Life & Influence of Yashpal Sharma: A Tribute

Dr Sushil Kumar Sharma

‘When the sea is calm, anyone can steer the ship,’ as Publilius Syrus once put it. The mere words admit that only a small number of people have the strength of character, resolve, and perseverance to pull the ship out of the depths of troubled waters. One such personage had a huge impact on our lives and was truly one of a kind in the whole Pir Panchal area; he helped millions of people find their way through the labyrinth of prejudice, discrimination, and injustice. With much reverence and admiration, I refer to Yashpal Sharma, who has seen the development of different geographical and political formulations against the shifting backdrop of social and political events in the State of J&K since 1947. He gave everything he had to his society and to humanity. Through the movement he spearheaded in 1978, advocating regional disparities and job discrimination for the meritorious populace, he demonstrated both the principled position and the moral force underpinning it that were crucial in eradicating the system of corruption, nepotism, and poor governance. The ex-regent of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Minister for Health, Dr Karan Singh, said, “The violence in Poonch is emblematic of the popular discontent in the region.” The significance of the movement can be grasped from this declaration. Remarkably, he came out the other side of this struggle without animosity, determined to build a new community based on open dialogue and mutual respect. The microcosm of brotherhood he helped preserve in the Pir Panchal region was in large part due to his use of dialogue and understanding in a region ravaged by terrorism and recurrent cross-border tensions. And when entrenched interests tried to tarnish and contaminate the traditional camaraderie among residents of this border district in August 2008, his effort to restore mutual confidence and faith among the people was particularly commendable, as observed by the renowned historian K D Maini. When terrorist activity was first detected in the area, he and other community leaders held numerous meetings with the public to bolster morale. Anything could happen, he told Prof Sumantra Bose in a 2003 interview, emphasising that the surrounding villages were teeming with militants (P.N. 155, Kashmir-Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace). This sheds light on how he sees the scenario unfolding right now. Most of the villagers were forced to flee their homes that year owing to violations of the ceasefire, but he and his friends not only welcomed them with open arms but also visited the camps frequently to provide psychological and material support to the families. Aware of the difficulties border residents face on a daily basis and concerned about ingressions on traditional brotherhood among people of different faiths and understandings, he emphasised the importance of spiritual and religious institutions in fostering interpersonal behaviours and attitudes that emphasise a range of positive and pro-social goals (such as interpersonal warmth and friendliness, love, compassion, harmony, tolerance, and forgiveness) and that mitigate anti-social behaviour. With this goal in mind, he helped build various community halls for the locals and worked to protect Poonch’s spiritual and cultural traditions. His determination to give solace to a population bearing the brunt of terrorism and border tensions for decades is seen in the recently built NavGreh Temple, which is only three kilometres from the actual line of control.
Noting that he works in accordance with the worldview of activists who prioritise a problem-solving approach is essential at this juncture. While serving as president of the Poonch Municipal Council and a member of the J&K Legislative Council, he advocated for more citizen participation in local government. To this day, his tenure as mayor is remembered as Poonch’s ‘golden era’ across all socioeconomic classes. While also serving on the Legislative Council, he oversaw the timely completion of all of his projects and the fair distribution of his CDF to individuals in need around the state. He claims to value openness, public participation, and personal responsibility in the workplace, all of which point to him being an advocate of good governance. From his vantage point, advancing the ‘good governance’ paradigm which emphasises, among other things, responsiveness, predictability, openness, accountability, the rule of law, public involvement, and consensus building-was the key to breaking the current impasse around the world and in J&K in particular. Given that these regions share a border with a hostile neighbour, he believed that the absence of higher education possibilities in these areas is a problem for both the general welfare of those who live there and for the nation as a whole. After coming to this conclusion, he questioned the relevant authorities during the legislature session about the reasons for the long delay in constructing the Poonch University Campus and establishing the requisite technical institutes. His dedication to updating the district hospital’s infrastructure and technological equipment is indicative of his unparalleled interest in providing state-of-the-art medical treatment to the people living in the inaccessible border belt. In addition, he discussed the need for an industrial complex and for incentives for young people without jobs to create their own firms in a variety of formal and public settings. For decades, he struggled alongside people from all walks of life to establish social justice and a culture of peace. On the anniversary of the day he left us, may we never forget to use his life as inspiration and to answer his call to action in order to make society a more just, humane, and equitable place for all.
(The author is HoD Cardiology, GMC/SSH Jammu).

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