THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 6 JANUARY, 2019
“Forgive me but these people for me are like rotten potatoes”
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik who has survived his own prediction of being ‘transferred’ is clearly not enamoured of big industry. And the murmurs in Srinagar, and of course Delhi where he is well known, are about his aversion for industrialists and families who he and his erstwhile socialist colleagues often held responsible for exploiting the country’s assets without giving back in return.
The Governor raised some eyebrows when shortly after taking over office he decided to scrap the controversial Group Mediclaim Health Insurance Scheme for state employees, with the contract having been awarded to a private Insurance company as reported by the media in some detail. The company is owned by a powerful industrialist company.
In an interview to the media at the time Governor Malik confirmed what the Opposition had been alleging. He said that the contract had been cancelled as it was “full of fraud” and its implementation was erroneous. He further said that the tenders for the contract were opened “secretly on a holiday to suit a particular company.” The scheme was rolled out in September and criticised by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah who has asked for a probe and action against the guilty as “the sums of money involved are too big for this to have been a straightforward mistake.”
Significantly, the scheme had been made mandatory for government employees, autonomous bodies and universities and optional for pensioners, journalists and some others in Jammu and Kashmir. This had been challenged in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court as well.
The Insurance company had then issued a statement claiming that the company won the contract after a “rigorous and transparent competitive tender process”.
In December, just two weeks ago Governor Malik hit a googly, again quite unexpectedly, when he strongly criticised one of the richest and most powerful industrialists of India, incidentally from the same grouping and the same family as the above. Both brothers. The Governor regretted “one of the richest men in the country has spent Rs. 700 crore in his daughter’s marriage but donated nothing for charity". He was speaking at a function to mark the Flag Day celebrations in Jammu, a high profile event attended by the Army top brass in the state, as well as officials and political leaders.
Governor Malik said, amidst loud applause, that if the said industrialist had donated this amount to Jammu and Kashmir instead of spending it for his daughter’s marriage, it would have opened 700 schools for the border state, or conversely benefit 7000 widows of the slain Army personnel. He started innocuously enough, blaming the ‘netas’ and bureaucrats of Jammu and Kashmir for amassing wealth. And that they have no sensitivity towards society, they do not give a penny to charity. And then moved on without a change in tone to speak of the country’s biggest industrialist who had spent Rs 700 crores on his daughters wedding. He said that industrialists in other parts of the world always give to charity, and cited specifically the “Microsoft owner” who gives 99 per cent of his wealth to charity.
And the Governor went on to add that when this particular industrialist wsd asked by a reporter whether he donated to charity he said, no I don’t do charity because I increase the wealth of the country. “You Increase the wealth so that you can spend Rs 700 crores on your daughters wedding. In that 700 crores, 700 High Schools can be opened in Jammu and Kashmir. (loud applause) in that 700 crores 7000 of our widows can be assisted to raise their children,” he said.
“But no, no that sensitivity is not there, but these are just a handful of men at the top. Forgive me, do not mind my saying that, but I regard them as rotten potatoes (sarha hua aalu) not as human beings even,” Governor Malik added.
And went on to further point out, “our samaj is not made of them, it is made of kisans in the field, babus in the offices, workers in the factories, jawans at the borders…..we should remember our army and our defence services…”
These words from the Governor are not seen as unusual by those who know him well in the socialist circle he still keeps in close contact with. As an erstwhile political colleague of his said, “I am glad he is speaking what he believes and would have been surprised had he not.” For many in the media and Jammu and Kashmir in particular Governor Satyapal Malik remains fairly unknown, as it has been a while since he was in the public limelights as a politician of some significance. In the 1980s and 1990s Satyapal Malik was a force to reckon with, a strong socialist and farmer leader of western Uttar Pradesh who formed the Jan Morcha with former Finance Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh, old Rajiv Gandhi friend-turned-politician-turned Congress Minister-turned dissenter Arun Nehru, and well known Congress-turned dissenter-BJP leader Arif Mohammad Khan.
The group led the Bofors battle against the then Prime Minister, formed the Janata Dal and brought down the well ensconced Congress government to form a coalition of regional parties with VP Singh as the Prime Minister. Those were heady days, with the Governor in the midst of a movement ruled by the socialists who sprung to power in the Hindi heartland as well. Like the others Governor Malik is from the Ram Manohar Lohia school of thought and as he once told this reporter, “I will live and die a socialist.”