What Kashmir’s Fax-Machine Politics Means for Its People


What Kashmir’s Fax-Machine Politics Means for Its People

Illustration: Arati Gujar

With the 2019 general elections looming, politicking in India is reaching a fever pitch. Nowhere is this more true than with the nation’s favourite political football, Jammu & Kashmir. Facing a contested government – where the People’s Democratic Party, the Congress, and National Conference have staked a claim to form the government – the state’s Governor Satya Pal Malik “took matters into his hands”, and dissolved the state assembly yesterday. Of course, Malik is a BJP appointee, and that always complicates matters… especially when it comes to the Valley.

Previously, the constituent assembly of J&K was dissolved in 1957, paving the way for the state assembly. Now, the state assembly has been compromised because of an alliance gone wrong. The local PDP, in a break from their traditional coupling with Congress, threw their lot in with the BJP in 2015. But like Aman and Naina in Kal Ho Na Ho, they were doomed from the start.

While J&K has always been at the centre of political chaos, both nationally and in the broader context of geopolitics, the state has had a particularly trying few years. PDP leader and CM Mehbooba Mufti has clashed repeatedly with the BJP on issues of security, spurred on by the growing unrest in the region. For the last three years, the PDP and BJP have had a war of their own – until, back in June, the BJP finally pulled out of their coalition, imposing governor’s rule.

But on Wednesday, this would change, only if Malik would have received the fax sent by Mufti claiming that her party had the support of Omar Abdullah and the Congress to form government. Mufti tweeted out the letter saying that “strangely the fax is not received” by a “broken fax machine”. Interestingly, shortly afterwards, Malik used the same machine to declare that the state assembly was dissolved. Later, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone sent in his own coalition numbers, including an alliance with the BJP, via WhatsApp, causing a clash between the two sides.

With the dissolution, however, one thing seems clear: It doesn’t look as though the people of Kashmir will be getting a people’s government anytime soon.

Why has Malik chosen to continue Governor’s rule when there are two coalitions on the table? While he claims that it is necessary to avoid horse-trading between the two competing alliances, the move is not strictly legal. According to constitutional expert PDT Achary, “As per law, if the Governor has received a letter stating that a party seeking to form the government and it has numbers, then the only option before him is to invite the party to form the government.”

While J&K has always been at the centre of political chaos, both nationally and in the broader context of geopolitics, the state has had a particularly trying few years.

Then there are the accusations being levelled against the BJP – who appointed Malik after their breakdown with the PDP – of using dirty tactics to prevent an opposition government from forming. And it’s not the first time the ruling party has come under fire for circumventing the Constitution to retain their power.

But then, the situation in J&K is unlike any other state. Since its inception, J&K has settled into an unenviable limbo, simultaneously seen as a non-negotiable part of India, and a state that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Republic. Almost by accident, J&K continues to have autonomous status under Article 370: an Independence-era provision that was meant to apply only until the state developed its own Constitution. But the Article was never amended, and has since been upheld by various courts, with a fresh hearing coming up in April 2019. The loudest cheers for the revoking of the Article – unsurprisingly – come from the BJP, who in 2014, promised to integrate J&K, and several party members have called for abrogation of Article 370.

This latest drama over the state assembly is yet another blow for the autonomy of its people. Conspicuously absent throughout this fight has been any mention of the Kashmiris who have been grappling with an unstable government for years.

Earlier this month, Kashmiri farmers saw their fruit crops decimated by an untimely snow, causing them ₹500 cr in losses. The response from the Centre, however, was not to announce another scheme or set up an agricultural fund. Instead, the people who lost their livelihoods have been largely ignored, even as the BJP is trying to win their favour for 2019.

Perhaps the problem is that the Valley’s majority Muslim population is not susceptible to the easy tribalism on which the BJP’s re-election campaign seems to rest. Rather than the siren song of Ram Mandir and the mass renaming of cities, Kashmiris will require more concrete policies: A revocation of AFSPA, for instance, or just some respect for their democratic rights. Instead, J&K remains, as it has for decades, a state where politics are placed above the people.