A Raw Move in Kashmir
San Francisco / August 8, 2019
When the British left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the process was grossly mismanaged and left significant scars. One of those scars was the division of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. The territory in Jammu & Kashmir that joined India was given more autonomy than other states and the trappings of independence -- its own flag and a separate constitution. Outsiders were banned from buying territory in the region. India developed the special treatment in response to the political complications and violence of Partition.
On August 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Kashmir's special status (link). Modi repealed Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and declared that Kashmir will be governed directly from New Delhi. Modi also removed the restriction that prevented outsiders from buying property in Kashmir. After announcing the changes, Modi's government put the entire region of Kashmir into a security lockdown. The authorities cut all communication between Kashmir and the outside world (link). Schools and colleges have been suspended indefinitely. All India Radio said security agencies have arrested more than 500 people in the region (link).
By revoking Kashmir's special status, Modi is satisfying Hindu nationalists. For decades, they have sought to repeal Article 370. They claim that special treatment encourages Kashmiris to think they are distinct from the rest of India and fuels separatist movements.
But on nearly every other dimension, Modi's strategy could backfire. Legally, the changes are dubious. Article 370(3) permits revocation by presidential order. But the order must be introduced before the state's Constituent Assembly. That body was dissolved in 1957. Last year, India's Supreme Court ruled that Article 370 could not be abrogated and had obtained permanent status (link). Amit Shah, India's home minister, announced the change in a speech in Parliament in New Delhi. There was no attempt by Modi's government to follow the rules that had been carefully developed to manage the Kashmir issue.
The move will probably increase Kashmiri distrust towards New Delhi. One theory pushed by nationalists is that direct rule by the Indian central government will sideline local political dynasties in Kashmir and pull the territory into the political mainstream. It beggars belief that arresting hundreds of activists and politicians will encourage more Kashmiris to identify with the political thinking in New Delhi. Voter turnout in Kashmir is already low by Indian standards (link). There is a higher chance that voters in Kashmir will become more disillusioned with the political process.
The change in property rules will probably lead to an influx of Hindu immigrants into Kashmir. Freedom of movement is generally good. But when observers study the ideology that underlies Modi's thinking, it raises comparisons to China's cultural assimilation of Tibet and Xinjiang.
Also, Modi's move will raise alarm in other Indian states that have special constitutional carveouts. India is a vast community that encompasses a wide range of political and ethnic groups. States in the north east have special constitutional provisions that respond to this diversity. They may fear they will be steamrolled next.
India also faces the threat of violent extremism. The crackdown in Kashmir will alienate more people and make it easier for terrorists to recruit. Angry Kashmiris are the most prone to being recruited. This is a real and present danger.
Modi will attempt to portray the revocation of Article 370 as the next logical step in India's maturation as a country. Critical observers will see it as a raw and risky strategy that appeals to a blinkered view of India's identity and threatens the carefully constructed arrangements that respond to India's rich diversity.