Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Sinha PVSM, former Governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, has penned a most remarkable book titled Guarding India’s Integrity. Published by Manas Publications, New Delhi, it contains two Forewords – one by the former President APJ Abdul Kalam and the other by the former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. Within the confines of 375 pages, Sinha has written very ably and concisely about his experiences. In the chapter on “Mission Assam”, Sinha gives a panoramic overview of recent events, particularly during his tenure of office and in the background of the troubled times of the past few decades. Similar is the case with the chapters on Jammu and Kashmir – ‘Paradise in Peril: Kashmir Imbroglio’ and ‘Amarnath Controversy and After.’ The chapter ‘Interlude’ contains Sinha’s thoughts and impressions during the time he was free of any major assignments. This book must be read by everyone engaged in political, social or intellectual activities in India.
Those of us who were connected with the affairs of Assam would remember that among the Governors in the recent past, the most pro-active ones were B.K. Nehru, L.P. Singh, and S.K. Sinha. All of them were retired Government officers. Nehru made strong representations of the State’s problems to the Centre but failed to achieve any success. Singh tried to bring about cohesion among the sub-federating units through the North Eastern Council. His success was partial.
Sinha focused on the problem of identity of the indigenous people. He could not persuade the Centre to take any effective steps. But he could convince some of the mainstream leaders that Assam’s problems were real and that the enormous and unrelenting infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam was making the Assamese people a minority in their own land. Where he immensely succeeded was in giving stature and status to the local heroes in the all-India scene. The trinity of Sankardeva, Lachit Barphukan and Gopinath Bordoloi, ‘the three highly revered icons of the Assamese people,’ received his special attention, and he decided to ‘promote awareness about them in the whole country.’ It is only since Sinha’s time that the Governors and Chief Ministers of Assam have taken their oaths below the painting of Sankardeva in the Durbar hall of the Raj Bhawan. Similarly, it was through Sinha’s efforts that Lachit Barphukan’s military strategy has come to be well appreciated by every commissioned officer of the Indian Army. Gopinath Bordoloi’s elevation by the posthumous conferment of Bharat Ratna and the naming of the Guwahati Airport after Bordoloi are also Sinha’s achievements, which the Assamese people will long remember.
Actually, Sinha has been familiar with the State ever since he was posted at Palasbari as a nineteen year old subaltern in the Indian Army. Like many young people coming to the verdant Brahmaputra valley, he fell in love with the landscape. But, unlike most other Army officers, Sinha established an empathy with the local people which, after four more tenures in the State, flowered into deep love and respect for the different ethnic groups. Therefore, as Governor, he spared no pains to fight, in his own inimitable way, to solve the local problems. He encountered many hurdles and had to go through very difficult processes. But he managed to achieve success in some of his ventures, although he had his “share of failures” as he himself has admitted. All of this he did because of his “deep attachment for the people of Assam” and also because he “strongly felt that it was in our national interest to get the alienated people of Assam into the national mainstream.”
His greatest contribution to the State is his famous 42 page special report personally submitted on November 8, 1998 to President KR Narayanan at Guwahati on illegal migration from Bangladesh. This report was “based entirely on security and demography considerations. It was in the interest of the people of Assam, irrespective of their religion and also in the interest of national security.” According to Sinha, “there were some senior and respected Assamese Muslims who had agreed with my views.” Sinha has rightly claimed that “it was a matter of great satisfaction to me that the Supreme Court gave a landmark verdict upholding my recommendation on repealing the controversial IMDT Act, 1983 and quoting extensively from my report on the subject to the President.” The case in the Supreme Court had been filed and successfully fought by Sarbananda Sonowal, who became a hero for the Assamese people and was subsequently elected to the Lok Sabha.
The most controversial of Sinha’s decisions, which irked many Congress and the other political party leaders, was his refusal to sanction the prosecution of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the then Chief Minister, against whom the CBI had submitted definite charges in court in the LOC scam case. Sinha’s clarification explaining why he came to his controversial decision could not convince his detractors. Even “the CBI hierarchy was very upset” with his decision. It was pointed out that Sinha had erred in drawing the conclusion that “Mahanta’s criminal culpability could not be proved” although “he could not escape moral and political responsibility for this scam.”
Many people have written about Assam and the North East in recent years. But Sinha excels in his deep understanding of the sentiments and the aspirations of the people and in his serious concern for their wellbeing. This is one man who really loved Assam.
[The writer was Chief Secretary, Assam, during 1990-05]