But the problem really is how to sequence the process of delimitation, elections and statehood. And that’s the challenge for Sinha, whose appointment comes at a delicate moment, where radical elements are better poised than political entities. Worse, they are trying to inspire a fresh lot of homegrown militants to target newly elected panchayat leaders.
In many ways, Sinha’s entry into J&K is somewhat like Arjun Singh being handpicked from CM’s seat in MP and sent to Punjab as governor in 1985 to execute the Rajiv-Longowal accord and restore political normalcy. He couldn’t accomplish much as Longowal was assassinated within a month of Singh’s arrival and the accord was in smithereens soon after. Punjab then plunged into another phase of militancy, which was more brutal and local than before.
It’s instructive to note that between April 1982, starting with M Chenna Reddy, and April 1986, when Siddhartha Shankar Ray was appointed, six governors were changed. Singh himself lasted barely eight months.
So, if history is any guide, then Centre needs to tread cautiously with shuffling governors or in this case LGs. That time it was implementing a peace accord in a militancy-hit state, while now it’s an effort to carve out a new political normal after the withdrawal of Article 370 and scrapping of Article 35A.
To that end, in the past year, the constitutional realignment of J&K has been effected. New laws have been written, penal codes have been changed, and arbitrariness in local reservation and recruitment policies have been removed.
The implementation of the 73rd and 74th amendments brings in the third tier of democracy in the Valley, thus devolution of funds and resources, which otherwise were in the hands of a district committee where the local MLA had considerable powers. Similarly, anti-corruption laws have also been duly aligned.
But that’s how far a Delhi-led administrative set-up can go. J&K needs an elected legislative assembly, a chief minister with a council of ministers, to take matters forward. For that, elections are a must and for which, political detainees are in the process of being released.
Sinha’s job will be to accelerate this process. The big gain from the Centre’s perspective is that political leaders like those from the National Conference are already talking of statehood under the Constitution, not special status. The question is how to tackle the statehood issue. Should statehood be a consequence of a successful election or should it be offered now? The NC, for one, wants the latter.
The next is the question of domicile certificates. It’s perfectly fine to extend this to refugees from Western Punjab and members of the Valmiki community but should it go beyond? The outgoing LG was clear that these would not exceed 10-12 lakhs, which is perhaps a basis for a political assurance that may require more than just a reaffirmation.
The final question is that of delimitation. A commission has been formed. Would one hold elections only after that process is completed? Logically, that would make sense. But there’s a good chance that might give reasons to local parties to distance themselves from the process.
Sinha’s political dialogue would have to be held around these three issues. How he persuades his interlocutors to find common ground will be crucial to his success. But, as Singh’s short-lived tenure in Punjab showed, time is an added pressure in conflict areas like Kashmir because violence can shut down the window of opportunity almost instantly and that’s a situation stretched Centre can ill-afford now.