The man who weathered all storms to witness change in political, social order

Zafar Choudhary. Updated: 11/5/2019 9:47:29 AM Front Page

On the first day of maiden Darbar Move in the UT of J&K, Nirmal Singh was the only political official inside the Civil Secretariat.

JAMMU: Four days after Jammu and Kashmir’s complete constitutional and administrative transition, when Lieutenant General Girish Chandra Murmu arrived as new executive boss in the Civil Secretariat upon Darbar Move in the winter capital, the BJP veteran Dr Nirmal Singh was the only ‘political relic’ from the erstwhile state who also moved into his office with status and protocol intact from pre-August 5 era. Is Singh and his office still officially relevant when everything else has changed?
Yes. All said and done about sacrifices for the ‘national interest’, Nirmal happens to be the only person whose stars didn’t fade when the walls of palace of politics started falling one by one with effect from June 19, 2018. At that time Singh was a bit lot dejected in wake of April 30 reshuffle in Mehbooba Mufti ministry when he was promoted to a superior constitutional position –the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly –after being pulled out from the second most powerful political and executive position of the Deputy Chief Minister.
The last reshuffle in Mehbooba cabinet took place during recess between Darbar Move. Kavinder Gupta, who was the Speaker since March 2015, had become the Deputy Chief Minister. Among others from BJP, Sat Pal Sharma became Housing Minister, Rajiv Jasrotia, Minister for Forests and Devinder Manyal as Health Minister.
This reshuffle had taken place in a controversial background. With purported concurrence of party’s then president Amit Shah, Mehbooba had sacked two powerful Ministers, Chowdhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga for their alleged role in seeking protection for the accused in Rasana rape and murder case. Two days later BJP general secretary Ram Madhav arrived in Jammu to confirm at a press conference that conduct of his party’s ministers was ‘indiscreet’ and they ‘should have been more careful’.
Around the same time Nirmal Singh was also embroiled in a controversy that was taking round in his party circles but wasn’t much known in the public until a prominent local newspaper reported about Army’s objection to construction of his bungalow near an ammunition depot. Since this news came barely days after the reshuffle, Nirmal’s removal as Deputy Chief Minister was being seen in public as a consequence of the controversy.
In May 2018 while the new Ministers as also the new office bearers of the party rejoiced their promotions Nirmal apparently sulked all the way. However, rejoice and the sulk, on both sides, was short-lived as the destiny, often crucial in politics, had something else in store.
While some of the Ministers had yet to settle down in their offices, and at least one had to wait for mahurat for as long as 40 days, the party’s central leadership called the entire legislature party to Delhi for a meeting on June 18. To the surprise and shock of everyone, the central leadership pulled rug under Mehbooba’s feet by next afternoon and the coalition government fell at once! Behind the claims of ‘national interest’, every Minister who lost his job was a deeply dejected soul.
There was, however, one secretly smiling face. That was of Nirmal Singh, the Speaker. The supreme book provides for the continuation of Speaker even after the government falls.
That was not the end of the story. The next day, the then Governor NN Vohra, after finding out that no party was in position to form government, put the Legislative Assembly in suspended animation. So, every MLA lost his job. The Constitution still provides that the Speaker continues –Nirmal stayed put to everyone else’s envy.
As the autumn leaves for falling, it surfaced that BJP was extending support of its 26 MLAs to Sajjad Lone’s two-member allegedly Kashmir-centric party as an alternative to the dynastic rule. The alleged dynasties got a whiff of it. The traditional rivals National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party came together with the Congress to stake a rival claim. But none’s proposal could reach Raj Bhawan as Governor’s fax machine didn’t work. Suspecting that someone might rush to Raj Bhawan with a hard copy next morning, the Governor dismissed the Assembly on November 22, 2018.
The MLAs, who had earlier lost job, now lost status, protocol and the hope too. Only one of them stayed afloat. Nirmal Singh, of course. The Constitution provided for continuation of the Speaker.
On 5 August 2019, came, arguably, the century’s biggest development with relation to Jammu and Kashmir with potential to change not only the political order but also the social order. Everything was set for change which completed on October 31.
The only politician who survived this long haul happens to be the one who drove into the civil secretariat complex upon first Darbar Move in the Union Territory moments after Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu took the customary salute.
As of now there is absolutely no certainty about the next elections and return of a political government. The only thing that could be claimed with certainty is that Nirmal Singh will continue in the office of the Speaker till the next Legislative Assembly is constituted. In some ways there is a sense of déjà vu in this –early 1996s everything political had disappeared from the face of Jammu and Kashmir except Congress leader Chowdhary Mohammad Aslam.
As per the rules, the Speaker holds the Office from the date of his election till immediately before the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly after the dissolution of the one to which he was elected.

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