Modi’s bold Kashmir gamble

The withdrawal of special yet temporary provisions granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) biggest political gamble in the five years it has been in power. He has broken away from the uneasy status quo and strained consensus that had prevailed in India with regards to the special provision guaranteed by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This week in a move that combined stealth and possibly meticulous planning of at least a year, the BJP government fulfilled one of its foundational tenets and key manifesto promise, by getting legislation approved by both houses of Indian Parliament to nullify the special provisions for J&K. The state now has been bifurcated into union territories (UT) J&K and Ladakh, that not only erases all autonomy the state has enjoyed for nearly 70 years and brings it under the direct control of the Indian government. The BJP has long viewed the special privileges accorded to Kashmir a threat to India’s territorial and cultural integrity. The party has also held that Article 370 hindered the assimilation of J&K into India’s political mainstream and that which stoked secessionist tendencies among the Muslim majority region of the Kashmir valley. 

Background

Included in the Constitution on October 17, 1949, Article 370 permits the state to draft its own Constitution. It is a temporary provision that grants special autonomous status to J&K. Therefore, all provisions of the Indian Constitution that apply to all Indian states do not directly apply to J&K. The state was allowed its own flag, and until 1965, its chief minister was called the prime minister of J&K. Except for matters related to defence, foreign affairs, finance and communications, the Indian Parliament needed the concurrence of J&K’s government for applying its laws. The laws relating to citizenship, fundamental rights and property ownership in J&K were different from the rest of India. The special provisions also barred non-Kashmiris from buying property in the state. These provisions were agreed in 1949 after the Hindu ruler of J&K Maharaja Hari Singh in a Muslim majority province had signed the Instrument of Accession (IoA) with India.

The newly formed Pakistan sent Pashtun tribesmen in 1947 and 1948 to capture Kashmir. India sent its troops to stop the invaders when the Maharaja signed the IoA. Pakistan has maintained that it was against the wishes of the Muslim majority of the region. When India announced a ceasefire, the countries kept control of the areas where their forces were present at that moment. That boundary came to be known as the ceasefire line and later the Line of Control (LoC). India held more than 60% of J&K territory. India then sought resolution of the issue at the UN Security Council in 1947. On January 1 1948, the UN passed a resolution that imposed an immediate ceasefire and called on the Government of Pakistan “to secure the withdrawal from the state of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the state for the purpose of fighting.” It also asked Government of India to reduce its forces to minimum strength, after which the circumstances for holding a plebiscite should be put into effect “on the question of Accession of the state to India or Pakistan”.

Analysis

The current Indian government views Kashmir’s autonomy as a blood and treasure sapping arrangement. Despite billions of dollars spent on J&K, it views the state as an economic black hole. The venality of the major political parties in Kashmir hasn’t helped Article 370’s perception in the rest of India. When debating on the bill in both houses of Parliament, the ruling BJP blamed three pre-eminent family-controlled political parties of Kashmir for its economic backwardness.

While India witnessed an economic boom starting the early 1990s, Kashmir has largely remained untouched by prosperity. The security situation in the state which required India to station nearly 100,000 regular troops, and the inability of entrepreneurs from other parts of the country to invest there are seen as economic obstacles. Now, with the special provisions repealed, the Indian government hopes that Kashmiri youth blighted by decades of Pakistan-sponsored insurgency can finally join the mainstream. But there are legitimate fears that Kashmir’s Muslims would view the decision as humiliation and a repudiation of their Kashmiri identity. In the run-up to the passing of the legislation in Indian Parliament, there was a significant troop build-up in J&K and many of its prominent politicians taken into preventive custody. The road to the kind of “normalization” India hopes for therefore may be long and treacherous. 

In real terms, the repealing of J&K’s special status only makes de jure what was de facto. While Pakistan occasionally makes noises about Kashmir as a disputed territory that requires UN resolution, India had virtually given up on the idea a very long time ago. Pakistan, for its part, has claimed that India is seeking to alter the status quo in Kashmir in violation of the UN resolution. 

Some in India have speculated that a Pakistan-US détente necessitated by US President Trump’s desire to exit Afghanistan double-quick and with honour intact, could embolden Pakistan sufficiently to reboot its jehadi terror export to India. Such bold moves at a time when India’s strategic interests are divergent, at least in the short term, from other players such as the US, Pakistan and China, are seen as inevitable. The overwhelming national mood in favour of revoking J&K’s special status and the massive mandate Narendra Modi won in May have made the decision easy. But the real battle to win the Kashmiri hearts only begins now.

Assessment

  • This is the clearest statement of intent from India that refuses to be bogged down by the status quo in Kashmir. This it sees as an important first step in arriving at the “final settlement” on a problem that has hobbled India since its independence.
  • If India is unable to bring visible prosperity to Kashmir in a matter of months, the spiral of secessionist violence could get worse.
  • The relationship between India and Pakistan could get dangerously worse if pro-Kashmir jehadi forces in Pakistan are given a new lease of life as a retaliatory measure. Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said that repealing of J&K special provisions will lead to more Pulwama like incidents. If that indeed happens, India will be forced to retaliate having set a precedent with surgical airstrikes on Pakistani territory.

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Image Courtesy: cnn.com

Comments

synergia
September 6, 2019

Thank you for your insight.

Megharikh NS
August 10, 2019

Excellent analysis. This is one of the next many gambles like demonetisation, Pulwama etc. It will keep on happening.