The Centre's choice of Manoj Sinha as Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir is an intriguing one. Much like his predecessor GC Murmu, Sinha's greatest challenge will be to remove the sense of alienation keenly felt in the Valley.
That sense of alienation, some have argued, was only compounded under ex-governor Satya Pal Malik under whose tenure the Valley saw the 'fax pas' saga in 2018 and then saw the state bifurcated into two Union Territories by the Centre.
Murmu, a bureaucrat described as hands-on and low-profile, was seemingly the perfect pick to follow Malik in the months after the abrogation of Article 370. But Sinha is a career politician in the vein of Malik.
Sinha, 61, a senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh and former Union minister, was part of the Narendra Modi government from 2014 to 2019. As per News18, Sinha, thought to be close to Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, was considered a front-runner for the post of Uttar Pradesh chief minister after the BJP won the 2017 Assembly elections.
Born on 1 July, 1959, in Mohanpura of Ghazipur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Sinha started his political career when he was elected the president of Banaras Hindu University Students Union in 1982. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1996 and again in 1999. He has been actively involved in working for the backwards villages of the region.
Sinha, a member of the BJP national council from 1989 to 1996, was elected to the Lower House for a third term in national politics when the BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. He was former minister of state for railways and later held an Independent charge of Ministry of Communication.
Numerous challenges on horizon
For Sinha, who is said to have a clean image and a focus on development, the first task will be establishing a good working relationship with Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, a senior IAS officer who hails from Andhra Pradesh, who tussled with both Malik and Murmu.
As per this piece in The Print, "The tussle between (Malik and Subrahmanyam ) became common knowledge. The government machinery was divided into two. There was a campaign in which officials spread the news that the chief secretary would be removed due to the Pulwama attack. But in the end, the chief secretary prevailed and so did the bureaucrats loyal to him," said a government official.
"When the new L-G (Murmu) arrived, some in the bureaucracy thought it would be business as usual. The L-G however had different plans," the official told The Print in June 2020.
Some say the appointment of Sinha instead of a bureaucrat in the vein of Murmu hints at impending polls. As per this News18 piece, the choice of Sinha, combined with the release of select political leadership in the Valley, could signal the possibility of creating conditions to restart the electoral process in the Union Territory where Assembly polls are pending.
But it won't be easy. A year after the abrogation of Article 370, the situation in the Valley is far from normal, even though the Centre insists otherwise. Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is under house arrest, high speed internet is a distant dream and the less said about mobile connectivity the better.
Meanwhile, the politicians that have been released " like Omar Abdullah " have been carped at by critics and condemned by their followers and other political parties for climbing down on the demand to restore Article 370.
"We have to atone for our sins, and then devise a strategy to fight our own battle. We relied on India at the behest of our leadership. In return, they stabbed us in 1947 and they are doing so again and again," Hafeez-ud-Din, a longtime National Conference activist and staunch supporter of Omar Abdullah, said recently.
This is the situation Sinha finds himself walking into Jammu and Kashmir. Much like a river that looks calm on the surface, but which has a fast undercurrent. Only time will tell if he sinks or swims.
With inputs from PTI