New Delhi: Once tipped to be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017 before Yogi Adityanath was selected for the post, former Union minister Manoj Sinha has now been appointed the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) of the politically-sensitive Jammu and Kashmir, which got its third governor in less than two years.
His appointment comes a day after the first anniversary of the scrapping of Article 370 in J&K, and the state being split into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Sources in the BJP said G.C. Murmu was abruptly asked to resign as the L-G Wednesday night after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the decision to send Sinha, his close confidante, to J&K.
The appointment of the Bhumihar leader from eastern UP was, however, not unexpected. It was conveyed to him last week by the BJP brass that he would be given some important responsibility.
A source in the BJP told ThePrint Sinha was sent to Manipur by Union Home Minister Amit Shah with party leader and spokesperson Baijayant Panda to take stock of the volatile political situation in the state.
Sinha was asked on 1 August to come to Delhi. He came to the national capital earlier this week, and met PM Modi and Shah and was told about his appointment.
“It was decided by the top two leaders (Modi and Shah) to induct him in the BJP organisation as vice-president, but then they discussed in the last week why not send him to J&K as the L-G. He has administrative experience and being a political leader, he can handle the crucial union territory. It was after these discussions, that he was conveyed about his appointment and Murmu was asked to put in his papers,” said a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.
“It (appointment) was only a matter of time due to his close proximity with the PM and his clean and low-profile image. Despite having handled the high profile ministry of telecom, he lost the Lok Sabha elections from Ghazipur in 2019 due to polarisation and united fight of Mayawati and Akhilesh (Yadav). Had he not lost the polls, his elevation as one of the top five cabinet ministers was certain. There was no doubt about it,” the leader added.
Three main criteria behind Sinha’s appointment
BJP leaders told ThePrint that Sinha’s appointment was done mainly on three criteria.
First, he was close to PM Modi and equally enjoyed the confidence of Shah. Secondly, there was a need to have a political person lead the union territory to build a conducive environment to initiate political activities that remained stalled in J&K after the scrapping of Article 370.
And finally, Sinha is a low-profile leader, unlike former governor Satya Pal Malik, who was acting like a BJP spokesperson by giving his views on every subject, said party leaders.
A minister close to Shah told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity: “Soon after the creation of the UT and scrapping of the Article 370, there was a need of a bureaucrat to streamline various issues of J&K like transfer of cadres, finances, domicile issues. So Murmu (who is an IAS veteran) was appointed.
“But now, there is a need for a mature, political person to head the sensitive UT with administrative experience, and Sinha fits the bill. A few other names were also discussed but the PM zeroed in on Sinha as he does not have the bimari (disease) of ‘chapas’ (wanting to get published everyday by speaking on issues),” the minister said.
According to a second BJP leader, there was a growing realisation at the Centre that the “political vacuum” in J&K needs to be filled.
“BJP J&K unit has been asked to demand full statehood for the UT. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav had also said last month that the party wants to get J&K full statehood again,” he said.
“The situation will unfold in the coming months after the release of the rest of the leaders, so there was a need to select a person, who can meet the cross-sections of the society, gain their trust and prepare the ground work without making too much noise. His attitude should be to solve problems, and not be obstructionist and bureaucratic. This is the reason Murmu was removed and a political person was selected,” said the leader.
Sinha-Modi relationship four-decade old
Sinha’s relationship with PM Modi is four decades old.
Sinha completed his engineering from BHU where he was with the ABVP and became the student union president. He later became the council member of the BJP.
The first BJP leader said Modi and Sinha would usually meet at BJP council meetings.
“Modi was impressed with Sinha’s technical background as an engineer, his grassroots connection, rustic approach and low-key image. His fortune turned with the elevation of Modi as the prime minister in 2014. Sinha was appointed the minister of state for railways and later for telecommunications,” he added.
He was also the party in-charge of PM’s Varanasi constituency in 2014 and 2019, and major development projects were executed there under his supervision.
The PM was also highly impressed with his conduct as the telecom minister, the leader said.
“During his tenure, the decision to roll out 5G was taken…,” he added.
A third BJP leader said that the BJP’s central election committee gave Sinha a negative report on his winnability from Ghazipur in the Lok Sabha polls last year due to polarisation and joint fight by Akhilesh and Mayawati. The PM then asked Sinha to fight from another seat, but he refused.
“He said, ‘Sir, I have done enormous work in eastern region and Ghazipur. If I am not elected from Ghazipur, how will I be elected from anywhere else’,” said the leader.
Almost on the verge of becoming the UP CM
After the 2017 UP elections, Sinha was tipped to be the chief minister. The BJP top leadership had almost zeroed in on his name and the only formality left was to elect him as the legislature party leader in Lucknow.
Sinha had even gone for a thanksgiving visit to Kaal Bhairav and Kashi Vishwanath temples in Varanasi.
A huge cavalcade of around 50 cars was planned to take him to Lucknow for the legislature party meeting, but a sudden phone call to Amit Shah by RSS general secretary Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi, requesting that Adityanath should be considered for the CM’s post, changed everything.
One of Sinha’s friends from BHU, Professor S.K. Sinha, told ThePrint: “Despite his defeat in the 2019 election, he was not upset. He said ‘All these happen in politics. I have worked with full commitment and such development work never happened in this region (eastern UP)’.”
The professor said Sinha was a big Kishore Kumar fan and often hummed his songs.
“Last month, he told me that lockdown has given him so much time that he read Ramcharitmanas and Sanskriti Ke Char Adhyay twice,” he added.