Outside their cozy rooms, a bone-crushing cold night had taken over what was a sunny Wednesday in Srinagar. They could have—should have—been sleeping; winters in Kashmir usually make up for early naps. The weather was ideal too. But instead, a hoard of politicians was glued to Twitter, keeping an eye on the political maneuverings that were to follow about a potential government formation in the state. An alliance was forming.
There were the hopeful Muftis and Abdullahs, the over concerned Lones and Ansaris, and the one man to tame them all—Satya Pal Malik, the Governor of the restive state, who, perhaps, had the last laugh about Wednesday’s comedy of errors. And just like that, within minutes, the hopeful turned into vindictive (almost) and the over concerned became crestfallen. The theatre of politics threw many bitter surprises. And a fax machine too that foxed the government formation in the state. Welcome to Kashmir.
In 2015, Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat, a top Hurriyat leader, was asked by a reporter why he met the former chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had cobbled up an alliance in Jammu and Kashmir in 2015. He responded: “Snakes can marry rats and bulls can chase lizards. What happens tomorrow, who can say!"
This, perhaps, is a fitting description of everything that transpired in Kashmir. Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference came together along with the Congress to stake claim for the government formation in the state—an alliance cemented in a hurry to take down the BJP and ally Sajad Lone, the chairman of the People’s Conference. Who would have thought?
However, by the time the political climax reached its crescendo with the Governor dissolving the state Assembly, the fax machine (we’ll keep on coming back to it) had already emerged as a potent meme material.
So much so that Omar Abdullah too joined the fax machine meme bandwagon. Both Mufti and Abdullah alleged that the Raj Bhavan refused to acknowledge the former’s letter which was sent through fax. The Governor claimed the fax machine at the Raj Bhavan was broken. The Assembly now stands dissolved and as expected, the state was thrown into an uncertainty over what happens next. Rings a bell? Welcome to Kashmir.
Politics in Kashmir has always smelled like vinegar. Or, perhaps, looked like a lingering demise of an over-ripe Kashmiri apple—falling, decaying and fetid, to the ground. And like all things political, an air of theatre and a touch of the farce has always been associated with the Kashmir politics. Farooq Abdullah's dramatic dismissal as chief minister in 1984 and his replacement by arch rival and brother-in-law GM Shah could very well have been part of some Shakespearean tragedy. That virtual coup d'etat threw Kashmir into an acute political instability.
Three years later, the 1987 rigging of elections became a reference point for the start of armed uprising in Kashmir. On 28th June, 20018, Mufti Sayeed withdrew his support to the Congress’ Ghulam Nabid Azad-led government on the Amarnath land transfer issue.
Nine days later, Azad announced his resignation on the floor of the state assembly on 7 July, saying he did not want any horse-trading to take place. And then, seven years later, happened the infamous 2015 coalition of BJP and PDP, the “coming together of the north pole and the south pole” in the words of Mufti Syeed—a ‘Khwaab’, his daughter Mehbooba described it.
Everyone knows what happened after that. Mehbooba Mufti was jolted out of her father’s dream by the BJP three years later. The convergence of North and the South Pole, as expected, was a disaster.
All these examples further consolidate the argument about how much the politics in Kashmir has remained embroiled in absurd theatrics and outlandishly surprising developments, which in turn end up further making things worse for Kashmir and the Kashmiris. Yet, Wednesday’s events were alarmingly different.
Everything that transpired in half an hour carried with it a whiff of how the Centre thinks about the state. Let this sink in: the Governor didn’t let a coalition of one national party and two other regional parties—who had the numbers well over the majority mark—to form the government.
Many might believe that by dissolving the Assembly, the Governor has further enlarged the area of instability in the state at a time when the need was to narrow Centre-state conflicts. And that the dissolution of the Assembly will plunge Jammu & Kashmir into a fresh instability, the gain—whatever the Governor makes of it—surely will be a shortlived one.
But the faux pas that the state witnessed might just be the beginning of an eventful political carnival that is yet to come. Welcome to Kashmir.
And why am I saying that? Governor Satya Pal Malik earlier in the day said that fresh elections in the state may not be imminent but can be held with 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Before that happens, the political theatre in Kashmir will remain abuzz. New unlikely alliances will be formed. Formidable players from different regional parties are likely to break away from their current factions and form a third front. Sajad Lone will continue to hog the headlines. He is the man to look out for, after all.
We might even witness more bonhomie between former opponents, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. The Governor will do what the Governor does. The apple—remember the over-ripe apple, fetid and decayed, fallen to the ground — however, will continue to remain in a state of lingering demise.
Till then, someone please fix the fax machine.