Winter is in the air, with people eagerly waiting for the weather updates from Sonam Lotus, who has made a name for himself in weather predictions in the valley, and is also called “Peer Lotus”. There is a political slumber in the valley, with the Central Government in a triumphant mood, after successive election victories of the ruling party. One might think that their Kashmir policy may change to “enough for the time being” attitude.
The erstwhile state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was divided into 2 union territories (UTs) and the unfortunate happenings following 5th August 2019, was a part of the BJP election agenda. To take things further, no elections or restoration of statehood in sight has further saddened and disheartened the people of Kashmir. The recent repealing of the Real Estates Act which allows the purchase of land in the UT has made people of Jammu very concerned. Many of them in fact were happy with abrogation of Article 370. They are worried now because it is their land which is going to be at stake rather than that of the valley inhabitants. The reason being the proximity and cultural cum lingual affinity of Jammu, with the neighbouring states.
There is another issue of filling the 132257, odd vacancies of Panchs and Sarpanchs which had been put on hold till the pandemic situation improves. A new buzz now is the District Development Council polls announced abruptly last week. These knee-jerk reactions from the Centre, often appear amusing and confusing. However, the Farooq Abdullah led Gupkar Alliance, comprising almost all the mainstream parties, have decided to take part in these polls and give BJP a fight. This has led to a lot of heated and un-parliamentary comments from the Home Minister. These elections appear to be a question of political survival for the parties of the valley, which are being trolled by the present dispensation as anti-National. This is very unfortunate and people of the union territory have to give their crucial verdict.
Elections in J&K are typically held under the shadow of the gun, with those who want to vote being threatened by militants (many of them pushed across the LoC – Line of Control). Additional 25,000 security forces are being sent as a security blanket. Candidates are being whisked away to “cluster accommodations” due to perceived threat to their lives. Things have become even more complicated this year, because of the fear of being infected by the dreaded coronavirus.
In this state of affairs, with all the un-certainties the role of the Lieutenant Governor (LG), becomes very important to help ease the situation for the people of the UT. To his credit Mr Manoj Sinha’s role at this stage becomes crucial. He has an opportunity to dispel the feelings of people that he is coming from a political back ground, which has been hostile to Kashmiris. He is known as the Vikas Purush ( Development Man) of Ghazipur, UP. As a Central minister, Mr. Sinha has been known for his quick and correct decision-making. It is possibly the reason for him to be sent to this challenging assignment.
The LG needs to have a feedback from the public at large by creating opportunities to meet them at least virtually. The important areas needing immediate attention are Health, Education and Employment generation. The Health infra structure in terms of District, Sub District and Community Health Centres in the UT is good but needs strengthening in terms of more drugs, investigative facilities and training of the staff. This would need strengthening the Financial Commissioner, Health and Medical Education Mr Atul Dulloo, who has been handling it well but needs more funding and support for improving the existing centres and open more multi-speciality hospitals. Other major thrust areas like education need constant upgradation and bringing in new technology. The very experienced officers like Mr Talat Parvez Rohella and Mr Asgar Hassan Samoon need all the support of the administration in areas of Higher and School education respectively in order to have improved results.
Online education has become a very important area and has taken off in India very well in recent times. Some of the biggest global players in this field are Indians. Their help should be sought to find solutions in these areas for the UT. It assumes additional importance because educational institutions are closed for long periods because of the pandemic, harsh weather and frequent lockdown like conditions including civil curfews.
Improving the on-line connectivity is a very important need. It has to be made available to the students, teachers, scientists and other sections of the society without being exploited by undesirable elements like, terrorists and militants. Kashmir has a very bright young talent and for no fault of them has suffered a lot during the last 15 months. Mr Sinha fortunately also has a technological background, having graduated from IIT-BHU and has the knowledge and capabilities to improve it effectively. He also has the authority having both the police and security of the UT under his ambit. A coordinated action on this is very much needed.
There are more than 15000 Govt. jobs vacant as per the available information. These need an expeditious action with the involvement of the administration which the LG should take special interest in. This is an important step towards alleviation of un employment, and preventing educated youth from getting distracted by nefarious activities. Such a move may make Mr Sinha more acceptable to the people, till hopefully the status of the State is restored, exercise of delimitation over and the election process restored. All this looks like a dream at present.
The unfortunate people of the valley at least deserve these basic necessities after so many years of turmoil and disruptions. After all, if People of India feel Kashmir is their part, Kashmiris also should feel that India cares for them. This is a good opportunity which an astute politician, leader and a public figure like Sh. Manoj Sinha, he should not lose.
Prof Upendra Kaul is a heart specialist, columnist, Recipient of Dr B C Roy Award and Padma Shri.