‘Gupkar can canvass freely’: J&K Governor Manoj Sinha
There is complete freedom in Jammu & Kashmir for politics, but not anti-national activities, the Union Territory’s lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha said on Wednesday, days ahead of the region’s first direct election since it was controversially stripped of its special status and bifurcated last year.
In an exclusive interview, Sinha, 61, laid out the political road map for the UT and detailed security arrangements for the district development council (DDC) elections, which begins on Saturday where six million electors across 20 districts will choose 280 representatives — 140 each in Jammu and Kashmir.
He also shared his assessment of the security situation, insisting that the forces have an upper hand on militants despite recent incidents like a foiled terror plot last week in Nagrota in Jammu district.
“Only India’s Constitution permits one to use unconstitutional language. There is full freedom here for those who want to do political activities. But permission is only for politics, not for anti-national activities,” he said.
Sinha — who was a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Uttar Pradesh before he was appointed the UT’s second LG in August — strongly argued against separatism and a space for the Hurriyat Conference in the region’s politics.
“I feel that nationalist forces and pro-India voices should get patronage in J&K. We will carry that forward,” he said.
Sinha said the state election commission responded to complaints by the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) that their candidates were confined in security camp and not allowed to freely canvass for the eight-phase polls.
“Following their complaints, the state election commissioner has assured a level-playing field for all parties. There will be no discrimination. Candidates will have all the freedom to canvass,” he said.
PAGD is a recently stitched alliance between six mainstream parties in Kashmir, including former rivals National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, who demand the restoration of Article 370, which bestowed special status on the region.
“This election will be a milestone for grassroots democracy and development… polling will be the real test of people’s fervour, but feedback suggests an overwhelming response,” Sinha said.
He condemned the recent killings of political leaders – 10 local BJP leaders have been gunned down this year – but added that his administration made solid arrangements for security to ensure free and fair polls. “Attempts to disrupt the election process will not succeed. People want to participate in elections, and our forces are vigilant,” he added.
Sinha disagreed with recent statements made by former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti that militancy was on the rise and more young people were joining extremism, and stressed that the coordination between forces had improved.
“Security is not a concern. Our forces are fully alert to deal with any situation. There are people in our neighbourhood who want to destabilise the situation. But there is nothing to worry,” he said.
Sinha said his biggest challenge was to create a mechanism for people to air their grievances and get redressal and added that Kashmiri youngsters, who took to arms but surrendered, should be allowed to return to the mainstream. “Anyone who expresses faith in the Constitution must get a chance.”
Some political parties disagreed with the L-G’s assessment. “ Lt-Governor is right in theory that nationalist forces needs to be patronised in J&K. In reality, however, the government’s decisions and actions are pushing them to the other side of the fence,” said GA Mir, chief of J&K Congress.
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