It was a failure of both man and machine in Jammu and Kashmir

A technological glitch led to confusion over the creation of the new alliance between PDP, INC and NC causing chaos in Jammu and Kashmir politics

Image courtesy: social media
Image courtesy: social media
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Raman Swamy

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 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:

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.

"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 texted on WhatsApp 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.

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