Lives are full of twists and turns but only a few represent the kind of turnaround that marked
‘s journey, with the bureaucrat-turned-politician going from being a close member of Sanjay Gandhi’s crew which was blamed for Emergency excesses to being a saffron icon who, as J&K governor, took the bold, if hugely controversial, decision to dissolve the state assembly when Pakistan-fuelled insurgency had threatened to overwhelm the government machinery.
It is also a story of the opportunities that India offered post-independence to talented and ambitious youth who escaped the communal pogrom in what now forms Pakistan to build their lives from scratch. Born
in Hafizabad in Pakistan, the former Union minister started off as the ‘third personal assistant’ to former Punjab CM, the legendary Partap Singh Kairon. His meticulous work caught the attention of his seniors and fetched him a promotion to the Provincial Civil Service.
The elevation facilitated his shift to Delhi where, with his skill set, he caught the attention of Delhi’s first lieutenant governor A N Jha whose patronage ensured him key positions such as the housing commissioner of Delhi Development Authority.
Jagmohan, with solid credentials as a “doer” who knew how to negotiate the notorious “red tape” and bureaucratic lethargy to accomplish tough assignments on time, was serving as DDA vice-chairman during the Emergency when former PM Indira Gandhi’s son, Sanjay Gandhi, arguably the most influential person during that infamous spell, decided to launch a beautification drive in the Walled City. The effort was aimed to remove slums from near Turkman Gate so that Jama Masjid could be seen from Connaught Place.
Only that the residents refused to buy into the idea. There was resistance and Sanjay responded by sending bulldozers. Many were killed in the firing that followed. While censorship ensured that accounts of what happened did not come out, the Turkman Gate “massacre”, along with forced sterilisations, became one of the defining themes of the 1977 polls, turning Muslims against Congress and contributing majorly to its loss.
Jagmohan, naturally, found himself on the sidelines during the Janata Party regime and was indicted by the Shah Commission which probed judicial excesses.
But with Congress and Sanjay back at the helm in 1980, he returned to prominence, landing important assignments as LG of Delhi and Goa.
In 1984, he was rewarded with the position of J&K governor, paving the way for a role which brought about a dramatic rupture of links with Congress, endeared him to BJP and defined his legacy.
The five-year tenure beginning in 1984 started on a stormy note with Jagmohan executing Indira Gandhi’s contentious plot to dismiss Farooq Abdullah as CM and replace him with her proxy G M Shah. He defied resistance of vested interests to dramatically improve facilities for devotees of the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. It also saw him trying to motivate the administration and security forces to prepare for the growing threat of Pakistan-backed insurgency.
But his first stint was dwarfed by the second one he served in the strategically crucial state, appointed by the V P Singh-led Janata Dal government in what was seen as an acknowledgement of the steps he had taken against the growing tide of secessionist insurgency.
In a quirk of fate, Jagmohan found himself at the receiving end of Congress under Rajiv Gandhi who had, by then, made up with Farooq Abdullah. Amid growing violence, targeted killings of Kashmiri Pandits and resistance to and criticism of security forces’ response, the governor found himself also having to deal with George Fernandes, who had been appointed as minister in charge of J&K.
The untenable situation came to an end with his dismissal, though BJP’s influence with V P Singh ensured that he was nominated to Rajya Sabha.
BJP’s growing affection saw him contesting the 1996 elections on the party ticket from New Delhi. He handsomely defeated his Congress rival, former superstar Rajesh Khanna, and retained the seat in 1998 and 1999. He served as minister for urban development and tourism and culture. Though he did not enter the electoral arena after his defeat in 2004, he remained active and wrote ‘My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir’, a book which was feted by many as the first insider account of the “subversion” in J&K. The book is also considered to have provided the Modi government with a way out for ending J&K’s special status without having to repeal Article 370 by a constitutional amendment.
A regular in the India International Centre library, Jagmohan remained engaged with the affairs in Delhi, his first love, according to many. Vivek Shukla, a chronicler of contemporary Delhi, noted in his Facebook post that DDA flats in Munirka designed under him were the best ones to have been constructed by DDA.