New Delhi: Would the appointment of Satya Pal Malik, a so-called politician, make any difference to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir? Not really. In October 2017, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma, was appointed interlocutor for J and K with a lot of fanfare. Do you hear about him now? Hardly. The same fate awaits Satya Pal Malik notwithstanding that he may be a thoroughly decent man.

A political governor could make a difference if certain conditions are satisfied. The state he or she is appointed to govern must not be internationally disputed. Once a state acquires that dubious status internal political management of the best quality yields few results. Satya Pal Malik is not a top notch politician. He would be under the complete sway of Narendra Modi who is in any case someone with a circumscribed vision. What can you expect?

If you think of a reasonably successful political governor in a conflict situation, Arjun Singh comes to mind. Against his wishes Rajiv Gandhi sent him to Punjab as governor. One could argue that Rajiv wanted him removed from Madhya Pradesh politics which is probably true. One could also argue with some force that Arjun Singh was politically talented and had the knack to restart political conversations which indeed happened in Punjab. Arjun Singh was so clued in that literally not a leaf stirred in Punjab without his networks not being alerted. Punjab’s peace owes considerably to his stint as governor.

You simply cannot compare Satya Pal Malik to the late Arjun Singh. And Jammu and Kashmir is not Punjab although both share a history of insurgency. The Jammu and Kashmir situation is infinitely more complex than anything that obtained at the height of militancy in Punjab which this writer extensively covered as a reporter. Pakistan certainly fuelled militancy in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir at the same time in the late 1980s fired by its success in miring the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. K. P. S. Gill & Co. retrieved Punjab. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Jammu and Kashmir also had its quota of fine officers heading security forces. Risking life and limb (and carrying lifelong scars of a bomb explosion at a high level police meeting), they reduced the threshold of violence in the state with a clear message to the Centre: Only a political process could bring further dividends. The political process should have been of the “uninterruptible” sort. For one reason or another, that has not happened.

Elections represent the apogee of the political process. Two of the freest and fairest elections in Jammu and Kashmir were conducted by non-Congress governments at the Centre, the first during Janata rule and the second under A. B. Vajpayee. The presence and operation of elected governments in Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the strongest arguments against Pakistan’s plebiscite demand for the state in the United Nations. Vajpayee would not have pulled out of any government involving his party in Jammu and Kashmir given the sensitivities involved. The Narendra Modi regime did just that by sundering the partnership with Mehbooba Mufti. The regime hoped to form its own government by breaking the other parties but the numbers did not add up. Now Satya Pal Malik’s brief is to speed up development, bridge the governance deficit, and recommence the electoral process at the lowest level. This will not deliver the desired result. If the Centre forms a non-Mehbooba government, it will damage the political and electoral standing of all parties, and not merely that of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It will sully the election process. And once that happens, history will march backwards.

In any case, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that internal consolidation is impossible without the stabilization of external conditions, in which Pakistan’s cooperation is essential. A dialogue with the newly-elected Imran Khan government cannot be delayed. Vajpayee set the standard by gaining a ceasefire agreement with Parvez Musharraf in his capacity as Pakistan’s dictator. The ceasefire agreement is in shreds and its resurrection has to be number one on India’s agenda of dialogue with Pakistan. Further, India cannot shut out Pakistan’s call for a composite dialogue if it wants to end terrorism.

At all events, the Modi regime’s muscular policies have failed in Jammu and Kashmir while alienating the population further. Imran Khan is not a free man when it comes to peace with India. He will be a “mask” for the Pakistan army. He has to be accepted by Delhi on that term. And without speaking to Pakistan no worthwhile progress is possible in J and K. There is no magic wand available. It would be sensible not to hype Satya Pal Malik. Only elections, elected governments and a peaceful external situation conceivably might usher better days in the state.