From a student leader to playing roles in national politics, Manoj Sinha’s four-decade-long political career is going to take another turn after being picked as the next lieutenant governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Centre would expect him to put his political skill to good use and Sinha is well-equipped for the role. After taking oath on Friday, he will commence his duties and he has already done his homework for the past one week to prepare for this responsibility.
When the news of the resignation of Sinha's predecessor, L-G Girish Chandra Murmu, emerged on Wednesday evening, it prompted much speculation about the move. People were also talking about who would take on the challenging role next. Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India Rajiv Mehrishi’s name was doing the rounds.
He has been the home secretary and is familiar with the situation of the region. But then the rules say a person who has held the post of CAG cannot assume any other position in government. The names of Rajiv Jain and Shivanand Jha also came up. Jha retired on July 31 as Gujarat's director general of police while Jain is a former head of the Intelligence Bureau.
Amid all the speculation, no one really thought of Manoj Sinha. People only became aware after the official announcement by the office of the President. Sinha was a minister in the first government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He served in the railways and telecommunications ministries.
It has often been the case under the Modi government that speculation about key appointments has fallen flat. Even Manoj Sinha apparently had no inkling of this development a week ago. After a spike in Covid-19 cases in Delhi, he had shifted to Varanasi last month. Varanasi was the place where he started his political career four decades ago. After losing the Lok Sabha election in 2019, he vacated his official residence in Delhi and lived for some time with one of his friends near AIIMS.
Sinha still takes a stroll around the railway engine workshop in Varanasi, famously called the DLW campus. This is the same place where PM Modi interacted with the people of his constituency some time ago. It's also the place where Sinha would meet railways officials as a junior minister.
When he got a call from home minister Amit Shah a week ago, Sinha’s close associates thought it was just a friendly gesture. When in 2013-2014, Shah was busy claiming turf for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh as its state in-charge, he was much impressed by Sinha’s work, efficiency, honesty, simple ways and rapport with party workers.
Significantly, in 2014, Manoj Sinha wanted to fight the Lok Sabha election from Balia as he thought he may not get a convincing win from Ghazipur. But after Amit Shah insisted, he agreed to fight from Ghazipur – without asking any questions.
During this time, even Modi was much impressed by Sinha. That is why when Modi became Prime Minister for the first time in 2014, Manoj Sinha took oath as minister of state and was later accommodated in the railways ministry. Modi trusted Sinha so much that he was also given independent charge of the telecommunications ministry two years later. Sinha worked hard in both the ministries and contributed in the development of his constituency, Ghazipur.
He not only spent all his MP funds, but as minister of state in railways, he introduced many trains for Ghazipur. However, all this could not ensure a win for him in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But it did not diminish Modi and Shah’s confidence in him.
He was considered so close to Amit Shah that in 2017 when the BJP won the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh with massive support, there was speculation about Sinha’s appointment as chief minister. However, the post finally went to Yogi Adityanath. Even when he lost the parliamentary polls in 2019, there were talks that Sinha may get a key assignment in Modi’s government soon.
So, when Sinha landed in the national capital a week ago, few would have imagined that he was going to get such an important responsibility. There are no reports on what Shah and Modi told him, but it is assumed that after Article 370 was diluted, a big push was needed to the development works in Jammu and Kashmir and the administration was to be made more solid, and he was made to agree to this proposition by the two top leaders.
Now the question is, why was Girish Chandra Murmu, who has been very close to Modi and Shah, asked to relinquish the post and summoned to Delhi within ten months of his appointment? It cannot be assumed that leaving the post was Murmu’s own choice; he cannot do this without the wishes of Modi and Shah. He has earned the trust of these two big leaders in the past two decades.
He was in the home department in Gujarat as secretary and was then appointed principal secretary to the-then chief minister Modi. It's being said that after the retirement of Rajiv Mehrishi as CAG, Murmu could take over. It is a very important constitutional appointment and his administrative skills will be put to good use.
The second question is, if Murmu has been called back to Delhi, why has Manoj Sinha been picked to go to Jammu and Kashmir? If highly placed sources in the government are to be believed, Manoj Sinha is expected to establish better coordination in the J&K administration and lend a greater push to development works in the UT. But then the next question is, was Murmu not able to deliver and that is why Sinha was thought of as his replacement?
Those who understand the administrative requirements of Jammu and Kashmir know that after Murmu was appointed L-G in 2019, the news of clashes of opinion on several issues between him and chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam started emerging. The issue of Amarnath Yatra during the pandemic accentuated the dispute, as also the slipping on the issue of giving reservation to local inhabitants of the region in employment.
There were many occasions when the L-G assigned some task to some officers but the chief secretary put some hurdle in it or the chief secretary took some decisions that were stalled by the L-G. The situation was similar with the director general of police (DGP) also.
Earlier, when there were differences of opinion between Murmu and Subrahmanyam, DGP Dilbag Singh got close to the L-G. But later, on the issue of transfer of high-ranking officials in the police department, the L-G formed a committee for police officials’ transfer under the chairmanship of Principal Secretary of Home Department in J&K, which angered the DGP and he considered it interference in his work. The situation got so bad that even some leaders and workers were not allowed the necessary security despite the L-G recommending it. This led to a delay in normalising the political process in J&K.
Obviously PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah were required to take a decision about this. Either Murmu was to exit or Subrahmanyam. But then, ultimately, it was felt that Murmu could be of much use in Delhi, particularly on a crucial post like CAG. As far as chief secretary Subrahmanyam is concerned, when he was sent to Jammu and Kashmir in June 2018, he was the chief secretary of Chhattisgarh. He served in the prime minister's office when Manmohan Singh was the PM and Modi was aware of his efficiency.
He also has a good grasp over the issues that concern Jammu and Kashmir. In this situation, removing Subrahmanyam meant a disruption in the administrative machinery which could prove costly in the sensitive region. It was Subrahmanyam who put all the administrative arrangements in place before Article 370 was diluted. It was also felt necessary to have him on the post to keep the pace of development going in the region.
Now that Manoj Sinha has been chosen for the post of L-G in Jammu-Kashmir, he has his task cut out. His first challenge would be to take along the administration and police department. It is obvious that Sinha comes as a political heavyweight compared to Murmu and he would not be taken lightly by any wing of the administration, be it the CS or DGP. He already has the experience of running two ministries in the central cabinet and knows about the ins and outs of managing the administration.
The second big task that Sinha has before him, is to take the political process forward in the UT. When the dilution of Article 370 was debated in Parliament, home minister Amit Shah had made it clear that Jammu and Kashmir was not being converted into a UT permanently and it was just a temporary arrangement. It could be given the status of a full state soon. If this has to happen, a political alternative has to be created in the state.
The BJP is strong in the Jammu region, but in Kashmir Valley right now it would be very difficult for the party on its own. In such scenarios, it would be necessary to create an alternative other than the Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference. If this alternative could be Altaf Bukhari who has recently organised a new political outfit called Jammu-Kashmir Apni Party, then this too has to be strengthened.
It is clear from the history of Jammu and Kashmir that only those parties have been successful there that have been able to convince the locals that they can benefit from government programmes only if they are associated with their organisation. National Conference did this and later the PDP did too. In such a scenario, if Altaf and his party have to follow the formula, they would need the tactical support of the BJP. And a leader like Manoj Sinha is more likely to be able to facilitate this than Murmu who has been an officer in the administration.
A key point is that Sinha will be suitable to counter the propaganda of Pakistan regarding Jammu and Kashmir. Before reading down Article 370, a political person like Satpal Malik was made the governor of the state and it was after a long time that a politician was sent to the region ravaged by terrorism.
Before this, people with backgrounds in administration or military were sent as governor there and this continued for decades. It was expected of Malik that after the dilution of Article 370, he would keep interacting with the local people and tell them about the benefits this may bring them. Malik was even successful in doing this to some extent but his being a bit of a loose cannon deprived him of getting a long innings.
Sinha is not like Malik and he likes to work in a peaceful way. He is a person who manages to have good grip over administration and is a leader who is rooted to the ground. He is a man who prefers the desi ways – both in his choice of food as well as dressing. He prefers eating chaval-dal-sabji and loves to move around in dhoti-kurta. He is honest. He is popular in his party and knows how to handle people. If the BJP wants to get a firm foothold in Jammu and Kashmir, then his skills are going to be handy. And, J&K needs to speed-up the development works so that people can be convinced that dilution of Article 370 (special status) has not brought them miseries but benefits instead. Some work has been done but much more is needed and that too while tackling terrorism.
Sinha will have to visit people and he loves that. Though, considering security concerns, this would not be easy to achieve, and the fear of a terror attack would always loom. In this region, every big official – from the L-G to chief secretary, to DGP and others hop on helicopters due to security issues. Manoj Sinha would be required to drive continuously down the spiralling streets of politics, terrorism and administrative challenges. By accepting the offer, he has signalled that he is ready for that.
Manoj Sinha is heading to Jammu and Kashmir with the blessings of Baba Vishwanath. His detractors think it is the end of his political career, especially present MP of Ghazipur, Afzal Ansari, who defeated Sinha as the communal-caste equation favoured him. Even at the time, many voters were all praise for the development works Sinha had done in his constituency. Such detractors will have to bear in their minds that Manoj Sinha will soon be back in active politics. He was first elected MP from Ghazipur in 1996 and lost the next election. But in 1999, he again returned as MP from the same constituency.
If he is able to change the face of Jammu and Kashmir, then this would increase his political stature. Sinha, a BTech in civil engineering from BHU, and also an MTech, is well-versed in political and social engineering. Modi and Shah would expect him to fulfil these expectations. If this happens, Sinha will be back in the political battlefield of Ghazipur with a bang, and Indian politics has many such examples. Arjun Singh was made governor of Punjab by PM Rajiv Gandhi and he returned into active politics and was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and also served as minister at the Centre. But presently, Sinha will have to put to use all his political and administrative skills that he has earned during the past four decades.