Peace, democracy and human rights are intrinsically linked together. Human rights abuses highlight the presence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. And India has recently been behaving like one, despite being the world’s largest democracy. On August 5, 2019, India abrogated the special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir by undoing Article 370 and 35 (A).
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution granted Kashmir special status in the Indian Union while limiting the Parliament’s law-making powers regarding the region. According to this article, the Indian government can have rights over Kashmir in only three areas: defence, foreign affairs and communications. Article 35 (A) was added to the Constitution of India by a Presidential Order in 1954, which protects the rights of permanent residents of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, regarding acquisition of immovable property.
New Delhi is also seemingly portraying itself as an authoritarian regime because it has violated all the existing constitutional requirements for abrogating Article 370. According to the Indian Constitution, the process of abrogation must be initiated in the Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Amit Shah’s statutory resolution has also unveiled the true face of the ultra-right wing of India.
Successive Indian governments have used various tactics to change the demographics of India-occupied Kashmir (IoK) by settling Hindu pundits in the valley. In 1947, about 79% of the population in IoK was Muslim, which has been reduced to 68% in 2018. With the abrogation of Article 35 (A), the settling process is likely to intensify in the upcoming future. By revoking the article, all non-residents of the state can purchase property and become its permanent residents with a right to vote, which will have a long-term impact on the plebiscite required under the UN auspices.
Even though the Modi government has strengthened its political constituency inside India, the decision will negatively affect the BJP’s politics in Kashmir, especially in the valley. Kashmir’s Muslim majority is extremely sensitive to the cancellation of this Article because it conferred “autonomy” and “special status” on Kashmir.
The abrogation of the article will provide rejuvenation to the Kashmiri freedom struggle, which has already been boiling out of control since 2016. With young and educated people struggling for freedom in Kashmir, a new chapter will start in which Kashmiris will likely succeed. In fact, the decision has ripped apart the arguments of the pro-Indian political leadership. It is likely to push the neutral voices of Kashmiri leadership towards freedom.
The BJP’s move also seems to be driven by national anxiety after the Imran-Trump Summit. The US president’s offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute damaged the Indian narrative of “bilateralism”. The Indian leadership was not expecting this kind of diplomatic manouvering since it has invested heavily in tarnishing Pakistan’s image at the international front. Perhaps, Modi wants to brush off Pakistan’s diplomatic success through his absurd decision of revoking Kashmir’s special status. However, New Delhi has provided Islamabad a unique opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan can challenge the legitimacy of New Delhi’s decision at the ICJ and UNSC. It can also send delegations to important capitals of the world to present Pakistan’s case on the dispute. Interestingly, almost every renowned international media outlet has reported this issue with reasonable criticism against India, which implies the level of miscalculation at New Delhi’s end.
To conclude, the world has witnessed that draconian law, tactics to change demographics and efforts to install political leadership of its own choice cannot produce the desired results for India. Keeping in view the reaction of the Kashmiri public and political leadership, it is apparent that India will not be able to acquire its perceived objectives through abrogation of Kashmir’s special status.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2019.