Friday, August 19, 2016

When Winter Comes Calling!

When Winter Comes Calling!
Au Revoir Lt Gen A K Singh, Welcome Prof. Jagdish Mukhi

By Zubair Ahmed

Setting aside all differences and prejudices, like a seasoned politician, who accepts defeat with dignity and victory with humility, its time for a balanced and impartial look at the emerging situation in the Islands after the recent change in guard.

Unlike Delhi with frequent skirmishes between the elected government and nominated Lt Governor, Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a different ball game altogether. With the Lt Governor as the Administrator and head of the territory with all powers vested upon him, the Member of Parliament is an ornamental post! And to be precise, the elected MP is like the frustrated caged fox squirrel scuttling around appearing quite busy, but flicking its tail furiously when it can't get at the nuts.

After Vakkom Purushotham, the Islands have not seen any seasoned politician as its Administrator.  For a long span of time, the Islands were governed by retired army generals as Administrators. Some of them were good at administration, but failed miserably in governance. Many of them whiled away their time. But things did change with Lt Gen A K Singh. He did prove to be a good administrator with an ear to the ground. In a short span of time, many projects which had been lying dormant were revived. Many projects fructified especially in the field of education, health and aviation. These were not without opposition or its share of criticism. And some of the achievements as well as criticism were indeed blown out of proportion too.  The criticism was not always out of place. A major share of it he inherited from Mr Anand Prakash, the Chief Secretary, who followed the ancient 'divide and rule' policy.

Despite all these, Lt Gen A K Singh doggedly pursued the projects at all levels and could materialize it. The Commissariat Nallah Dam, Multipurpose Indoor Stadium, Medical College, ANCOL, Chartered Flights and even the Flea Market, there are many contributions, one can keep counting in the years to come.

Meanwhile, he also drew flak for taking sides, showing favours and ignoring genuine voices. Shifting the project ANCOL from rural South Andaman to Port Blair despite objections and displeasure of many stakeholders was just one of them. While his focus on improving air connectivity is widely appreciated, neglect of the shipping sector with majority of vessels remaining non-operational during the last three years effecting services to Southern group and Middle and North Andaman cannot be ignored. Despite various long term and short term plans drawn after an extensive audit of transmission and distribution of power, the situation has worsened with frequent power cuts and interruptions.

On the social front, awareness about many social issues like alcoholism and suicide did get attention through seminars and setting up of committees, but nothing percolated to the grass-root level bringing any changes on the ground with sale of alcohol and suicide increasing manifold. He did try to bring some positive changes, but the system could not cope up with his pace.

Reconciliation had been always his forte. The bickering of Bishnu Pada Ray at various platforms including Lok Sabha could not get on the nerves of A K Singh, who maintained a dignified image in the public. Bishnu held Adalats where he sought the support of people to raise voice against the Lieutenant Governor to get him out mid-way. Sense prevailed and the Home Ministry took cognizance only after his stipulated term was over. AK Singh too invoked all gods in every heaven for furthering his stay is not a secret. The subtle turnaround by AK Singh from UPA to NDA only made things difficult for the MP. On the contrary, Vishal Jolly played the role of a ruling party.

In the last eight years, Islands witnessed two scenarios with Bishnu Pada Ray as the constant and three LGs as variables.  First, it was UPA at the centre with UPA appointed LGs with BJP MP, Second, NDA at Centre with UPA appointed LG and BJP MP in the Islands. In both cases, Bishnu, the constant had been at loggerheads, either with Centre or with the LG. And, he broadly blamed the scenarios for his helplessness.

And now Bishnu cannot ask for more, and blame anybody. Everything seems to be falling into place with the third scenario - NDA at the Centre and both MP and LG from BJP! Its a rare combination and will be interesting to watch how this arrangement functions, rather how Bishnu Pada Ray gets to perform as a Member of Parliament without pointing fingers. Till now, despite increased visibility in the House and raising vital issues, the output has been negligible. With upsetting the whole administrative setup, he could not achieve anything even in the village he adopted under the Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana. He had the LG to blame for all the failures. Was LG the impediment? Or the system itself where the role of MP is limited? With change in guard and the crescendo of the accompanied euphoria reaching higher and higher, it might look promising only if our MP could get his election manifesto translated into action.  Many lost promises need to be reminded. Retention of tsunami affected land by the farmers is just one among them.

With a seasoned politician with ample experience as MLA and minister especially from Delhi,  Prof Jagdish Mukhi, the appointed LG, realizes the constraints of an UT, and its right time for BJP as a party to push for a democratic setup for the Islands. With ample exposure of the way of bureaucrats especially DANICs and AGMUT cadre, he knows the dynamics of the system very well. But, the priorities of an Island territory needs to be spelled out very well. An Island territory cannot forget its lifeline - the shipping sector.

Alcoholism is one social scourge which needs immediate attention. A territory with less than half a million population consumed more than 5 million litres of liquor last year. There is a need to push for complete ban on liquor and arrest the downward trend in the socio-economic condition of the Islanders. The ecology and tribes give the Islands its distinctive identity, which cannot be overlooked in all  developmental initiatives.

The good things that happened under the leadership of A K Singh needs to continue. The institutions and initiatives have to be sustained. While setting new goals, old projects like undersea OFC cable shouldn't be put to backburner. Moreover, maturity needs to prevail with people and institutions not targeted for their allegiances and affiliations.

When the King changes, the King's Guard and the King's Hand at King's Landing shouldn't turn whisperers.

While appreciating the good work, recourses and reorientations wherever required needs to be done.

As an Islander, we must realize our fate that we are going to confront such situations every three years. Strangeness breeds alienation and skepticism.  Hope is the only constant that can take us through forward. Au revoir Lt Gen A K Singh! Lets welcome our new Administrator Prof Jagdish Mukhi.

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