Action of August 5, 2019 presages fresh troubles for Modi in Kashmir
August 5, 2020 is the first anniversary of India’s unilateral declaration of the way it thinks the Kashmir problem should be solved. On 5 August 2019, the Government of India revoked the special autonomy granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir-a region administered by India as a result of the first Indo-Pakistani war 1947-49 and the UN resolutions that established the disputed character of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).
The scrapping of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution and the Reorganisation of J&K Act dividing the state into two Union Territories (UTs) to be governed by a Lieutenant Governor and a unicameral legislature radically changed the situation in J and K.
For Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling BJP, Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) is firmly part of the Indian Union ruled from Delhi. All that remains to be done now is to recover the remaining part of J and K, namely, Azad J and K, Gilgit-Baltistan and parts of Ladakh that are held by China.
But Modi’s dream is not working out that well. While the world and the UN, which should have had a stand on such a blunt rape of international law, have kept more or less quiet, Kashmiris, on both sides of the divide, Pakistanis and even a part of the Indian population protested heavily.
Starting from 5th August a complete lockdown was implemented in IHK to prevent Kashmiri protests. About 4000 people were arrested in the region including most members of the Kashmiri government and parliament. The lockdown included a complete communication stop with telephone, mobile and internet connections cut off for months, with nobody from outside including Indian and foreign journalists allowed to visit J&K.
In a lead-up to the move, India sent thousands of additional troops to the disputed region, imposed a crippling curfew on the population with schools and businesses closed. Nevertheless, Kashmiris took to the streets to protest against New Delhi's decision. The security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against stone-throwing local residents in Srinagar. Weeks of protests despite authorities imposing tight restrictions on people's movement and communication showed the rejection of the Kashmiri population of New Delhi’s move. Kashmiri freedom fighters tried to keep up resistance against this move with attacks against Indian security forces.
On 13 January 2020, Reuters reported that internet services had not been fully restored in Kashmir, forcing Kashmiris to board a crowded train – dubbed as the ‘Internet Express’ – to go to nearby Banihal to use the internet at cybercafés.
By the stroke of a pen the Indian government had dismissed the elected parliament of J&K as well as its government. By this coup, Kashmiri politicians were put in house arrest and UN resolutions as well as the Simla agreement of 1972 between India and Pakistan were violated. This only shows the BJP’s confidence that it can do what it wants because nobody in the world can prevent them. Such actions by the “largest democracy of the world” vividly illustrate the nature of Indian democracy.
However, it seems that this time Modi may have put too much on his plate and he may be choking as a result.
Apart from the Kashmir initiative there have been more ‘decisive actions’ taken to implement the BJP’s fascist and racist program. There is the “GharWapsi” movement which is re-converting Muslims and Christians to Hinduism which has been going for a while. There are other laws that target the citizen status of Indian Muslims (almost all 1.8 million of Bangladesh origin especially in Assam) with a prospect of its extension to all the States of India. This has added to the insecurity of Kashmiris who are mainly Muslims as well as of all other Indian Muslims.
With half a million soldiers enforcing the ‘law’ to ensure that insurrection in Kashmir does that unite with similar movements in other parts of India, violence has been a feature in Kashmir over the decades. Over the years, Kashmir has become the largest open-air prison in the world. Lately, a picture showing a three-year-old child sitting next to his grandfather's dead body in Soporehas stirred anger in the Muslim-majority region, with the family of the deceased accusing the security forces of killing the 65-year-old civilian during a gunfight.
Already one can read about young Kashmiris taking to arms. A new civil war seems in the making. Civilians who reject violence are caught in the middle of fire fights. Normal life is disturbed for everybody. As reported by a civil rights group, the Coalition of Civil Society, at least 229 people, including 32 civilians, had been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir in the past six months.
Together with the change of the political status of J&K, the right once granted to Kashmiris under article 35(A) of the Indian Constitution that no outsiders can settle in the Himalayan region, has also been scrapped and the fear of an intentional ethnic change via the settlement of outsiders in Kashmir is current.
Up to 25,000 people have been granted “domicile certificates” in Indian-administered Kashmir since May 18, supporting fears of a beginning of demographic changes in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region. The certificate, a sort of citizenship right, entitles a person to residency and government jobs in the region, which till last year was reserved for the local population. Kashmiri politicians across the divide have said that the revocation of special citizenship rights is aimed at reversing the Muslim majority character of the region.
China, A New Factor
Since June this year there is a relatively new player in the field: China. The newly separated Ladakh region is actually part of Tibet; its population is Tibetan by ethnicity, speaks Tibetan dialects and has a substantial number of Buddhists. So far, China has been only a quiet partner in the J&K conflict but that has now changed. When in June this year India tried to push the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into Chinese territory and occupy new patches of land in the sensitive Galwanarea it got a very bloody nose in the scuffle between Indian and Chinese army units. Since then both armies have sent more forces to the LAC and an uneasy truce seems to be holding.
India’s determination to occupy more territory does not stop at China. India targeted Nepal in May when its Defence Minister inaugurated a new 80 km-long road in the Himalayas, connecting the border with China at the Lipulekh pass. The Nepalese government protested, contending that the road crosses territory that it claims and accused India of changing the status quo without diplomatic consultations.
Things are deteriorating between India and Bangladesh as well, given the plans of the Modi government to push back over the border, Muslim Bengalis who are denied Indian citizenship. The media recently reported Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s snub by not giving an appointment to India’s new High Commissioner to Dhaka, Riva Ganguly Das.
Last but not least, Iran has distanced itself from India by pushing it out of the Chabahar rail project after having signed a contract with China for its inclusion in the Belt and Road Initiative. Iran has also signalled cancelling a million-billion dollar energy project.
The Kashmiri population is paying the price for India’s unilateral action to “solve” the Kashmir problem. That has created new turmoil in IHK. There is no relief in sight for them in the short run. Modi’s aggressive anti-Muslim policy based on a territorial nationalist idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ is steadily isolating India in the South Asian neighbourhood. Together with growing unrest within the country India may be facing serious threats to its unity and integrity which will certainly impact the Indian economy.
(The writer is a defence and security analyst).