New Delhi: Call him a governor with a difference. At a time when governors of many states have been accused of being partisan to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik, has the Centre in a bind for his uncanny ability to court controversies.
From claiming that he was offered a Rs 300 crore bribe to clear files belonging to “Ambani” and an “RSS-linked man” while the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, to openly supporting the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the Modi government’s new farm laws, and making allegations of corruption against the BJP-led government in Goa, Malik’s public statements have been grabbing eyeballs.
The Raj Bhavan in Shillong is the fourth one he has occupied in the past four years — the fifth if one counts the additional charge of Odisha, which he had for a few months in 2018.
Malik started his gubernatorial stint from the Raj Bhavan in Patna (where he stayed between September 2017 and August 2018), before moving to Srinagar (August 2018 to October 2019) — during the eventful period of abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s ‘special status’ and its bifurcation into the two union territories of J&K and Ladakh. He was then made Governor of Goa (November 2019-August 2020), before moving to Shillong as Governor of Meghalaya in August last year.
So, what is it about Malik that keeps getting him shifted from one Raj Bhavan to another?
To begin with, his irrepressible nature. He doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind and his old associates vouch for his oratorical skill.
“He is senior to me, I consider him to be a bade bhaiya (elder brother). I remember travelling 55 km to hear him speak at Meerut once (when Malik was a student leader there). Even back then he spoke frankly and without any reservation. But he was always very polite to everyone. I would say he was a better speaker then,” said Harinder Singh Malik, a Lok Dal leader.
Satya Pal Malik started as a student leader in Meerut University and also made his mark as a speaker there. He went on to become an MLA in UP in 1974 and was twice made a member of the Rajya Sabha between 1980 and 1989. Between 1989 and 1991, he represented Aligarh in the Lok Sabha.
It’s difficult to box him politically or ideologically. A self-proclaimed Lohia-ite (follower of Ram Manohar Lohia), he has changed his party allegiance many times — from Lok Dal to the Congress, the Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, and then, finally, the BJP. A close friend of late politician Arun Nehru, he resigned from the Congress during the Bofors scandal in the 1980s. The 75-year old Jat leader then spent 13 years in the BJP, before starting his stint as a Governor.
At the Global Jat Summit in Jaipur last Sunday, Malik hit out at “Delhi leaders” for issuing condolence messages when even an animal dies, but saying nothing over the deaths of nearly 600 farmers during the ongoing agitation against the new farm laws. He also criticised the leaders for not standing up for the farmers, even though many of them are from agricultural backgrounds.
Malik has also referred to the assassinations of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi following Operation Blue Star and former Chief of Army Staff, General A.S. Vaidya after his retirement to caution the party, and said, “don’t use force on them, second, don’t send them empty-handed because they don’t forget, they don’t forget for a hundred years”.
The Jat leader has been consistently hitting out at the BJP over the three farm laws introduced by the Modi government.
Earlier, Malik had warned that the BJP would pay the price for the farmers’ protest and not resolving the deadlock, in the upcoming 2022 state assembly elections in Punjab, UP and Uttarakhand. He had also claimed that BJP leaders would not be allowed to enter the villages of Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, and Baghpat, where the agitation is in full swing.
One of Malik’s close aides, someone who has been by his side for over four decades, told ThePrint that he had a habit of being outspoken, which often led to him “losing” more than he gained.
Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary, who had contested the 2019 parliamentary election from Baghpat, however, told ThePrint that Malik’s words should not be dismissed, as he has his ears to the ground and hails from the farming community. Baghpat is Malik’s hometown.
“His own origins are calling out to him and he is honestly speaking about issues and taking a contrarian stance from the party which should be commended,” said Chaudhary, adding that Malik had spent a lot of time with his (Chaudhary’s) late grandfather, former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, who was also regarded as a farmer leader.
Across political parties, it’s friendship first for Malik
A second aide of the Meghalaya Governor explained that Malik held no personal grudges and all his statements were made in public-interest and did not affect his personal equations with even those he spoke against.
“He still considers Mehbooba Mufti to be like his daughter,” said the aide.
The former J&K Governor had in the past alleged that Mufti was a beneficiary of the Roshni scheme, which aimed to give proprietary rights to occupants of state land for charges. Mufti served him a legal notice in October 2021, seeking Rs 10 crore compensation for his alleged “defamatory remarks.
Malik started his political career in 1974, when he was elected MLA in the UP Assembly as a member of the Chaudhary Charan Singh-led Bharatiya Kranti Dal. Six years later, he was nominated a Rajya Sabha member by the then Charan Singh-led Lok Dal.
In 1984, he joined the Congress and again became a Rajya Sabha member in 1986. He resigned from Congress in 1987, in the wake of the Bofors scandal.
However, expelled Congress member Satyadev Tripathi told ThePrint that Malik was greatly influenced by Arun Nehru. And made the switch (from Congress to Lok Dal) when Nehru decided to leave the Congress.
The first Malik aide mentioned above told ThePrint that the Governor had over three years left as an MP at the time, but didn’t think twice before resigning.
“At the time, his main problem was with Sonia Gandhi rather than Rajiv Gandhi,” he said, though he didn’t elaborate on what those issues were.
In 1989, Malik was elected to the Lok Sabha as a Lok Dal candidate and was even made Union Minister of State for Tourism and Parliamentary Affairs in the V.P. Singh cabinet. He served in the post for a little under seven months, between 21 April and 10 November, 1990.
Looking back at his political career, Harendra Singh Malik said, “Malik has always been a socialist leader and was a member of the Chaudhary Charan Singh school of politics, which stood for farmers and labourers and spoke of rashtravad and not kshetravad (nationalism rather than regionalism).”
His tryst with the BJP began only in 2004, and he has since held many positions within the party, including that of national vice-president (which he was made twice, in 2012 and 2014).
“He joined the BJP mesmerised by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. And even had a great equation with L.K. Advani. There is no one he is not friends with. He has friends across the aisle. Be it Ahmed Patel, Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, L.K. Advani, Sanjay Gandhi or Indira Gandhi,” explained the second close-aide.
One person who Malik had been particularly fond of, and inspired by since the beginning of his career, was late BJP leader Arun Jaitley, said the first aide. When Malik was Governor of Goa, he was to once host foreign dignitaries from Bhutan. But he apparently ignored that commitment to attend the wedding of Jaitley’s son Rohan (in January, 2020). The first Malik aide remembered that while this upset many “Delhi leaders”, Malik insisted that for him friendship was more important.
‘At least no one can say I didn’t stand up for them’
The Meghalaya Governor has no fears of his outspokenness impacting him or his career, many of his close-aides and staff members told ThePrint. “It’s almost as though he carries his resignation in his pocket (not literally),” said a third aide.
In Baghpat in March 2020, Malik had publicly said that Governors in Kashmir did no work and only played golf and drank alcohol. In 2019, when he was the Governor of Kashmir he had referred to terrorists operating in the Valley as “boys” and told them to stop killing policemen and instead go after corrupt politicians. In October 2021, in an interview to a TV news channel, he said BJP’s Pramod Sawant government in Goa was ridden with corruption and could not handle the Covid crisis in the state.
It was in the same interview that he had claimed that he was removed as Governor of J&K because he did not clear land deals for which he was offered Rs 300 crore, one which would benefit a businessman and the other a leader close to the RSS. He had claimed that he did not sign the two land deals after consulting PM Modi, who told him not to.
On the reason why Malik was so outspoken on the farmer’s protest, the third aide told ThePrint that Malik had told him— “At least when I go back home no one can say that I did not stand up for them or I did not stand up to the BJP. I’ll have respect in the community.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)