On August 5, exactly a year after Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status and statehood, Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu submitted his resignation to the president.

On August 6, Rashtrapati Bhavan issued a press communique: “The President has been pleased to appoint Shri Manoj Sinha to be the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir with effect from the date he assumes charge of his office vice Shri Girish Chandra Murmu.”

Murmu is an Indian Administrative Service officer in the Gujarat cadre from the batch of 1985. He was appointed lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir on October 29, 2019. That was two days before the former state officially became two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Sinha, in contrast, has been a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1989, a contender for the post of Uttar Pradesh chief minister and a member of Parliament.

Who is Manoj Sinha?

Sinha entered politics in his student days, when he was getting a degree in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology-Banaras Hindu University. He joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP, and was elected as president of the Banaras Hindu University students’ union in 1982.

In 1989, he was inducted into the national council of the BJP. That was a turbulent year in Eastern Uttar Pradesh – Vishwa Hindu Parishad cadres had just planted “shilanyas” or foundation stones for a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

By the time of Lok Sabha elections of 1996, Sinha was given the BJP ticket for the Eastern Uttar Pradesh constituency of Ghazipur. He won that year, and again in 1999. In 2014, he won a third term from the Ghazipur seat. In 2019, however, he lost by 1.19 lakh votes to Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Afzal Ansari.

Over the years, he gained a reputation as the “Vikas Purush”, the man of development working in the backward areas of rural Uttar Pradesh. At the Centre, he served as Union minister of state (independent charge) for communications and union minister of state for railways. He has also been a member of the standing committee on energy. He describes himself as an “agriculturist” and “social worker” in his Parliament profile. Some credit him with steering the telecom industry out of troubled waters when he took charge in 2016.

In 2017, the relatively low-key technocrat Sinha lost the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s seat to Adityanath, who had made the promise to build a Ram temple a major part of his campaign. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, however, Sinha appears to have launched a more strident campaign. He was caught on camera threatening critics: “BJP’s workers are ready to bury corruption and illegal wealth. No one has the temerity to look a BJP worker in the eye. If they do, then rest assured, those eyes will not be safe.”

Manoj Sinha.

A sudden switch

As news of Murmu’s resignation and Sinha’s appointment broke, many questioned the sudden change of guard. Murmu is reportedly bound for Delhi to be appointed the new comptroller and auditor general. Yet his departure has taken many in Kashmir by surprise.

“It happened suddenly, nobody thought it was coming,” said a mid-level government official in Srinagar who did not want to be identified.

Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and National Conference leader, remarked on Twitter: “In a strange coincidence both the last Governor of J&K state & the 1st Lt Governor of the Union Territory of J&K have been removed when they least expected it. They both had a full schedule of meetings planned when they got the order to pack & leave rather unceremoniously.”

Abdullah was referring to former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, who preceded Murmu. After the state became two Union Territories, the office of the governor was replaced by two lieutenant governors.

Murmu’s exit comes weeks after the Election Commission took exception to his remarks that polls to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir would be held soon after delimitation. “In the Constitutional scheme of things, the timings etc. of elections is the sole remit of Election Commission of India,” it said in a press release on July 28.

Murmu had also said high-speed internet would be restored soon to Kashmir, which has gone a year without it. But the Union home ministry soon repudiated this statement.

A political governor?

Some believe the appointment of a former politician was deliberate. “Maybe, New Delhi wants things to move in Kashmir now, politically,” said the government official in Srinagar.

Similar predictions had been made when Malik was appointed governor in 2018. Unlike most previous governors, Malik was a career politician who had moved from Lohiaite parties and the Congress to the BJP. He was appointed at a time when the elected government in Jammu and Kashmir had collapsed after the BJP walked out of the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party and the state was plunged into governor’s rule.

Unlike the taciturn Murmu, Malik was an outspoken governor, holding frequent press conferences, even inviting militants to talk to him.

Political observers in the former state had remarked it would help the BJP form a government there. Instead, a year later, the BJP at the Centre turned the state into a Union Territory closely watched over by the Union ministry of home affairs.