Modi] and says that he doesn’t sell tea or cows, he’s just related to the billionaires and has sold the country. If this language has seeped into the local dialect, then assess the damage yourself.
KT: In 1989, V.P. Singh defeated Rajiv Gandhi by turning Bofors into an election issue. Do you think Adani can become an election issue?
SM: Certainly it is. Adani can finish them. If the opposition gives them a one-to-one fight, they won’t be able to win, Adani will finish them. To the extent that they won’t even be considered an opposition, that’s how few votes they’ll get.
KT: Do you think he’s treading a dangerous line?
SM: Yes. I don’t know if anyone advises him. I am doing it, please let Adani go. He should call me one day and let me help him.
KT: These allegations that Rahul Gandhi is placing about the Rs 20,000 crore—
SM: He’s unable to answer them.
KT: —what do you think? Do people believe there is Modi involvement?
SM: People have started believing that he is interested in Adani’s financial involvement.
KT: If he has interest, then he can have profit, and if profit then also money.
SM: Very possibly. The ministers are all corrupt. So where is the money finally going? Possibly to Adani.
KT: Again with corruption and how he doesn’t hate it when it came to Goa and now he stands to gain.
SM: He couldn’t answer a single question about Adani in his parliament.
KT: He’ll be very angry with you, please remember.
SM: He can’t touch me. People like me more, I have a strong community. Especially after solidarity with farmers, if they touch me, they won’t be able to have a public meeting. I have nothing to lose and no fear.
On Rahul Gandhi and the president
KT: I just want to ask you about Rahul Gandhi before I close. He wanted to speak in the parliament—
SM: Never had something so wrong happened in a parliamentary democracy, by not letting him speak. I don’t want to condemn the speaker, but it was wrong. When the parliament meets, this should be taken up.
KT: Was this a decision by the speaker or to the speaker?
SM: Even the President’s appointment list is cleared by the PMO, so who’s to say?
KT: She can’t meet anyone she wants? So she’s a puppet of the PM?
KT: But this is disrespectful to the highest person in the country.
KT: Tell me about Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification which happened in 24 hours when in 2016 a BJP MP was given 16 days [after a conviction and sentence].
SM: They have become very uncomfortable about Rahul Gandhi because he’s been saying very relevant things of late. Adani is the correct thing he’s caught on.
KT: Is the government scared of Rahul Gandhi?
SM: They aren’t scared, they just can’t answer his questions. There’s a discomfort.
KT: You have your finger on the pulse of the country. How did people view Rahul Gandhi today?
SM: I don’t understand the country, but people like him after the Yatra because he’s more respected. People like him now. He attacked the “rich” ideas, walked 3500 kms and met the people. When he came to Srinagar, they all came out to see him and he spoke in snowfall without an umbrella.
KT: In the YouTube interview you have also said that governors should be picked after consulting the opposition.
SM: There should be a system like that.
KT: You’ve also said that governors should be chosen in a way similar to how the Supreme Court wants elections commissioners to be chosen. A decision of the collegium.
SM: Exactly. Third class kind of people are becoming governors. Our systems are deteriorating. No central university VCs are chosen outside of the Sangh and perhaps do not even have qualifications to become a college principal. He helped out with that in Kashmir, I will commend him on that. About the Dadri thing, too, I would like to retract my statement about Amit Shah because he did not say that to me but he was arrogant.
KT: So you said something wrong?
KT: I just want to confirm some things you’ve said about the PM. He’s ignorant and ill informed about Kashmir. He doesn’t know the situation. You stand by that? You won’t withdraw it?
SM: I will never withdraw it.
KT: And also about the fact that he doesn’t hate corruption and his own people are engaging in it.
SM: I stand by that.
KT: He will be furious with you.
SM: I have nothing to lose.
KT: Satya Pal Malik sir, I thank you for this interview.
Courtesy The Wire