Manoj Sinha, the recently appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, is making a good first impression to start his innings in the restive region. Amid the deadly pandemic, when almost each one of us would prefer to stay away from the infected areas, Sinha’s first public outreach was right inside Kashmir’s Covid hotspot. Barely a day after taking the oath, he started with a surprise visit to the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar to take stock of facilities.
In J&K, where public entry into Civil Secretariat was banned even before the announcement of the nationwide lockdown, Sinha’a visit to a Covid hospital had a simple message: It is time for the babus to come out of their cosy chambers for public outreach. And then, for a man, who is new to the militancy-infested region, staying away from a place where a 36-hour-long encounter had just concluded, was supposed to be among his personal priorities.
But barely hours after the deadly gunfight in north Kashmir’s Baramulla, Sinha visited the same district to review development activities on August 19. Immediately after such an intense gun battle, a surprise visit by such a dignitary has generally been unheard of in Kashmir in the past 30 years of conflict. And, giving up the convention of luxury helicopter rides, he went for about 30 miles on road.
Such unusual moves are indicative that this 61-year-old BJP stalwart from Uttar Pradesh means business. Though from a right-wing background, Sinha doesn’t mind looking beyond saffron. He delivered his speech on Independence Day wearing a green kurta, though he normally prefers saffron.
L-G Manoj Sinha delivered his speech on Independence Day wearing a green kurta, though he normally prefers saffron. (Photo: Twitter/ @manojsinha_)
As of now, not only is the L-G in a full-action mode in moving across the UT, his administration is also on its toes. During the official visits, the L-G is conventionally accompanied by advisors, the police chief and other senior officials. But when Sinha was on a visit to the remote Reasi district in Jammu, DGP Dilbag Singh reviewed security in Baramulla. On that very same day, advisor Baseer Khan visited militancy-infested Shopian and Pulwama districts of south Kashmir for public outreach. Advisor Farooq Khan addressed a conference of elected local bodies in frontier Kupwara and his counterpart, KK Sharma, chaired a meeting on revival of the business sector in J&K.
Focused on the deliverance of good governance, Sinha, who has close to four lakh followers on Twitter, seems to avoid any unwanted controversies about his saffron baggage. Sinha, who as a BJP leader in UP, would largely tweet in Hindi, now posts in English. This is presumably for the benefit of the larger audience in the Muslim-dominated region, where people prefer English and Urdu over Hindi.
Having enjoyed a rapport with PM Narendra Modi for almost four decades now, Sinha’s commitment on the slogan of Vikas looks so religious that he has set the deadline for completion of pending projects. For the long-pending Katra-Baramulla rail link, he tweeted that the project should be completed by August 2022.
Sinha’s karma on governance is about hope in the region where people were largely fed up of the regimes of the proverbial dynasts, who ruled J&K for almost 70 years. Ironically, however, the last two years of New Delhi’s direct control looked even worse.
In 2018, the then Governor NN Vohra was shown the door after the fall of the last elected government. His successor, SP Malik remained largely surrounded by controversies over his flip-flop statements on safeguarding the special status of J&K till Article 370 was revoked on August 5, 2019.
Though Malik’s successor and first L-G, GC Murmu, may have helped New Delhi through his bureaucratic skills in the execution of sensitive orders like those on new domicile rights, he behaved more like a backroom boy, largely disconnected from the grassroots.
But Sinha’s style of working looks out-of-the-box. And committed to his J&K assignment, Sinha didn’t mind taking gyaan from veterans. Immediately after taking the oath, he visited Delhi for some strategic meetings with experienced brains like Dr Jitendra Singh, who is one of the key faces in the PMO. One hopes that Dr Singh — who is a medico-turned-politician from Jammu — would have apprised him of the cancer of corruption in J&K. Rated among the most honest politicians, for Sinha, fighting deep-rooted corruption of over 70 years, will be among the biggest challenges. Hope New Delhi gives him the teeth to grind the menace.
After the abrogation of Article 370, Sinha’s appointment seems to be the first such move that may bring back smiles on the faces of people who crave good governance. For the last two years, media reports had often suggested that BJP was losing grip even on its stronghold of Jammu. But Sinha’s appointment may help BJP regain even beyond the winter capital region. Quintessentially, for the Modi-Shah duo, who took the bold decisions on Kashmir, restoration of peace and prosperity has been a challenge for over a year now.
But if winning the hearts and minds of people through good governance can bring that change, Sinha seems to be the best bet. One hopes that his first impression remains the lasting one.