Failure Of Both Man And Machine In Jammu And Kashmir

Raman Swamy

Failure of Machine

A fax machine has changed the history of Jammu and Kashmir.   Forget the conspiracy theories behind the controversial dissolution of the Assembly by the Governor.   Let the political party leaders in the State say what they want and do whatever they are instructed to do by their faceless masters in Delhi or Islamabad, Washington or Beijing.   Leave aside the allegations and counter-allegations, the reasons, excuses and justifications going viral on Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.  Ignore the talking heads on national TV.

It was a fax machine that was at the centre of all the confusion, all the drama and all destiny-altering decisions.  Whether it was a broken, malfunctioning, defective facsimile device in Jammu city’s Raj Bhawan or simply an unattended telecopying printer that was out of paper is not known yet. 

Only a CBI inquiry can unearth all the murky details and piece together the paper trail, money trail or tapped phone conversations, CCTV footage, Aadhaar biometric verification footprints. 

Then again, with the CBI itself in the throes of an identity and credibility crisis of its own, perhaps it would be wiser to leave it out of the sensitive Kashmir picture altogether, lest it leads to another chain reaction of in-fighting, midnight transfers, court supervised fast-track inquiries and secret submissions in a sealed envelope that mysteriously leaks out to investigative web portals thereby evoking judicial displeasure and abrupt postponement of hearing.

His Excellency the Governor has sought to pour oil over troubled waters by declaring that "Yesterday was Eid. Why would anyone be sitting next to a fax machine on a holiday? There was no one in the Raj Bhawan to even give me food”.  

Perhaps realizing that that doesn’t sound quite the right to say for the caretaker of 1.44 crore highly-stressed people of a very volatile State, particularly in view of the adage that Rulers, like Terrorists, never sleep and are supposed to remain always alert and ever-ready for the sound of gunfire or ringtones of a high-priority phone call or the beep of an incoming fax message, His Excellency added an alternative narrative:
"Even if I had got the fax message, my decision would have been the same", he told a television interviewer. Adding further - “She could have come to me the day before",  the “she” being Mehbooba Mufti,  former chief minister and currently the distraught PDP chieftain who feels scorned and dejected that her frantic attempts to stake claim on behalf of a new-born alliance to form a new government was thwarted by a wicked fax machine that refused to work. 

Mehbooba had composed a beautifully succinct letter addressed to His Excellency Satya Pal Malikji, in which she had explained that she was in Srinagar and he was in Jammu and hence she was unable to immediately call him personally and therefore she wished to keep him informed that she along with others would seek to meet him shortly at his convenience and that till then he should be aware that her party was in a position to stake claim to form the government with the support of the National Conference and the Congress and that all together their collective strength had risen to 56.

It was all in vain. The letter had been scanned and fed into the fax machine but the facsimile image just would not reach the destination. The send button was repeatedly tapped and pressed and even hit in desperation. But the device at the other end was defiantly unresponsive, whether because of the holiday or some electronic glitch, Mehbooba had no way of knowing. 

Thinking fast, she took to Twitter and sent off a tweet: “Have been trying to send this letter to Rajbhavan. Strangely the fax is not received. Tried to contact HE Governor on phone. Not available. Hope you see it @jandkgovernor.

This was at 8.16 p.m. on that fateful, history-changing Wednesday. Her arch rival in the race to form the government, Sajjad Lone, was just half-a-hour behind her.  His tweet at 8.40 p.m., read - “We have sent a letter to His Excellency the Governor staking our claim to form the government. Fax not working. We have WhatsApped it to the PA to His Excellency. @jandkgovernor.

What this proved was that none of the key players can be accused of deceit - they were both telling the truth” the fax machine in Jammu Raj Bhawan was not working.  

In a way this is a matter of great relief. In an era of fake news and fake claims and fake allegations, at last one tiny morsel of truth has emerged. When two different politicians with directly conflicting interests, political aspirations and bitterly opposed support groups say the same thing, it has to be true.  The fax machine was not functioning. 

It is a different matter that at a time when the whole country has gone digital and the government at the Centre is proactively discouraging decadent old habits and customs of cash economy and snail mail communications, there should be this sudden breakdown in electronic transmission of messages, especially such letters, scanned images and printouts containing momentous information pertaining to matter of State and the future of mankind. 

It is no hyperbole to link the administration of the State of J&K to the future of mankind.  The Kashmir crisis or tangle as it used to be called does not affect the 1.44 crore people of the three regions alone but the ramifications of having or not having a legitimate and stable government in the State reverberate across the country and across the borders and across the South Asian continent, and therefore, the world.  

This is the single-most chronic unsolved issue on the planet, next only perhaps to the Palestine-Israel dispute – however, in terms of numbers the total number of humans who live on the Gaza strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem combined is just 45 lakh. Even Israel’s population consists of just 59 lakh Jews and 14 lakh Arabs.   

The fax failure on Wednesday between Srinagar and Jammu impacted the fate of a far bigger slice of humanity than is normally realized. It wasn’t just a communications glitch or a political machination; it was a test of the trustworthiness of both man and machine. They both failed.

Failure Of Man

In a controversial move that is being seen as highly partisan and even unconstitutional, J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the state Assembly on Wednesday night.

Amidst high drama over PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti's letter, claiming support of the National Conference and the Congress, for government formation in Jammu and Kashmir, the stage was set for a possible installation of a new government but the Governor punctured the prospect by dissolving the House, triggering off vociferous protsts from leaders of the National Conference, PDP and Congress.  

Omar Abdullah of the NC took to Twitter saying it could not be a coincidence that the Governor decided to dissolve the Assembly within minutes after Mehbooba Mufti made her letter public.

Terming the dissolution as undemocratic and unconstitutional, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said that Mehbooba Mufti should move court against the Governor's decision. "Mehbooba Mufti wrote to Governor only after Congress and NC supported PDP and the Governor should have given her a chance," he added.

Earlier, former chief minister and PDP patron Mehbooba Mufti staked the claim to form a government with the support of the Congress and the National Conference. In a letter to the Governor, Mehbooba said the PDP is the largest party in the state assembly having strength of 29 MLAs.

Shortly thereafter, People's Conference leader Sajad Lone also staked claim to form the government with the help of the 25-member BJP. 

Observers say the Governor’s action could plunge the troubled State into a new phase of turmoil. It is likely that the three parties which have been thwarted by the Governor’s sudden move could approach the courts. 

Earlier, it had looked like a new gathbhandhan and a new political alliance was shaping up to form the next government of Jammu and Kashmir which was not just breathtaking but looked like a signal that at long last major political parties had  finally come to their senses. 

For far too long the idyllic land of the Chinar has been wracked by myopic politics which the forces of evil - both within and without the State - have taken advantage of for their own monstrous motives and devilish designs.   

At a very basic level, all that the people of Kashmir have really craved for is honour and respect.  All the talk of separatism and independence, all the bloodshed and bomb blasts, high-pitched politicking and wanton use of pellet guns were imported from the outside. 

The two major regional political parties in the Valley, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, allowed themselves to be so swayed by their bitterness towards each other that they lost sight of a feasible solution to the trauma and sufferings of their voters and supporters.  For years on end, they experimented with various permutations and combinations of alliances with national parties like the Congress and the BJP instead of calling a truce and joining hands, even if temporarily,  for the sake of peace and tranquility.   

Eventually and almost unexpectedly, there was a shared willingness to put mutual rivalry behind them to form a government in the troubled State in alliance with the Congress party. 

Evidently, the formula was that the 15 National Conference MLAs would pledge support from the outside for a coalition government between the 28-MLA-strong PDP and the 12 elected legislators of the Congress.  The arithmetic word add up to a comfortable 55-member support in the 87-member House.

The numbers were clearly enough but the Governor Satya Pal Malik took a contrary decision which have effectively scuttled hopes that government formation would fill the political vacuum in the State which has been under Governor’s Rule for the past six months ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party abruptly ended its coalition with PDP on June 19 this year. 

The latest alliance developments seem to have taken the BJP quite by surprise especially at a time when the party was itself in the process of trying to gather enough numbers to stake claim to form a government. But the rumored plans to install Sajjad Lone as chief minister with the backing of the 25 BJP MLAs and a dozen or more defectors from other parties were torpedoed by the PDP-NC-Congress threesome swiftly out-maneuvering the Sangh Parivar. 

As a result, the BJP was in danger of being left out in the cold. BJP leaders in Delhi acted to send the message to the Governor to block the PDP-NC-Congress move by dissolving the Assembly with immediate effect. 

Even though fresh elections seem to be the only prospect, for the PDP it marks a political awakening after two decades of false steps and blind antipathy towards Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar of the National Conference. The father and son duo too seem to have realized that the time had come to bury the hatchet with the late Mufti Mohd Sayyed and his daughter Mehbooba who now heads the PDP. 

For the anguished people of the Kashmir Valley this could be a ray of hope - or just another illusion of peace. Only the coming days and months will decide. But as of this moment burying the past in the interests of lessening the pain of the people is arguably a wise decision on the part of both Mehbooba and the Abdullahs.
In case elections are held in the near future, it will be interesting to see if the two parties continue their new found cooperation and contest the polls with a seat sharing arrangement. Before that however the battle could go to the judiciary with the legitimacy of the Governor’s action being put under the constitutional scanner.  Instead of the prospect of a period of stable governance, J&K has once more been plunged into political controversy and chaos.

Nov 23, 2018

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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