On August 5, 2019, India made an announcement that sent shockwaves across the world. The Hindu nationalist government stripped occupied Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
The move finally gave all the imprimaturs the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) needed to not only give the decades-old brutal genocide legal permissibility but also extinguish whatever faintest possibility was left of holding negotiations with the separatists.
In the days leading up to the annexation, thousands of troops rolled in, hundreds, including Kashmiri leaders, were detained, and an unprecedented blackout of communications was imposed to quell dissent.
The roughshod decision turned one of the world’s most brutal occupations into what is known as settler-colonialism, replicating the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in order to initiate a ‘demographic invasion’ of the Muslim-majority valley.
However, experts are of the view that this was not a tangential dislocation in India’s “seamlessly” functioning democracy; rather, it had been in process for years and was genetically baked into the ruling party’s vision of Hindu India.
‘Attempt to change demography’
Aakar Patel, former executive director of Amnesty International India, told The Express Tribune that the move aims to change the demography of the region.
However, he pointed out that the task will not be easy, saying the primary reason was that the region lacked infrastructure. “It doesn’t have internet often because it is cut off by the government. There is often a curfew and restrictions of movement. Who would want to move to such a place?”
Patel believes that one of the most evident ramifications of India’s rapid ‘saffronisation’ is the unprecedented rise in violence in Kashmir, which had been trending downwards until Narendra Modi rose to power in 2014.
“The ‘zero tolerance’ policy is not working. Today Kashmir is the only part of India to not have a democratic rule,” Patel said.
However, Patel pointed out that it will be no longer possible for India to shrug off pressure and maintain the status quo in the disputed region. “The government doesn’t appear to know what to do. It’s been two years since the state lost its status, but there has been no movement and the things tried such as trying to form a king’s party have come unstuck.”
He said that despite all the measures to upend the indigenous Kashmiri leadership, the Kashmiri leaders remain popular, adding that the problem got all the more complex when the change in Kashmir’s statehood brought in India’s rival China into the geopolitical game after the BJP government issued new maps of Ladakh.
According to Patel, India’s persistent policy of refusing to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir in a world that was changing quite rapidly will no longer hold the ground.
“In 2019, the United Nations Security Council again addressed the Kashmir issue after 50 years. Whether or not this goes anywhere, it will remain a headache that India will now have to manage,” he added.
‘Over-centralization of power’
Nyla Ali Khan, author and granddaughter of Sheikh Abdullah, bemoaned the extra-constitutional nature of the annexation. “In a federal set-up the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but its decentralization leading to the restoration of power in the hands of federating units, which have acceded to be a part of the federation,” she said.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Nyla said she would like to see those provisions of the constitution implemented in Kashmir to restore the fundamental right.
An internal matter?
The scrapping of Article 370 on the accounts that it fuelled “terrorist” elements had triggered an unprecedented international response. Nonetheless, most countries had agreed that the changes were India’s “internal matter”, saying that differences should be resolved through dialogue between India and Pakistan.
However, Nyla insisted that contrary to the narrative long advocated by India and several other heads of state, including former US president Trump, that the move was India’s internal matter, “there is nothing legitimate about indefinitely curbing the civil liberties of a people”.
“Trust cannot be won by displaying national chauvinism and intervention of the military in democratic spaces,” Nyla underscored, adding that militarized peacekeeping in Kashmir was not different from any other aggressive military interventions.
Political logic of Article 370
Nyla said that Article 370, apart from defence, foreign affairs, and communications, ensured that decisions with regard to other matters would also be determined with the consent of the government of Jammu and Kashmir.
“There was a reason that autonomy was guaranteed to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. On 13 July 1950, the new government of J & K made a landmark decision.”
“Between 1950 and 1952, 700,000 landless peasants, mostly Muslims in the valley but including 250,000 lower-caste Hindus in the Jammu region, became peasant-proprietors as over a million acres were directly transferred to them, while another sizeable chunk of land passed to government-run collective farms. By the early 1960s, 2.8 million acres of farmland and fruit orchards were under cultivation, worked by 2.8 million smallholding peasant-proprietor households.”
Nyla argued that the metamorphosis of the agrarian economy had groundbreaking political consequences. The revolutionary measure, she added, which greatly improved the human development index in the state, would not have been possible without Article 370.
“The political logic of autonomy and Article 370 of the Indian constitution was necessitated by the need to bring about socio-economic transformations.”
She contended that the legislative bill, which enabled this transformation, won the unstinting support of thousands of erstwhile disenfranchised peasants. “But displaced landlords and officials made no bones about their hatred of the political supremacy of the new class of Kashmiri Muslims. This hatred unleashed a reign of intolerance against Kashmir’s new political class.”
“I would like to conclude with the state song of Jammu and Kashmir. In politics, and in life, symbols matter. And the state song of Jammu and Kashmir has great symbolic significance for me. "Lehra aye Kashmir key jhanday, Hal walay dilgeer key jhanday, her dam lehra, her-soo lehra, Taa qayaamat paiham lehra (Let the Flag of Kashmir be unfurled, The flag of children, the young, the old and the infirm; the flag of the strong; the flag of those who plough the land, keep flying every moment, every second till kingdom come, May I have the honour of holding you!).”
Dibyesh Anand, Professor of London’s University of Westminster, agreed that the Indian state’s attempts to subdue Kashmiris through the revocation of de jure autonomy and enforced silencing alienates all Kashmiri Muslims, including those working for compromise with India.
“The current Delhi Government is driven not only by colonial desires but also Hindu nationalism,” Dibyesh said, adding that Hindu nationalism of the Indian state has turned a conflict that is primarily about freedom and self-determination into one driven by animus between different religious identities.
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