NEW DELHI: President Ram Nath Kovind has appointed Satya Pal Malik as the new Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, finally bringing an end to the long innings of N.N.Vohra. Malik was earlier the Governor of Bihar.

A member of the Janata Dal Malik has emerged as a surprise choice for Jammu and Kashmir, and is a contradiction to speculation that the government would prefer a RSS member at the helm. He is in fact a socialist, and as he said at his alma mater Meerut College just last year when he visied as Governor of Bihar, he would always prefer to be remembered as a socialist. Interestingly, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval who is handling Jammu and Kashmir was also a law student at the same Meerut College, a connection that often counts in politics. This was a fact disclosed incidentally by Malik during his visit to the college. There is no mention of it in Doval’s published profiles, however.

Malik was an erstwhile member of the Janata Dal, being part of the Jan Morcha that led to its formation and victory in the elections. Former Prime Minister V.P.Singh formed the Jan Morcha after he left the Congress party in 1987 along with Together with Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammed Khan, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Vidya Charan Shukla, Ram Dhan, Raj Kumar Rai and Satyapal Malik. They were instrumental in forming the Janata Dal and bringing the party to victory.

He has good relations with the mainstream politicians of Jammu and Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah, and because of Mufit Mohammad Sayeed with his daughter Mehbooba. This will count for a great deal in Jammu and Kashmir and will make it easier for Malik to step into Vohra’s shoes.

Malik was the kisan face of the Jan Morcha having been earlier with Charan Singh’s Lok Dal that he joined in 1974. He was elected MLA to the UP Assembly at that time. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha twice subsequently, 1980 as the Lok Dal candidate, and in 1986 as the Congress candidate. He was disqualified from teh Rajya Sabha when he started attending VP Singh’s Jan Morcha meetings, and later became the Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in Singh’s Council of Ministers.

Malik was the last to hold out, in his colleague Arif Mohammad Khan took the BJP plunge much earlier. He finally joined the BJP in 2004, almost apologetically at the time, finding himself with no political space.His relations with Ajit Singh, Charan Singh’s son, were non-existent and became worse when he contested the elections against him from Baghpat, Malik lost. To be fair Malik was not interested in any of the political parties, and finally decided to cross the fence and join the BJP. “Where else could I have gone, and it is not as bad as you think, we at least have a say,” he had told this writer at the time.

Cordial, accessible Malik was always a reporters delight sharing stories and news. However, after a few years in the BJP he did appear more closed, and as his old socialist friends would say “more reticent.” He is more socialist, belonging to the Ram Manohar Lohia school. Socialism is a passion with Malik who has never bothered, or been able, to hide this fact. His associations remain with old socialists spread across different political parties, although his relations with Mulayam Singh Yadav have never been good because of VP Singh. Malik was in the inner circle and a close confidante of the late Prime Minister under whose watch LK Advani’s rath yatra was stopped and the Mandal Commission implemented.

Interestingly as Bihar Governor Malik shot off letters on the Muzaffarpur shelter home scandal to both Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Union Minister of Law Ravi Shankar Prasad asking for a high level probe into what he described as a “heartending” incident. He suggested measures to prevent such measures, but praised the state government for “quick” action. He, however, wantedthe implementation of the recommendations of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), a line different from that of the political establishment. He has always shown an independence of spirit, being one of the frank voices in Janata Dal meetings. What do I have to lose, he would say with a smile insisting that to call a spade a spade worked well for the party (JD).

Satya Pal Malik was appointed as Bihar Governor only a year ago under the Modi government. A jump up from the party’s kisan cell. He will be the first career politician to be J&K Governor in 51 years, the last being Dr Karan Singh. Will he be a dove or a hawk? It will be safe to presume that he will follow instructions from Delhi, being close to Doval. Does this mean the government plans on dialogue? Not necessarily, as Malik can be as hard or as soft as required by those pulling the strings. What will be bring to the table? He is a sharp, astute politicians and his feedback will be invaluable for Delhi. Will he herald peace? No not if he is not asked to. But he could resign if push became shove. Unless of course, he has changed dramatically.