Srinivas Kumar Sinha

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Lieutenant General (Retd.) Srinivas Kumar Sinha, PVSM (born 1926) is an Indian soldier. After his retirement, he served as Governor of the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.

History[edit]

Early life[edit]

General SK Sinha was born in Gaya, Bihar, the son of Mithilesh Kumar Sinha, IP[disambiguation needed], the first Indian Inspector-General of Police of the state of Bihar.[1] He graduated with Honours from Patna University in 1943 at the age of 17, and joined the Indian Army soon thereafter, passing out as the Best Cadet from the Officers' Training School, Belgaum, the war time equivalent of the Sword of Honour. He saw combat service during the Second World War in Burma and Indonesia and, after India became independent, in Kashmir. He served two tenures in Nagaland and Manipur taking part in counter insurgency operations.

Army career[edit]

In 1953, General Sinha secured the top position at the Defence Services Staff College in India and in 1962 again, at the Joint Services Staff College in the United Kingdom. He held all levels of active command in the Army from a platoon to a field army. He commanded a battalion in Ladakh, a brigade in Manipur, a mountain division in Assam, an infantry division in Jammu, a corps in the Punjab and a field Army in the Western Theatre. He held key staff and instructional appointments. He served as Director, Military Intelligence, Adjutant General and Vice Chief of Army Staff at Army Headquarters. He also served as an instructor at Mhow and Staff College, Wellington. In 1949, he was appointed Secretary of the Indian delegation on delineation of the Cease Fire Line in Kashmir at a meeting convened by the United Nations. He led the Indian delegation to Italy in 1972 for a conference on application of human rights to warfare. He was awarded the Param Vishist Sewa Medal in 1973. He was made Honorary ADC to the President of India and also President of the Gorkha Brigade.

In a publication in the US by the noted South Asian expert, Stephen Cohen, he has been referred to as one of India's most outstanding post-independence Generals.[2]

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked Gen. Sinha to compose a plan to attack Golden Temple, the holiest of all Sikh shrines. Gen. Sinha was willing to carry out the order but sought permission from the then Defense Minister to convey his views to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi before ordering his soldiers. He was not able to submit his views and the order to him was rescinded. He had his own prescription of how to extricate the terrorists from Golden Temple. He knew that an attack on Golden Temple would alienate the Sikhs and jeopardise the unity of Indian Army which is so reliant on Sikh soldiers. He sought premature retirement from the Army in 1983 on being denied the appointment of Army Chief. His surprise supersession and resignation became a national controversy. His dignified statement at the time of his supersession added to his stature. He stated that he did not question the decision of the Government but accepted it and had chosen to fade away from the Army. All newspapers and magazines wrote very favourably about him. Former Prime Minister, former Defence Minister and many senior political leaders issued a joint statement in his favour and also raised the issue in the Parliament.The officer chosen to be the Chief was his friend and a competent General.

It was a surprise when he was superseded and Lt.-Gen. A. S. Vaidya, the GOC-in-C Eastern Command was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff. General Vaidya was in-charge when Operation Blue star took place. General Sinha remained in national focus after quitting the Army through his lectures on academic subjects in Universities and numerous edit page articles in national newspapers.[3]

Ambassador to Nepal[edit]

In 1990 General Sinha was appointed India’s Ambassador to Nepal, when autocratic rule prevailed in that country and bilateral relations with India had hit their nadir in the wake of the trade and transit impasse of 1989. During his tenure in Nepal, democracy was restored in Nepal and India-Nepal relations were raised to a high level of cordiality. The Prime Minister of India stated that General Sinha had played a major role in this happy development. The Prime Minister of Nepal wrote, "General Sinha was as much India's Ambassador to Nepal as Nepal's Ambassador to India".[3]

Governor of Assam[edit]

In 1997 General Sinha was appointed Governor of Assam at a time when insurgency in that State was at its peak. He crafted a three prong strategy of unified command, economic development and psychological initiatives. Heavy attrition was inflicted on the militants through co-ordinated and intensified military operations breaking the back of the militants. He was instrumental in installing one lakh shallow tube wells in Brahmaputra valley turning Assam from a rice deficit State to a rice surplus State. His psychological initiatives had a large emotional content. Such an approach was tried out for the first time and it yielded rich dividends. His 42-page printed report to the President on illegal migration from Bangladesh addressed the root cause of insurgency in the State. This report was serialised and published in full in all newspapers of the State. His recommendation on scrapping the Illegal Migration Detection By Tribunal (IMDT) Act, which facilitated illegal migration and applied only to Assam and not to other states, took the people of Assam by storm. Although controversial in some circles at the time, the Supreme Court struck down the IMDT ACT quoting extensively from his report. He started being referred to as "our man in Raj Bhavan". His attempts to make the people of Assam proud of their past and the rest of India proud of Assam, touched the emotional chords of the people. He projected the three icons of Assam, Saint Shankardev, General Lachit Borphukan and the great statesman Gopinath Bordoloi as national heroes. Documentaries on their lives were prepared and shown on Doordarshan. A statue of Lachit was installed at National Defence Academy, Pune and a gold medal instituted in his name for cadet with best officer-like qualities. Guwahati airport was renamed Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport and a posthumous Bharat Ratna was obtained for him fifty years after his death. His 11-foot (3.4 m) bronze statue was installed in the Lok Sabha at Delhi. These and other such measures were successful in winning the hearts and minds of the people and bringing them back into the national mainstream, completely isolating the militants. Senior journalist, Shri D N Bezboruah, former Editor of The Sentinel and President of The Editors' Guild of India, wrote abut him, "a Governor who far outshone all his predecessors in not being just a titular Head of State, but a Governor who served the State brilliantly with deep commitment to its people for six glorious and eventful years. He sought to rebuild the psychological alienation that crept in between Assam and the Indian heartland." When he departed from Assam in 2003 insurgency was virtually over in the State and he was popularly referred to as "a true son of the soil of Assam."

Governor of Jammu and Kashmir[edit]

On 4 June 2003 General Sinha took over as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. His three prong strategy did not work as well in Kashmir as it had done in Assam. This was due to deep rooted religious fundamentalism being the root cause for militancy in the State, laced with proxy war by Pakistan. Matters got compounded by the fact that his relations with Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became strained due to fundamental differences between them. Sinha opposed the Chief Minister's healing touch for the terrorists supporting instead a healing touch for the victims of terrorists. Ultimately Mufti succeeded in getting Government of India to sanction pension for families of terrorists killed in encounter with Security Forces. Such a bizarre arrangement does not exist anywhere in the world. Even in India, families of other terrorist organisations in the North East or the Maoists do not receive such munificence from the Government. Sinha also opposed the Chief Minister's recommendation for the demilitarisation of Kashmir and for the Indian Army to quit the State. He also opposed the Chief Minister's advocacy of a joint Upper House in Kashmir with Pakistan and a dual currency in Kashmir. The State Assembly had constituted the Amarnath Shrine Board under the chairmanship of the Governor during the regime of Dr Farooq Abdulla in 2002 to conduct the increasingly popular Amarnath pilgrimage. General Sinha took over as Chairman of the Board in 2003 and proposed increased duration of Yatra and better facilities for pilgrims. Mufti opposed this and placed other hurdles in the functioning of the Board. A PIL was filed by a pilgrim organisation in Jammu and Kashmir High Court which overruled the decision of Mufti. The State Government filed an appeal before a Division Bench and the High Court again gave a verdict against the State Government.

Things improved drastically, with a new Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, at the helm. There was very harmonious cordial relations between General Sinha and the new Chief Minister. General Sinha worked through the Army while Mufti was Chief Minister. On Azad taking over as Chief Minister, the State Government's full support for his three prong strategy was available. Violence in the State was reduced considerably through effective military operations. The average daily rate of killing came down from ten to one. A tremendous lot was done for economic development. Generous aid from the Centre and the great drive shown by the new Chief Minister led to all round improvement. At the insistence of General Sinha, the Army installed one thousand micro hydel projects based on water mills providing 5 to 8 kilowat of electricity. 30 to 40 light points were provided in villages on the mountains where people had not before seen electric bulbs. By day the power was used for grinding corns and operating looms. This was a great boon for Gujjars and Bakharwals who welcomed these projects by flying the national flag in their villages and people lining up the road with paper national flags at the inauguration of these projects. Along with the new Chief Minister, General Sinha went all out to promote Kashmiriyat which stands for amity across religious divide. In October 1947 he had flown into Srinagar with the first lot of Indian Army soldiers to rescue the people of Kashmir from a brutal invasion launched by Pakistan. At that time the entire sub-continent was engulfed in the Partition holocaust of unprecedented communal violence. Kashmir Valley was an exception where there was no communal tension or violence. While the invaders were at Pattan a bare twenty miles from Srinagar the slogan of the people in the city was "Hamlewar Hoshiar Hum Kashmiri Hindu Muslim Sikh Tayar (Invaders Beware We Kashmiri Hindu Muslim Sikh Are Ready). Mahatma Gandhi had said at that time that he saw a ray of light in Kashmir. General Sinha decided to go all out to revive that old spirit of Kashmitiyat as an anti-dote to religious fundamentalism which was the root cause for militancy in the State.

As Chairman of Amarnath Shrine Board, he started a three days Sufi music festival in Srinagar to mark the commencement of the Amarnath Yatra. For the first time Pakistani musicians came to perform in Srinagar along with Indian musicians, at this festival. Artists from Egypt, Syria and Uzbekistan also started participating in this function. At the request of the local people, General Sinha had several Ziarats (graves of Muslim saints) renovated. This was hailed by the people. After the renovation of an important Ziarat at Badgam a record gathering assembled at its inauguration by General Sinha. However, the Chief Cleric of Kashmir issued a Fatwa against the Army for interfering in religious matters. Ghulam Nabi Azad organised an essay competition for school students on teachings of Mahatma Gandhi for which several handsome cash prizes were announced. Despite the boycott call given by the separatists 50,000 school children participated in this competition. The Chief Cleric of Kashmir now issued a Fatwa against Azad for subverting Islamic philosophy. As Chancellor of Kashmir University, General Sinha established an Institute of Kashmir Studies. A highly successful international seminar on Kashmiriyat was organised by the Institute with participation of scholars from Pakistan and Central Asian Republics. The high-water mark of such activity was an international conference at Srinagar on 25 May 2008 to spread Kashmiriyat. High level delegations from all the eight South Asian countries attended this function at Srinagar, presided over by the President of India. The following day the famous Junoon band from Pakistan was invited to play Sufi pop music. The leader of the band in his opening speech stated that he had come to Srinagar to launch a musical jihad for peace. Despite the boycott calls given by the separatists and fundamentalists, there was a record turn out of several thousands for these functions. The leading English daily of Pakistan, Dawn, in its editorial on 28 May 2008 under the heading Breaking Barriers wrote, "Music knows no boundaries .... The people of Kashmir expressed their anger against religious militants and their violence." Dr Kalam, the former President Of India wrote about General Sinha, "his approach to win the hearts of the people through Kasmiriyat was definitely making an impact.... General Sinha declared that he would do his best to promote Kashmiriyat which stood for amity and brotherhood cutting across religious divide. I could see this spirit in General Sinha during my visits to Jammu and Kashmir." The spectacular functions at Srinagar in end of May 2008 was a fitting finale to the end of General Sinha's five year tenure as Governor of the State in early June 2008. The separatists were very rattled at the success achieved in promoting Kashmiriyat. They feared losing popular support and were on the look out for an opportunity for a counter offensive. Ironically on the same day as the Dawn wrote its editorial, the State Government sanctioned diversion/transfer of forest land to six different agencies. This was a routine affair. Among these six diversions/transfers was also the diversion of 100 acres of land at Baltal, traditionally used as base camp for pilgrims going to Amarnath. The separatists chose to pick on this for starting a communal agitation. The land at Baltal was completely barren and not used for any purpose other than as base camp for Amarnath pilgrims. It gets covered with deep snow for eight months in a year when it remains unapproachable and uninhabitable. The Government order sanctioning the diversion of this land to the Shrine Board specified that the ownership of the land will remain with the State Government and the Board could use this land for no other purpose than putting up temporary prefabricated huts for pilgrims. The Board had requested for this land in 2005 with the approval of General Sinha. Two PDP Ministers, Mufti's party, examined this request for three years and then recommended this case to the Cabinet. The latter including all PDP Ministers unanimously approved this. In spite of these facts, the separatists started an agitation against this diversion on the basis of total falsehood. They spread the canard that the Shrine Board was setting up a Hindu township to bring in Hindus and change the demography of the Valley like Israel had done in Palestine. It was part of a deep rooted conspiracy to arouse communal passion. The Valley Press went all out to promote this propaganda. It was said that a lot of money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had come to sustain this propaganda. Even the secular national Press got affected. The agitation was gaining momentum when General Sinha departed but soon after his departure from Kashmir the agitation became a tornado sweeping the Valley. It was being propagated that on the eve of his departure General Sinha had transferred the Baltal land to fulfill a Hindu agenda. The agitation became violent and many lives were lost. The Government to appease the agitators cancelled the Baltal land allotment order and even virtually dissolved the Amarnath Shrine Board. Mufti's party which had been a party to sanctioning the diversion of the Baltal land joined the band wagon of the agitation. An equally massive counter agitation erupted in Jammu which lasted for three long months. The disinformation was so great that Omar Abdulla in an emotional outburst in the Parliament made a meaningless assertion, "Jan Denge Par Zamin Nahin Denge". This further fueled the agitation in Jammu. Surprisingly at the national level some senior journalists and civil rights activists started advocating that India should pull out from Kashmir. However, as a result of the massive counter agitation in Jammu, the Government was forced to restore the status qou ante. The order withdrawing diversion of Baltal Land was rescinded and the Shrine Board allowed to function as before. In this summer madness of three months, sixty lives were lost and the State's economy suffered a loss of over 1,000 crores. The epitaph to this whole unfortunate and avoidable tragedy was the statement of Maulana Mahmood Madani, who led six hundred Deoband clerics to Hyderabad. He stated, "Transferring of land from the Forest Department to the Board did not hurt Muslim interests in any way. There was nothing to oppose. It was unnecessarily made into a political issue by all sides."

Books[edit]

General Sinha has been a prolific writer having contributed nearly 300 edit page articles in national newspapers. He is the author of nine books including one on Jammu and Kashmir Operation of 1947–48 and his autobiography, A Soldier Recalls.[4] His other books are Of Matters Military, Pataliputra, Veer Kuer Singh, A Governor's Musings, Reminiscences and Reflections and Changing India, Guarding India's Integrity: A Pro-Active Governor Speaks. The latter covers at length, his tenures as Governor of Assam and of Jammu and Kashmir, and has a foreword by Dr A P J Kalam.

References[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Lok Nath Misra
Governor of Assam
1997–2003
Succeeded by
Arvind Dave
Preceded by
Mata Prasad
Governor of Arunachal Pradesh
17 MAY 1999 – 1 AUG 1999
Succeeded by
Arvind Dave
Preceded by
Girish Chandra Saxena
Governor of Jammu and Kashmir
2003–2008
Succeeded by
Narinder Nath Vohra