NEW DELHI/ SRINAGAR: A political storm seems to be brewing in Jammu and Kashmir after Governor Satya Pal Malik decided to dissolve the state assembly paving the way for fresh elections. To the point where at a meeting in Jammu today he followed his earlier remarks, which have become the subject of intense speculation in both Srinagar and Delhi, with "As long as I'm here - it's not in my hands - I don't know when I will be transferred from here. I will not lose my job but the threat of transfer is there. As long as I'm here, I assure you people that whenever you call me I will come here to pay my tributes.”

Significantly, the Governor was speaking at a function to mark the death anniversary of Girdhari Lal Dogra, a legendary Congress leader.

Earlier in Gwalior Governor Malik, a socialist and former Minister in the Janata Dal government, had said, “Delhi ki taraf dekhta toh muje Lone ki sarkar banani padhti aur mein ithihas mein ek bayiman aadmi ke tor pe jata..." (Had I looked to Delhi, I would have had to install a government led by Lone, and history would have remembered me as a dishonest man).

Governor Malik made these remarks at an academic conclave at the ITM University in Gwalior on Saturday. And set off a political storm that has still not abated, in Srinagar and New Delhi.

In this one remark the Governor established that:

1. New Delhi wanted him to install Sajjad Lone as the Chief Minister

2. That he did not approve of the horsetrading and decided against it, as it would have established him as a “dishonest man”, and

3. By keeping silent about the Peoples Democratic Party’s effort to form the government with the National Conference and the Congress, made it apparent that his decision to dissolve the assembly was because of Sajjad Lone, and not the opposition in the state.

In the process the Governor seemed to have won the hearts of Kashmir’s mainstream players. “My compliments to Governor Malik for not looking to Delhi & for not taking their instructions thereby stopping the installation of a government of the BJP & it’s proxies formed by horse trading, defections & use of money,” Omar Abdullah, former chief minister said on Twitter.

“I really don’t know what to make of Governor Sb revelations in Gwalior. We know the BJP & it’s proxies were desperate to form a government through horse trading & use of money but we’ve also never known a politically appointed governor going against the wishes of the centre,” he said in another tweet.

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose party was facing the prospects of a vertical split, also complimented the Governor, “Leaving aside the fax machine fiasco, good to see that governor Sb refused to take dictation from Delhi, rather opted for dissolution of assembly. This could be unprecedented, given the story of democracy in the state,” she wrote on Twitter.

The remarks have led to intense speculation in Delhi strategic circles, as the Governor is seen as a Prime Minister's Office appointee with Kashmir policy being determined by PM Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. After his appointment Satya Pal Malik had told former political colleagues that he had the full support of the PM, and had been given the mandate to “bring back normalcy”.

But the direct attack on “Delhi” now seems to have created confusion in strategic circles, setting off much debate on what the Governor meant. Sources said that he did not mean the PM and the government, but was referring to the BJP. The political party was not keen for a dissolution of the assembly, said the sources, but could not satisfactorily answer the question: Isn't it the PM’s writ running in Kashmir; where does the BJP come in?

Besides, the one person the PMO had in the Valley, Sajad Lone to do its bidding with more support than the BJP, has been cut to size by the Governor’s remarks. What was earlier just speculation, that he was acting at the behest of Delhi, has been confirmed by no less a person than the Governor of the state. Along with the fact that Lone's effort to form a government through horsetrading was serious, and had New Delhi’s sanction, but the Governor saw it as dishonest and hence dissolved the assembly.

A visibly peeved Lone responded to the media with, “The Governor can't rip me apart in the media, his remarks were disrespectful. It is not good that you go on TV and portray every Kashmiri as corrupt. We won't take it. It was a very disdainful, disrespectful characterization of Kashmiris.”

But several questions arise which might be answered with developments in the coming weeks:

If Lone was acting at the behest of the PM, is the Governor playing into perceived PMO vs RSS (section) politics?

Is the Governor really acting on his own, as his second remark in Jammu today about the threat of transfer seems to suggest?

A die hard socialist, is he looking beyond 2019?

If indeed acting on his own he will be transferred, as he suggested. If not, then his actions could well indicate a shift in strategy with the PMO clearly poised to change tack. Eitherways the next political step by Governor Satya Pal Malik or New Delhi will provide some answers to the questions that have suddenly been thrown into the Kashmir ring.

(Cover photograph: Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik pays tribute to former minister and Congressman Girdhari Lal Dogra on his death anniversary, in Jammu.)