Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR: Breaking a jinx, ebullient and egoistic Mohammad Iqbal Khandey with his induction into IAS in 1978 became an icon for thousands of aspirants of the green channel of bureaucracy in Jammu and Kashmir. The enfant terrible—from a distant village of Kokernag hogged headlines in 1985 when, on one afternoon, he was snubbed by Chief Minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah for coming to the Civil Secretariat in blue jeans. Within minutes, Shah made General Administration Department issue a circular banning Western outfits for government officials. It stopped short of giving out a dress code.
Until the end of his 37-year-long career, controversies—as also tragedies—-followed Khandey like a shadow. His marriage to the judge Kaneez Fatima knit him into the State’s most influential bureaucratic network which he represented by default for over three decades.
His firsts—-from cracking the IAS as a Kashmiri Muslim boy from a pastoral background to his landing in jail as Principal Secretary in the infamous Srinagar Sex Scandal that finally failed in the court when the witnesses turned hostile and CBI chose not to file an appeal—-are innumerable. He boldly faced situations and survived potentially killer ailments his subordinates like Azad Lone didn’t. Destiny, nevertheless, left him bereft of his only son, at the young age of 26. Sajid, according to the family friends, was a promising lawyer. Daughter Sehar had a brief tryst with PDP which fielded her as a candidate in the Assembly elections of 2008.
Few would have expected a Chief Minister like Omar Abdullah to reinstate Khandey into the mainstream of bureaucracy. One fine morning, Omar got him back to the Civil Secretariat as Principal Secretary Agriculture Production. Minister of Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir was widely perceived to be the man behind Khandey’s rehabilitation, and after Madhav Lal’s shifting to Delhi, as Chief Secretary.
Again, speculations were rife with change of guard in bureaucracy when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed returned to power in March this year. However, contrary to a many speculations, Mufti retained both the top choices of his political bete noire Omar Abdullah—Chief Secretary Khandey as well as Principal Secretary Bharat Bhushan Vyas.
Khandey’s resignation last week didn’t come out of blue. Like Mufti’s old creation, Justice (retd) Ali Mohammad Mir’s quitting on a protest note towards the end of his term as Chairman State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), Khanday stepped down three months ahead of his reaching superannuation. As Mir lamented that Mufti had ignored all of his recommendations against the security forces personnel involved in human rights abuse, Khandey made it public that he had been reduced “to the level of a stenographer”.
Earlier, Riyaz Jan quit within weeks of his appointment as Advocate General by the Mufti government. He too complained of “interference” into his working and alleged that Advocate General’s office was sought to be reduced to a joke.
Jan’s replacement by the young advocate Jehangir Iqbal Ganai by the Mufti government was the first embarrassment for Khandey. PDP high ups insist that when Ganai’s order of appointment was issued, he and his father (former Secretary of Legislative Assembly) Iqbal Ganai were closeted with Chief Secretary. But, next day, Khanday was heard telling his bureaucratic colleagues that he had learned about Ganai’s appointment through newspapers. “Jehangir is my relative. I would have at least greeted him on his appointment”, a sulking Khandey told a colleague.
Khandey, according to well-placed political and bureaucratic sources, had “serious reservations” over the nominees submitted by Chief Minister Mufti to Raj Bhawan for appointment as Chairman and Members of the State Public Service Commission (PSC). It was only when Governor Narendra Nath Vohra returned the list that Mufti got eliminated all the nominees sponsored by at least three Ministers. However, Khandey’s resentment was not fully addressed as Mufti resisted even the Governor’s pressure who acknowledged Lateef-uz-Zamaan Deva’s integrity but wanted a senior officer of the rank of Financial Commissioner/Chief Secretary to head the constitutional body. Deva was just a junior Secretary rank official.
Mufti put his foot down for just two nominees—-Deva and academic Mushtaq Wani, whose lawyer brother Mumtaz Wani lives and practises in Virginia near Washington DC and is known to have been Mufti’s host on two occasions, each time for around a month. The Wanis, people in America insist, have grown as family friends with the Muftis. All others of the first list were replaced. It was months later that Cabinet’s post facto sanction was sought merely as a formality for Advocate General’s and the PSC incumbents’ appointment.
Significantly, Governor did not administer oath of office and secrecy to Deva and this constitutional ritual was left to the Chief Minister.
For around three months prior to Chief Secretary’s resignation, a section of bureaucrats and Ministers laboured hard to make Mufti believe that Khandey had his personal ambition for the post of Chairman PSC. It was pointed out that he had prevailed upon Omar Abdullah to leave the appointment of members and Chairman of PSC to the “next government” towards the beginning of Assembly elections last year. On that point of time, Omar had recommended Khursheed Ganai (1982 batch IAS and FC Industries) as Chairman PSC. Some of the bureaucrats and politicians made out that with deferment after deferment and by way of submitting only the deficient proposals to Raj Bhawan, Khandey wanted to keep the top job reserved for himself till his retirement in November 2015.
On one occasion, Governor wanted Omar to recommend only the Chairman but Khandey, as many believe, played the saboteur. This is believed to have strained relationships between Khandey and the top contender Ganai who, otherwise, were close relatives.
Khandey is believed to have also resented transfer and appointment of over a dozen officers and bureaucrats recommended by politicians. As Mufti failed to protect Khandey’s proposals, which were drastically changed in three Cabinet meetings, he also refused to oblige Chief Secretary in recommending bureaucrats like Mohammad Ashraf Bukhari (Commissioner Secretary Agriculture Production) as members of PSC and Chairpersons of certain undertakings. Bukhari is due to retire in March 2016.
Paradoxically, Farooq Abdullah’s most disliked bureaucrat Iqbal Khandey, who was picked up by Mufti as Principal Secretary to Chief Minister in 2002, is unceremoniously out in Mufti’s second term.
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© 2017 State Times Daily Newspaper