India has its first woman Defence Minister who was on a visit to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nirmala Sitharaman who arrived here on Friday on a two-day visit to review the security situation along the borders and in the hinterland is also scheduled to visit the world’s highest battle field, the Siachen glacier.
Ms Sitharaman, who was accompanied by Army chief General Bipin Rawat, straightaway went to the frontier district of Kupwara and assessed the situation on the ground along the Line of Control (LoC). The defence minister enquired about the possible mechanisms that have been setup to counter infiltration bids and the preparedness of the forces on ground to tackle the issues on ground.
While the defence minister’s visit means very little to the population here as the past visits have shown, what the incumbent minister can do bring in some changes in the mindset of the people is to address those issues which concern a common man.
During her visit to the Rajbhawan where the visiting minister met the state Governor, N N Vohra, various points came up for discussion.
The Governor stressed the crucial need for urgent enlargement of BRO and very significant strengthening of its resources for ensuring the maintenance of vital road networks and strategic connectivity’s in J&K, particularly in the Ladakh region.
The Governor also sought Ms. Sitharaman’s personal intervention for the return of certain pockets of land to the State Government which were no longer required for military purposes, about which he had earlier held meetings with former Army Chief and defence ministers.
The observations by the Governor have been made earlier during his visits to New Delhi or the visits of the former defence ministers to the state. But all these recommendations and observations have not been even heard, not to talk about any action being taken on ground.
This being the reason that we say that a common man shows no interest in these visits by ministers and dignitaries. The common man out in the streets is disillusioned over the delay in various people friendly measures.
The defence minister during her visit can make a difference by announcing the construction of tunnels at Razdan pass on Bandipore- Gurez road and Sadhna pass on Kupwara-Tanghdar road. This will be a people’s friendly announcement which will go a long way in restoring the faith of people living in these areas towards the government institutions.
Moreover, during the defence ministers meeting with the state Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti issues like opening up of areas like Battalik, Siachin base and other areas for tourist activities including trekking, mountain biking should also get a favorable response so that a fresh beginning can be made to help restore some semblance to the already widening fissures that have developed between a common man and the armed forces during the past few years.
If given the response, to win the hearts and minds of the people, the defence minister has given so far-then playing serious to the host of demands can be a good beginning. And it has to come at this point of time only. The first woman defence minister can afford to make a difference.