Kashmir was considered by many as India’s “jewel in the crown”. Not anymore. August 5th, 2019 will be remembered as a day which drastically changed the conflict dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), as India revoked Articles 370 and 35(A) which provided India-occupied Kashmir (IoK) a special status. By changing this area to a union territory of J&K and Ladakh, things will never remain the same as far as the Kashmir conflict is concerned.
With the Presidential Order revoking J&K’s special status and the subsequent approval rendered by the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and Lok Sabha (lower house) of the Indian Parliament, the die has been cast. The refusal of the Indian Supreme Court for an urgent hearing of a petition challenging the Presidential Order reflects that the Modi regime has done adequate homework to deny any formidable challenge of its unilateral abrogation of the J&K’s special status. The Presidential Order was approved in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP lacks a majority. This shows there is no ostensible political resistance against the BJP’s dangerous gamble on J&K. Except for the Communist Party of India, a segment of Congress, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, and a few other political parties, no other significant personality opposed Modi’s drastic step of absorbing J&K in the Indian Union.
If granting special status to the Indian controlled J&K by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a gamble, reversing a historical legal provision which was termed a basis of the relationship between J&K and the Indian Union is a dangerous move. Why did the BJP take such an extreme decision? Will the Modi regime abide by its decision and risk international isolation and perpetual violence in the part of the Valley it occupies or is it confident that things will normalise with time? August 5th can certainly be equated with momentous events like the 1947 Partition of the Indian Sub-continent, and the 1965, 1971 and 1999 wars, because India is writing a new chapter in history with its unilateral act which will have far-reaching consequences.
India’s gamble with Kashmir needs to be analysed from four angles. First is the level of confidence expressed by Modi in a speech where he justified revoking Articles 370 and 35(A). This means that it is not only him but a mindset which shapes New Delhi’s new policy and relationship with IoK. Except for a few muted voices against the government, majority of the political parties and groups are supportive of what they call something that was overdue. In his speech, Modi talked about dividends which the people of J&K and Ladakh will get after the absorption of their territories in the Indian Union.
Carrots offered by India to the occupied people of J&K are not new, but the situation is different this time. New Delhi is confident that with the removal of traditional stakeholders in Srinagar that were involved in massive corruption in various developmental projects; as part of the Indian Union, it will be easier to provide job opportunities to the Kashmiri youth and utilise the enormous tourism potential of IoK and ensure the impact of development at the grass-roots level. The BJP calculates that separatists and pro-Pakistani elements will eventually be neutralised, because the non-Muslim population in J&K outnumbers Kashmiri Muslims who are merely concentrated in the Valley and in Kargil.
Secondly, since its first term in office, the Modi regime was laying the foundation for the August 5th act. When it was confident that it can take the gamble to its logical conclusion, it gave a practical shape to its election manifesto. One needs to bear in mind that the “gang of four” which is responsible for plunging India into a crisis comprises PM Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, BJP Secretary General and Home Minister Amit Shah, and Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat, an old BJP supporter. This clique not only maintained its coordination on IoK matters, but also remained determined to integrate IoK in the Union and fulfil a “dream of Sardar Patel and Atal Bihari Vajpayee”, according to Modi.
Thirdly, India’s land access to J&K, which was granted by handing over the district of Gurdaspur to India by the departing British in 1947, has enabled New Delhi to ensure the supply of resources and forces to IoK. A semblance of euphoria prevails in India amidst shock, gloom and anger which one can witness amongst Kashmiri Muslims against the revocation of Kashmir’s special status. Many Indians, particularly the BJP and Shiv Sena stalwarts, are openly stating that Indian nationals — who were deprived of buying property, settling in J&K and voting in state elections from that region — are now free to do so. It will take them a decade to alter the demographic landscape of the Valley by turning the Muslim majority into a minority. More than 200,000 Kashmiri pundits who left the Valley of Kashmir in 1989-1990 during the outbreak of violence under the tenure of the ruthless governor, Jagmohan, will be free to return to their place of origin, and with the influx of non-Muslim Indians in the Valley, occupy seats in the J&K assembly in the coming two decades.
Fourthly, the most dangerous part of the BJP’s gamble is to implement its contingency plan to push hundreds of thousands of Muslim Kashmiris protesting against the August 5th act into Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). This was done in 1947 and 1948 when around half a million of Muslims from Jammu were pushed into AJK. By getting rid of a part of the Muslim Kashmiri population from the Valley, the Modi regime hopes to ensure a non-Muslim majority there.
However, this is just one side of the gamble. The other side can be a terrible nightmare for India. Regardless of their political affiliations, the Muslim Kashmiri population will be united for a sustained struggle against the Indian occupation over J&K. Pakistan will get a valuable opportunity to discredit India at the international level and campaign for its isolation. Human rights’ violations and the illegality of the August 5th decision will also mobilise serious opposition inside India. The rising number of casualties of Indian soldiers combating the Kashmiri resistance will demand an end to the Indian occupation. With time, India will further plunge in a quagmire giving an impetus to separatist movements in Punjab, the northeast and other regions of India.
Can Pakistan with its serious economic and governance crises effectively exploit popular sentiments among the Kashmiri Muslims against the revocation of Articles 370 and 35(A) and India? Had Pakistan been economically and politically stable and a model of good governance, it would have been in a better position to render substantial support to the Kashmiri cause. When political polarisation in Pakistan has reached its peak in the wake of an alleged victimisation campaign by the PTI government against its opponents, one cannot expect national unity in the wake of the Indian act of August 5th.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2019.