Governance in J&K: Raised expectations

Greater Kashmir

Before we comment on the performance of the first few months of the new administrative head of Jammu and Kashmir, we have to keep in mind that a line must be drawn to separate the larger questions related to the political issues, and the very basic governance issues.

I must say the Lt Governor Mr Manoj Sinha has clearly understood these differences. That is why we see a wave of change in the functioning of the administration since he took over the reins of administration in the Union Territory.

It’s obvious that the ground traditionally remains somewhat hostile for a non-political head (governor or Lt Governor) of the administration in J&K, because he mostly takes over in absence of an “elected” government. Now I don’t need to narrate the sordid tale of mis-governance of the “elected” governments in J&K. I have been reiterating this perhaps uncommon opinion of mine that though I strongly believe in elected democracy and the institutions formed with peoples’ participation, but I oppose with equal strength any administration or institutions which fail to respect the peoples trust. The “elected” governments over the years did exactly the same; it is precisely because of their mis-governance, corruption, nepotism and inertia that brought to the brink of uncertainty.

Hence, Mr Sinha has a huge task ahead – restoring people’s faith in the independent and professional functioning of the administration, and also providing responsible and accountable governance. Well begun is half done, as they say, and the LG’s administration has embarked on the mission of clean governance. Results of there to be seen.

Regarding the political issues, the central Government is ably handling them, and we expect the erstwhile state will be cleansed of the ills of political corruption, and politicians and parties are made accountable to people. There must be no free run for anyone in the name of elected democracy.

To overcome the deficiencies due to corrupt politicians’ corrupt governments in J&K, Mr Sinha has crafted a communication strategy to establish relations between the state structure and the general public. Unlike past, the top offices in J&K are open to public, for interaction, direct grievance redressal as well as the socio-political interface. To his credit, within a short span of time, Mr Sinha has proved himself a good listener. He has exhibited patience to listen in an atmosphere wherein he has little time to sit.

He is bold and facing the challenges head on. Take for example the case of three Rajouri youth, who were reportedly  killed in a staged encounter by a unit of Army earlier this year. Mr Sinha visited their families in the far off mountainous district,  and promised justice. This came as a surprise, for this has not been the case in J&K, where CMs hardly reached out to aggrieved families in such cases. Moreover, in the cases of any real or fabricated incidents of human rights violations by security forces, the politicians and their parties have always resorted to rabble rousing, and instead of providing justice, they missed no opportunity to cash in on the tragedies. They have either remained in denial or taken no action to the satisfaction of the families. This apathy had cost the state its credibility, which is why Mr Sinha’s outreach exercise is more purposeful and powerful than a political gimmick, for he seems to work for the restoration of that credibility of the system, which politicians have eroded viciously.

Furthermore, it’s no secret that the Bharatya Janta Party uses offensive communication strategy to meet the ends in politics. Its leadership both at the centre and the state level are news mostly for their provocative statements. Although Mr Sinha’s may or may not be different, he is part of the BJP. However, contrary to others, (particularly a former governor of the state) he has stayed away from both the controversies and the provocative political posturing. Instead he is solely focused on providing efficient governance to people of the UT, who have been exploited over the years by the rapacious political class of J&K.

Of course the political reality is, the LG is no independent authority. He is after all a representative of the centre. In a scenario as such, Mr Sinha can’t be either credited or criticized for the larger policy issues or legislations. His evaluation and performance is therefore independent of the two but not an irrelevant exercise. He is the man leading the bureaucracy and the administrative machinery and it is pertinent to evaluate as to how his headship has influenced the basic issues of governance within the state?

This may be true about other parts of the country that bureaucracy has inherently been either indifferent or lax towards a common man, but in J&K bureaucratic complexities have been worsened by the politicians. One can imagine state of affairs of a place where insurgency consumes more focus of the administration than governance, and bureaucratic inertia adds fuel to fire. This is the area Mr Sinha seems to be working on. That’s how we see district heads of police and civil administration being asked to put in place a direct communication with the general public, and the LG himself holding periodic direct conversations with them through video conferencing. He has been visiting district headquarters by road, and for the first time we see the ever-hovering government helicopter taking a long rest at the Nehru helipad in Srinagar. Now here, I, as a citizen of this traumatized place would prefer a  compassionate and competent “non-political” head of the government to a corrupt, callous and incompetent “elected” head of the government.

For a common man, it takes both the effort and the bribe to get things done in the government offices. However, since the arrival of Mr Sinha, these offices seem responsible and responding. In fact there is a sense of accountability. All this, due to the Sinha’s apolitical approach and full attention on improving governance.

We hope Mr Sinha will live up to the expectations which he himself has raised with his devotion to duty. As I said in the beginning, J&K needs governance overhaul. People have to believe that they are being heard and attended-with or without an “elected government.” The LG has been on the path. We watch and wish him best.

The writer is a peace activist