SEEMA MUSTAFA | 14 NOVEMBER, 2017
NN Vohra: Bureaucrat For All Seasons
Vohra has avoided trouble by staying out of the public eye
NEW DELHI: Jammu and Kashmir Governor Narinder Nath Vohra, 81, is no ordinary bureaucrat. And certainly not a flash in the pan for governments looking for retired officials as unlike many of his colleagues who have also found re-instatement after retirement, he has out-stayed them all. And not as one on the periphery, but as one with fingers in several important, high profile pies so to say.
Look at all that he has done. He was with the IAS from 1959 till 1994. He retired to become the principal secretary to Janata Dal Prime Minister I.K.Gujral for a year (1997-98). Short as the Gujral government’s tenure too was short. Under BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Vohra became a member of the National Security Advisory Board for three years till 2001 and received the Padma Vibhushan under Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2007.
He was appointed interlocutor for Kashmir by Vajpayee in 2003, and continued under Manmohan Singh in the same position till 2007. And then went on to become the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir in 2008 and has been there since, surviving the Congress at the centre, and the National Conference to work equally closely with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the centre, and emerge as a sort of mentor for Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
In another bureaucrat this singular achievement of surviving all seasons, or rather thriving in all seasons, would have been attributed by the ruling elite of Delhi to sycophancy, abject servility. But these adjectives do not attack them selve to Vohra whose Oxford upbringing keeps him soft spoken, sharp in assessment, and not overly fawning. At the same time being the archetypal bureaucrat of few words, and deadpan face, he does not offend any political leader---be they as varied as Gujral and Modi--- and convinces them instead of his integrity and honesty that he has an abundance of.
Vohra has avoided trouble by staying out of the public eye. He meets select members of the media, does not give interviews, makes no television appearances and yet gives the impression of keeping his doors fairly widely open. There is no political leader in Jammu and Kashmir who has not met him, and come back “satisfied” with the discussions. In that highly sensitive state where brother does not hesitate to point finger at brother, Vohra has remained out of controversy with not a single political leader raising a finger at him. Not even the separatists who might not have met him but claim quite openly to have “respect” for the Governor who no one has been able to replace.
PM Modi for whom Jammu and Kashmir is a mission was expected to axe Vohra as soon as he came in. This did not happen. It will, said the experts, the Prime Minister is looking for a suitable alternative. And so while many ---from academics, to bureaucrats, to retired generals lined up---for the position, Vohra stayed. And now even talk of his going has completely subsided as he seems to have the year of all in government with the BJP motor mouths on Kashmir, remarkably restrained where this Governor is concerned. Even for this dispensation, Vohra can seemingly do no wrong.
And Vohra’s clout does not remain confined to Jammu and Kashmir. Despite being in Srinagar he is more than active in circles that matter. The quiet and calm official who helps institutions sail out of trouble. Like the Tribune newspaper, where the Trust had twisted its knickers under chairman Justice (retired) S.S.Sodhi in just these few weeks. Sodhi reportedly took decisions without consulting all members of the Tribune Trust, which then quietly asked him to leave.
And who has replaced Justice Sodhi? NN Vohra of course who now heads this all powerful Trust that runs the Tribune newspaper. And from all accounts he is here to stay, with the members relieved that the Trust is in competent hands. So he will be at the helm in selecting the editor to replace current Harish Khare.
Just before this, Vohra bailed out Delhi’s prestigious India India International Centre. Never too far from it, like all bureaucrats, the Governor is now the president of cultural hub replacing again a person from the judicial field, eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee in what was described by insiders as an “intense power struggle.” This is an important Centre, as the members are a litany of Who’s Who of the ruling and associated establishment, with the waiting queue of equally eminent persons giving it a high position in Delhi’s charmed circle.
Scribes often discuss the secret of this bureaucrat’s success, that has kept him at the centre of all powers.Not servility but a chameleon like tendency to adapt, and do the political masters bidding like the traditional bureaucrat? Or a ‘Yes Minister’ approach where his intellect allows him free play without the politician even quite realising it? Coupled with an understanding of the politicians psyche, and the patience to wait it out as and when required?
But perhaps the biggest takeaway for Vohra when he finally decides to call it a day---of which of course there is no sign as both the last positions were secured this year within months of each other---is that he has earned respect for a career not seen to have been pushed ahead with hands permanently folded. In fact quite the opposite.