Obituary: Former J&K governor Girish Saxena was a gentleman who brought Valley back from the brink

The courage and character of Girish 'Gary' Saxena, who died on Friday aged 90, was tested often, whether when he was an undercover agent in Pakistan (something he denied, but of which the Pakistani establishment was convinced), or as chief of RAW (India’s external intelligence agency), or as security adviser to the prime minister.

File image of former Jammu and Kashmir governor Girish Saxen. aImage courtesy: jkrajbhawan

File image of former Jammu and Kashmir governor Girish Saxena. Image courtesy: jkrajbhawan

It was in the second week of March 1993 that he really showed his mettle. He quietly packed his things from Raj Bhawan in Jammu, and flew to Delhi. Only then did he call the prime minister’s office to say he was not going back. That caused a bit of a constitutional crisis. For, under Governor’s Rule, he was the government and the Assembly rolled into one. But he had had enough. He was not going to be pushed around or humiliated: Even though he made no public statement whatsoever.

A couple of days before, a report had been published in a major national daily that Saxena had resigned as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir; and the government had not denied it. Saxena had been under pressure for the past few months from a powerful lobby, but this false 'leak' was too much for a man of character to accept.

He did, after all, take pride in the fact that he was an officer of the Indian Police (IP) 1947 batch—the last of the officers of the Raj—having always conducted himself as an officer and a gentleman, he would not have dreamt of kowtowing to a politician.

It is a testament to his calibre that, despite having caused that tiny constitutional crisis by leaving abruptly, Saxena was reappointed as governor of the same state five years later. In the interim, the minister who had planted that false 'leak' about his resignation apologised to him.

Firm but sensitive

Saxena had already proved his mettle when he first took over as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir. It had been only five days since a CRPF bunker had fired at Mirwaiz Farooq’s funeral procession, causing mayhem. The place was still in ferment.

Yet, within just a few weeks, Saxena’s quiet but firm counter-insurgency strategy bore fruit. There had been chaos when he had taken over, but large parts of the Valley were back under government control in just a few months. The top commanders of the JKLF were locked up on 6 August, ten weeks after he took charge.

He was sensitive to Kashmiri aspirations and insecurities. When the delimitation commission wanted to correct the skewed balance between the Assembly representation of the Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley, the governor gently suggested to the commission that the imbalance might be corrected in two phases, rather than all at once.

A few months after Lt Gen MA Zaki, who had been Corps Commander in Kashmir from 1989 to 1991, retired from the army, Saxena phoned him to ask Zaki to return as Advisor (Security) to the Governor. Zaki, who had been looking forward to retirement in his native Hyderabad, was unwilling but promptly agreed when Saxena simply told him, 'your country needs you'.

Understated strengths

Saxena belied the image often associated with his roles. The aura of the Allahabad of the last days of the Raj lingered in his understated, soft-spoken and distinguished manner, so that it was difficult for most observers to believe that he had been a most effective spy and security strategist. A keen golfer, he served as president of the Delhi Golf Club.

He was often perceived as a man of few words. Yet, the first time I met him at Srinagar’s Raj Bhawan — a few days after the nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan in 1998 — he spent three hours chatting about a range of geopolitical and strategic issues.

His knowledge was vast and authoritative. For, he had been the RAW chief when Pakistan had obtained its nuclear weapon, and was advisor to the prime minister during the development of seminal internal and external challenges to stability in Kashmir.

Yet, he wore his command over all things geostrategic, as well as his proven ability to manage a very challenging conflict situation, with extraordinary ease.

In all things, Girish Chandra Saxena remained a perfect gentleman, an extraordinary officer, and a governor par excellence.


Published Date: Apr 14, 2017 10:11 pm | Updated Date: Apr 15, 2017 09:01 am