Three men can successfully claim credit for the defeat of the Congress government and the rise of Vishwanath Pratap Singh and the Janata Dal. A strange combination with little in common amongst the three (actually the four if one includes VP Singh) except a certain aggressiveness, an ability to think out of the box, an intelligence or rather political shrewdness, and a determination and ambition that outclassed all others in the political field at the time.

They were all in the Congress party before they left it to form the Jan Morcha. They worked overnight to move it into a mass movement against corruption, using the Bofors scandal as the pivot. While some can be tempted to compare the Anna Hazare and Kejriwal led movement against corruption decades later to the Jan Morcha, it has to be pointed out that this is a bad comparison by any standards. The charisma and the finesse of the Jan Morcha and its anti-corruption stir was at another level together. Indians watched the first real challenge to the Congress party since independence (except the brief lacklustre Janata experiment) and the youth jumped on to the Morcha bandwagon to embrace novel ideas such as motorcycle rallies.

The initial years had Malik, Khan and Nehru working well together. Despite being strong and assertive personalities they had brought in a working equation that moved the Jan Morcha into the Janata Dal and for a while there was no looking back. They were Ministers in the first Cabinet, with their political clout exceeding their government positions. Satyapal Malik was the quietest amongst them, a Lohia socialist who took pride in his background, and always said he was a socialist in the Congress. Just as VP Singh maintained till his last days, that he was a Congressman at heart, and would never be anything else. Nehru came from the corporate sector and for him the political arena was a big playing field where he could exercise his administrative skills, and overturn the traditional political applecart. Arif Mohammad Khan stood more in Nehru’s limelight, the implementer of ideas as it were.

Malik is a loyal friend, a man of few words, and his silences were always evocative. More so as he did not hesitate to share his views and information, so when he remained silent in response to a question one knew that there was more to it, but he was not willing to share the information at that moment. He prided himself on being a farmers leader, was close to and worked with Charan Singh and the Lok Dal, but over the years lost this base as his defeat in Lok Sabha elections showed.

Malik is not a coward. But he is not a crusader either, at least not a crusader without a political motive. After the Janata Dal collapsed under its own weight (or rather lack of it) Malik was unable to find his feet politically, and floundered for a while.

In 2004 he joined the BJP, a quiet entrant who was appointed the Vice President of the Uttar Pradesh BJP where he had little to contribute. Eventually he came to the centre in 2012 as the National Vice President of the party and when Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister he was reconfirmed in the same post.

Political fortunes took an upward turn when he was sent as Governor to Bihar, with the additional charge of Orissa in 2017. And within a year moved to the sensitive and spotlight trained post of Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. At that time it was reported that he had been in school with National S~ecurity Advisor Ajit Doval who had a hand in this appointment.He was shifted out to Goa as Governor, and then to Meghalaya in the north east. He started speaking out from Meghalaya, taking a strong stand from the public platform for the farmers.

He does not have the support in western UP as he did before, and while he spoke out for the farmers movement in very clear words as the Governor of Meghalaya he has not been able to regain the full trust. At least reports from the ground seem to suggest that. He has said in the interview with Karan Thapar that the farmers are behind him, and he is not scared, because no one can dare touch him because of this support. Of course he has tried to get back the constituency, and came out strongly in their support during their protest.

Malik has been attacking the central government since 2021 when he was in office as the Governor of Meghalaya. He came out in strong support of the farmers movement, warning the government repeatedly, and taking the people's side. He started addressing rallies of farmers, including the Jat community. He said that the farmers would wage a “fierce battle” if the government did not meet their demands. And he also claimed that he had met Prime Minister Modi and warned him of the same, and when the latter said that the dharna would end on its own,"I said that they (farmers) will go only after you (PM) are gone.”

The statements were strong, but there was no reprisal from the big guns. He was having an impact amongst the beleaguered kisan community, but even so there was no response from the government that is known to take action for far less offense. Reporters started speculating about protection for Malik, but except for the Doval connection, little emerged. And all were agreed that Doval himself did not have the clout to protect Malik if the top leaders were determined to take action.

Clearly they were not. Malik did not get another Governorship of course, and is now as he told Thapar, living in a rented accommodation with “one sipahi” to protect him. And that too after he is entitled to Z level security as the Governor who presided over the monumental changes to the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. He has emerged from retirement now with the interview to Thapar, following it with another to Ravish Kumar who also has a big following on YouTube.

Prime Minister and Kashmir: Malik is not happy with the PM. And did not miss a question to point out that PM Modi was not well informed about Kashmir, that he acted from the position of ignorance (a question from Thapar that he did not deny), and had “no jankari” about what was going on. “Mast hein apne mein”, he said.

There are discrepancies in his account on Kashmir, and insistence that he had no idea that Article 370 would be abrogated and Kashmir “demoted” to a Union Territory. But he admitted that yes he did know broadly that this would happen but he was not informed that it was going to be done when it was. Then he said he got a call Feb 3 night from the center to get a letter signed at a meeting in the morning, but did not give details about that, but clearly it was an enabling directive. And that he was totally in support of the abrogation of Article 370 but would not have agreed to changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir had New Delhi consulted him. But then he went on later in the interview to say that the reason for making Kashmir a UT was really because the central government was worried about a police mutiny, and wanted to bring it under New Delhi’s control. And that he had told them that this would not happen, that “a dog would not bark” but they were not sure about that. So clearly this had been discussed and in detail where he was consulted, but the centre did not agree with his assessment about the police reactions.

Interestingly, Malik insisted in response to a specific question, that there had been no action against journalists in Kashmir. That not even one had complained to him, that there were regular interactions between the state and the journalists, and they had not been arrested, or threatened, or intimidated. He went to the extent of saying that well known Kashmir journalist Anuradha Bhasin who has written on this in an article in the New York Times was “wrong.” So the transparency clearly did extend to cover the harassment of journalists in Kashmir. As for the shutdown of internet services, he said, this was done not against the local journalists but to prevent Pakistan from misusing it !

Prime Minister and Corruption: Here Malik is more scathing. He reiterated his earlier references to a PM cabal of Ambani, Hasib Darabu and Ram Madhav. He spoke of the Darabu and Reliance connection, saying the former had come with a request for the latter, he had refused and informed the PM who had said “theek kiya” But that this changed in Goa, when as Governor he had informed the PM of a specific person operating on behalf of the Chief Minister, and he was told that he was wrong, and shunted out in record speed, in a decrepit Air Force airplane. He basically said that he had given two specific examples of corruption to the PM but no action had been taken and so he could say, “pradhan mantri ji ko corruption se bahut nafrat nahi hai.”

He spoke of Adani and how this issue could sink the BJP in the 2024 elections unless the government made amends. Asked if the PM was close to Adani he laughed and asked Thapar not to make him answer this. But said that Adani was bad news for the BJP and the party would lose badly in the general elections.

Rahul Gandhi: Malik defended the Congress leader saying he should have been allowed to speak in Parliament and this was a wrong step taken. He said that Rahul Gandhi’s stock had risen considerably amongst the people after the Bharat Jodo Yatra. High praise indeed from a political leader who has made no secret of his dislike for the Congress party and the Family.

Malik did speak out against the RSS, saying that all Vice Chancellors being appointed were RSS nominees. And that he had been approached as Governor of J&K and had informed the PM who had been supportive.

There was a clear relationship between PM Modi and Malik from his own statements, with frequent meetings, and regular interactions during the initial years. Malik had access and as he has said in the interview he would inform the PM of his meetings and views and keep him in the loop. This started deteriorating after Malik was removed from Goa, and from then on the doors started closing. His support for the farmers clinched the break up although even then he had some access and was able to discuss the issue with the PM according to him. Malik said that he was asked to stop talking about Kashmir and Pulwama earlier by PM Modi, who said he would stop meeting him if he continued. He did and has not said much about Pulwama for several months now.Corruption, if Malik’s version is true, came as the deal breaker instead.

Perhaps the only political senior who did not come in Malik’s firing line was Union Home Minister Amit Shah. His references about botched action in Pulwama took the Home Ministry to task, but the Minister then was Rajnath Singh. He in fact intervened to say that he was retracting an earlier statement where he had attributed a remark to Shah slightly derisively of the PM. He did not say it was not said, but insisted that he was retracting it. Significantly, he said that Shah was for statehood for Jammu and Kashmir “but I do not think the Prime Minister will agree.”

All in all a very interesting interview as it was deliberate and clear cut. Malik wanted to get all he said out in the public domain and the question being asked at least by serious journalists is Why? He is not one to stand there and take a bullet in the chest, and has a long political innings where he has refused to speak to the media about sensitive issues. Why now? He has spoken of reprisal saying he is prepared for it, but adding that there was little they could do to him. “I am a fakir” he repeated twice. He also said they could jail him if they wanted, he had been to jail many times, but added that they would not find it easy to touch him as the farmers were standing behind him.

The story is not over. Watch this space for more.