Jammu & Kashmir Gets Manoj Sinha as LG: ‘Trial & Error’ Over?

Manoj Sinha, an astute politician, is equipped to resolve differences and get everyone to work together in J&K.

5 min read
Jammu and Kashmir’s new LG, Manoj Sinha, has a tough road ahead.  

That the new lieutenant-governor, Manoj Sinha, is the fourth incumbent in Jammu and Kashmir’s Raj Bhawan since Governor’s rule was imposed 25 months ago shows that the Centre is going by trial and error rather than a well thought through strategy.

The governor, who has also been the chief executive during this time, should be able to implement a concerted and well thought-through vision and plan. But the administration has been gridlocked over even basic policy outlines.

Jammu and Kashmir: File photo of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha 
Jammu and Kashmir: File photo of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha 
(Photo: IANS)

Hasty Exodus of GC Murmu

Sinha’s predecessor, GC Murmu, apparently wanted to ease restrictions on such things as high-speed internet, but was stymied by powerful lobbies of bureaucrats and their mentors in New Delhi.

Girish Chander Murmu
Girish Chander Murmu
(Photo: PTI)
  • The Centre is going by trial and error rather than a well thought through strategy in J&K.
  • Manoj Sinha has replaced GC Murmu as the LG of J&K.
  • Murmu is becoming the new CAG for precisely the reason he was chosen for J&K: he is totally trusted by the prime minister and the home minister.
  • Murmu had a clash of ego with his chief secretary KVR Subrahmanyam, who has a wider network of powerful links in Delhi.
  • No governor/LG after NN Vohra has had the advantage of knowing J&K well.
  • Sinha, however, might be better equipped to resolve differences, and get everyone to work together as a team.

The change of guard explains why the Attorney General KK Venugopal had asked for “some time” to verify the submission on behalf of Murmu that high-speed internet could be restored.

When the court suggested time till 5 August, the Centre’s law officers suggested 7 August instead, citing the first anniversary of the constitutional changes that reduced Jammu and Kashmir to two union territories.

The unsuspecting lawyer for the petitioner quietly agreed, having no idea that there would be a different lieutenant-governor by then.

A Clash of Delhi’s ‘Favourites’ in J&K

Mr Murmu’s resignation only happened coincidentally on the first anniversary of the changes. He remained in place until the end of the Amarnath Yatra which, albeit truncated, was completed on the full moon of 3 August. And, the vacancy for which he was chosen just happened to be coming up when the incumbent Comptroller and Auditor General retired on 7 August.

Murmu is becoming the new CAG for precisely the reason he was chosen for J&K: he is totally trusted by the prime minister and the home minister, since he handled extremely sensitive matters in Gujarat when they were Gujarat’s chief minister and home minister respectively.

The trouble was that another top officer had already been chosen the previous year for the same sort of personal loyalty and dependability.

Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam was personal secretary to the prime minister when Mr Modi first took over South Block.

Both lieutenant-governor and chief secretary believed he was the top favourite. Subrahmanyam had taken on and won an ego clash with the first governor, NN Vohra, with whom he worked. The next governor, Satya Pal Malik, and the governor’s advisors—who had the status of ministers used to take their cues from the chief secretary thereafter.

Murmu was not willing for that but found himself hamstrung since Subrahmanyam has a wider network of powerful links in Delhi.

Subrahmanyam made a name as the bureaucrat who reputedly stamped out Naxalism in Chattisgarh. Perhaps that background made him resist Murmu’s willingness to accommodate such things as the widespread demand for high-speed internet.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam
Image: IANS

New Delhi’s ‘Trial and Error’ Moves

GC Murmu’s predecessor Satya Pal Malik’s various statements about his brief indicated that the prime minister’s instructions when he was appointed were very general, with neither details nor an opportunity to study the extremely complicated problems in the erstwhile state.

Mr NN Vohra, who was asked to make way for Mr Malik, had learnt a great deal about the state, as home secretary, defence secretary, principal secretary to Prime Minister IK Gujral, the Centre’s interlocutor for outreach to separatists, and then as governor for a little more than a decade.

Neither Mr Malik nor Mr Murmu (nor Mr Sinha, who was apparently sounded out about a week ago) had that advantage. Both, in different ways, were overwhelmed by the tangled web.

Indeed, Mr Malik sometimes seemed like a wide-eyed innocent discovering something amazing in a fairyland at every turn. He gushed about the corruption in a round of recruitment to the J&K Bank after a delegation of rejected applicants met him. Someone more familiar with the state would have known that recruitments of all sorts are more often fixed than not, and that the rot in that bank has not been limited to recruitment.

Lost Opportunities for Jammu and Kashmir

Making the new union territory shine—which Malik told the press the prime minister had asked him to ensure—is now a matter of national security. But, as things stand, the 777 days since the Centre took direct charge of Jammu and Kashmir on 20 June 2018 have been one elongated betrayal of hopes, of possibilities.

It was a great opportunity, for—surprising as it might seem—almost nobody was upset that the entire political class, including lawyers and activists, were silenced a year ago. Indeed, the extent to which people at large were pleased to see their erstwhile leaders locked up was amazing.

Given the opportunities this opened up, it is sad that the Centre has allowed the administration to be gridlocked.

It should trust the judgement of the men it appoints to run the place, and brief them adequately on what it wants.

The Centre had five years from the time it came to power to plan the change. Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh, had indicated as soon as the Modi government was installed that this was the plan. In fact, its strategists had had several years before that in the Vivekanand Foundation to figure out how things should unfold.

With so much time to plan, it is lamentable that things are unfolding by trial and error. No specific plans for economic transformation and social cohesion, leave alone grassroots political integration, seem to have been made ready.

Sinha’s Experience to Change Status Quo?

Being a politician with varied experience, right from the time he became the president of the Benaras Hindu University at the age of 23, Sinha might be better equipped to resolve differences, and get everyone to work together as a team.

One of the problems in the J&K administration has been that lobbies representing the interests of powerful politicians and one or other region have sometimes worked at cross-purposes.

Although Murmu was a trusted aide of the prime minister and the home minister, he had not had the experience of reconciling different, sometimes contradictory, pulls and pressures.

A highly-placed official who knew Sinha at BHU says that the new lieutenant-governor had friends in and was able to pull together with student groups across the political spectrum, including the Congress, and even the radical Left AISA.

No doubt that experience, as well as his experience of UP politics and as a successful central minister, will be useful in the very challenging new task Sinha has been given.

(The writer is the author ofThe Story of Kashmir’ andThe Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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