L-G Sinha must create a politically inclusive J&K | Opinion
Listen to Kashmiris, release democratic leaders, restore 4G, improve everyday life for civilians, aim for electionsUpdated: Aug 12, 2020 19:38 IST
Manoj Sinha’s appointment as the new Lieutenant Governor (L-G) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a refreshing change. Sinha — a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader — has proven political and administrative skills, having been a part of the Union government in the railway and telecom ministries, where, by all accounts, he did a competent job. As a leader rooted in the complex politics of eastern Uttar Pradesh, he also brings to the table political skills in managing social groups, and an understanding of the intersection between politics, administration and law and order.
These skills will be essential in J&K — which has been stuck in a political stalemate ever since the effective nullification of Article 370. His appointment is a signal that the Centre now wants to break this impasse and move the political process forward.
But to understand how the stalemate deepened, one has to go back to developments in the aftermath of August 5. The constitutional changes were welcomed by citizens in the rest of India, and it was received with elation in Jammu and Ladakh. But the regional parties of Kashmir Valley and stakeholders in the Shia-dominated Kargil area were opposed to the changes. Anticipating a civil disobedience movement, particularly in the Valley, the Centre decided to impose the writ of the State through a set of hard measures.
This had three significant implications.
The first was that democratic forces and anti-democratic forces were treated in a similar manner. And this led to a convergence in their opposition to the Centre’s moves, not physically on the ground, but in principle. Second, it led to a series of media reports, both within India and internationally, pointing to the debilitating impact of these restrictions on normal civilian life and democracy. And three, there was an international reaction. Pakistan predictably kicked up a storm — though its campaign to discredit India hasn’t worked. United States President Donald Trump offered to mediate, but Washington has gone back to its position of treating the issue as a bilateral one. And China became active in the Kashmir theatre — both by shepherding Pakistan’s efforts at the United Nations, and objecting to the changes in the administrative status of Ladakh. Many observers believe that China’s recent aggression across the Line of Actual Control could be traced back to the changes in J&K.
It is in this broad political-security context that Sinha has taken over.
The new L-G should not — even if this sounds counter-intuitive — get too bogged down in the minutiae of security operations in Kashmir. This is not to suggest that there aren’t security challenges. There is the ever-present threat from Pakistan, and more so now, since it could intensify its activity at the border in sync with China. There is also the emergence of a cadre of technologically-savvy young, radicalised men of South Kashmir who are targeting all those associated with democratic institutions. And then, there are the terrorists sent in by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Al Badr who are limited in numbers, but high on resolve in inflicting terror.
But, over the years, the J&K Police has developed an effective response to threats emanating from terrorist groups. The army is capable of dealing with both the external fronts. And together, all the security system stakeholders — the army, state police, CAPFs, and the wider intelligence community — have the experience of working in sync. Sinha needs to, of course, be familiar with the overall security situation and provide direction when needed — but he need not make this the focus of his term.
What Sinha, instead, must focus on is creating a politically inclusive set-up for all sections of Kashmiris. He needs to be aware of a key grievance of the “pro-India” element of the polity. These segments rightly feel they have been treated at par with the pro-Pakistan and the pro-independence elements of the polity. For all their weaknesses, it must be recognised that these democratic forces have the support of a large section of citizens, and their assessment that status quo will only breed further alienation must be taken into account.
To tackle this, the L-G must personally meet all the leaders of both national and regional political parties of the Union Territory in general, but the Valley in particular — both in delegations as well as individually to establish a personal rapport with them. If Kashmiris feel they have a patient, attentive and sensitive listener, that itself will go a long way in bridging the trust deficit. He must also push for the release of all mainstream democratic leaders and drop charges against them — even as secessionist leaders remain under detention.
The L-G should also take into account recent policy actions — such as domicile certificates to non-residents and housing schemes for security personnel — which have not gone down well with the people of all regions. Sinha must also lead the effort to convince the Centre and the security apparatus to restore 4G connectivity. He must closely assess the detrimental impact of both government measures as well as the pandemic on normal everyday life — and seek to resolve it. Better connectivity, for instance, can enable more effective online classes across educational institutions. He must ensure that at the district level, Covid-19 is accorded the highest priority in terms of public health.
Once Sinha understands the political contours, establishes communication and trust with the Valley’s political leaders, and takes steps which improve everyday civilian life, he must come up with a political report on how to revive the electoral process in J&K.
It is time for all stakeholders to give Sinha time, and for Sinha to live up to the trust reposed in him by PM Narendra Modi.