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The Rediff Special/G Vinayak
April 25, 2003
Lieutenant General (retired) Srinivas Kumar Sinha, who is likely to be appointed Jammu and Kashmir's governor, has had, since 1997, an eventful, if sometimes controversial, tenure as Assam's governor.
By far the state's most proactive governor in recent times, Sinha can rightfully take credit, along with former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, for marginalising the banned United Liberation Front of Asom. In doing so, however, he adopted many unconventional methods and ruffled many feathers.
For instance, Sinha, a strong advocate of the unified command concept under which all security forces work together, often bypassed the chief minister to directly interact with army and police officials. At times, commanders of the army's 4 Corps, who head the operational group of the unified command, complained that Sinha himself deployed forces during crises.
A close friend of Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, Sinha is also seen as the man responsible for the disastrous Bharatiya Janata Party-Asom Gana Parishad alliance a month before the 2001 assembly election.
The Congress won the contest thanks largely to the alliance between the AGP, which had become highly unpopular by then, and the BJP, whose state leadership was never happy with the alliance.
Sinha, known for his anti-Congress stand ever since Indira Gandhi superseded him to give the army's top job to General A S Vaidya in 1983, has had a stormy relationship with the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in Assam, which came to power in May 2001.
His views on the infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam and the contentious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, are at complete variance with those of the Congress, which led to a well-publicised spat between him and the chief minister.
Sinha, who authored a controversial report on the influx of Bangladeshi migrants into Assam in November 1998, wants the IMDT Act repealed, something the Congress is opposed to.
Sinha will also be remembered for getting some of Assam's lesser-known leaders their due at the national level.
It was entirely through his efforts that Assam's first chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi was awarded a posthumous Bharat Ratna for his stellar role in preventing the state being made a part of the former East Pakistan.
Similarly, Sinha can rightfully claim credit for bringing a little-known but brilliant warrior from Assam, Lachit Barphukan, into the limelight. As far as Sinha was concerned, Barphukan, who defeated the Mughals in the battle of Saraighat, was as good as the famed Maratha warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji.
Using many of his old army connections, Sinha instituted a medal in the name of Barphukan for the best cadet in the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla.
These small but significant gestures made the former vice-chief of army staff a popular man among the intelligentsia in Assam, though some of his pet projects like the Samriddha Krishak Yojana -- to install more than one lakh (100,000) shallow tubewells in Assam to help irrigate the land in the dry season -- evoked sharp criticism.
Overall, however, the general will look back on his tenure in Assam with satisfaction.
A much more difficult assignment awaits him in Jammu & Kashmir. His likely successor in Assam, former army chief General Sundararajan Padmanabhan, will find Sinha a tough act to follow.
Image: Lynette Menezes
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