India’s far-right Hindu-nationalist BJP government, re-elected this May, has finally taken the step of removing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The state had enjoyed its special autonomy since 1949 through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. In addition, J&K is no longer a state and has been partitioned into two union territories – J&K and Ladakh – ruled directly by the central government in New Delhi.
That the BJP would eliminate Article 370 in all but name is not surprising given its majority in the parliament, and because it has been against J&K’s special status since the 1950s in the party’s earlier incarnation as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
What caught everyone by surprise, however, is the speed with which this was carried out, without even a semblance of consultation with the J&K leadership or discussion in the parliament. In a matter of days, not only had J&K lost its special status, but also its very integrity and identity as a state.
The BJP reasons that J&K’s special status had prevented the state’s economic development and thus encouraged disgruntlement among the local population. In this logic, the BJP is no different from previous governments which have been throwing financial aid at J&K in the hopes that its population would be pacified. But this has not solved the underlying political grievances of the Kashmiri Muslim population, which has felt increasingly disenfranchised in and alienated from India.
The insurgency against the Indian state, which began over 30 years ago, continues to rage. The BJP was so fearful of how the population of the Kashmir Valley would react to this latest assault that it placed the region on a complete military lockdown a few days before the announcement.
India and Kashmir
Over the years since 1949, the relationship between the central government and J&K crumbled, in part because the constituent parts of the state, such as Jammu and Ladakh, did not agree with the state’s special status within India. The central government’s incessant meddling into the state’s political affairs worsened the relationship.
Bifurcation of J&K requires consent of the elected assembly of the State. Also any amendment thru 370 to the subjects the Union can deal with in J&K, also requires consent of the J&K assembly. Can't be done by just President or Governor's consent. Unconstitutional
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 5, 2019
The latest move does not address these issues. In some ways, it exacerbates them. Even though Ladakh has been summarily cut out of the rest of J&K, Jammu remains a part of the new Jammu and Kashmir union territory.
And the way this was carried out, under the barrel of a gun, will not be easily forgotten by the people of the Kashmir Valley. It confirms what Kashmiris have known for decades – that for India, Kashmir is no more than a colony; a territory devoid of people. The easing of restrictions this past Friday led to a mass protest on the streets of the capital, Srinagar, which was answered by tear gas shelling and the firing of pellet guns by Indian security forces. The Indian government denies these reports.
How the BJP expects economic development, if that is even possible under such conditions, to resolve India’s Kashmir problem is difficult to understand. Perhaps its gambit is what Kashmiri Muslims have feared for a long time, which is to circumscribe the Kashmiri Muslim population itself.
This has now become a possibility because Article 37A, which was promulgated in 1954 under the terms of Article 370, is now also abrogated. Article 37A prevented non-permanent residents from owning property in the state. With this article now gone, the prospect of the region being overrun by non-Kashmiri Hindus has become a reality. This could ultimately alter its demographic composition from a Muslim-majority to a Hindu-majority region.
This is the primary reason that Pakistan has registered protest against the move, because its claim on Kashmir will not be valid if it no longer has a Muslim majority.
BJP’s Larger Project
Ultimately, the assault on J&K’s special status and statehood is an assault on the idea of India as a secular, plural, federal polity. It reveals the much larger project of the BJP, which is to render India into a unitary, Hindu nation-state.
India claimed Kashmir in 1947 as a Muslim-majority state precisely to prove its secularism. And its special relationship to J&K was one of many ways in which it constitutionally integrated regions and their peculiar demands into its federal structure. That consensus is now of the past and has been replaced by the muscular, militaristic idea of India as a centralized Hindu nation. Regardless of the challenges to this particular move towards J&K in the courts, this idea is here to stay.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.