After decades of failed promises, India's assault on Kashmir's autonomy invites a bleaker future
Terming Article 370 as the "root of terror" in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Home Minister promised restoration of full statehood at an "appropriate time" when normalcy returns. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of opposition who hails from Jammu and Kashmir, denounced the decision and accused the central government of breaking the region into pieces.
"We went from Prime Minister to Chief Minister, now we're at Lieutenant Governor. You've made the Governor a clerk. You've made Jammu and Kashmir a non-entity. Bring this to your state and see what happens," Azad told the house while warning the Modi government: "Don't be intoxicated with power."
|Hindu nationalists celebrate the revocation of article 370
The latest announcement has once again thrusted Kashmir into the spotlight, both at home and abroad.
On the one hand, the BJP's Hindu nationalist voter-base is happy with the decision insisting it will integrate the region with the rest of India and bring more development.
On the other hand, many Kashmiris rejected the decision and claimed that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was the main justification for being a part of India in the first place and its revocation meant deprivation of separate set of laws that ensured permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir state government jobs, exclusive right to own property, citizenship and other fundamental rights.
Neighbouring Pakistan condemned the decision and vowed to fight it at all international forums including the UN Security Council. It also announced the expulsion of India's envoy and suspension of all bilateral trade. China also termed India's action as "unacceptable" and objected to the formation of Ladakh as Union Territory underlining its claims over the area.
Read also: Kashmiris anxious after Indian-imposed blackout leaves their families incommunicado
Before delving into the implications of this wide-ranging decision, let us look at the history of Jammu and Kashmir and what led to its relegation from a state with special status to a mere Union Territory while being under Indian tutelage.
The roots of the current crisis lie in the longstanding dispute over the region of Jammu and Kashmir since 1947. Under the British partition plan, Muslim-majority states of the Indian sub-continent were supposed to be part of Pakistan. However, citing the invasion of Muslim tribal fighters from newly created Pakistan, the ruler of princely state of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu, signed the accession document with India, albeit reluctantly. The first batch of Indian troops arrived the next day on 26 October, 1947.
|Kashmiri separatists took up arms and started targeting state institutions and security forces. India amassed around half a million troops in the region to counter the insurgency, making it the most militarised place on earth|
Fighting continued in Jammu and Kashmir despite the arrival of Indian troops, which later resulted in the first India-Pakistan war. A UN-brokered ceasefire, which came into effect on 5 January 1949, ended the war establishing the so called Line of Control.
In 1948, New Delhi took the dispute to the UN and agreed to a UN-monitored plebiscite, which Pakistan, along with many Kashmiris, rejected after terming India's accession "fraudulent and illegal." India, in its bid to cement control over the region, declared Jammu and Kashmir as its "integral part", granted it special rights under Article 370 in 1949 and later incorporated it into the Union of India in 1956.
The moves ensured the Kashmiri state had its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence, and communications.
However, little changed on the ground as Kashmir mostly remained under New Delhi's direct rule. Deeply frustrated by the status quo, Kashmiris held pro-independence mass protests in 1989, which were brutally suppressed by Indian security forces. As a result, Kashmiri separatists took up arms and started targeting state institutions and security forces. India amassed around half a million troops in the region to counter the insurgency, making it the most militarised place on earth.
The armed struggle raged from early to mid 1990s resulting in the deaths, arrests and disappearances of thousands of Kashmiri civilians and massive human rights violations by Indian troops. Though the insurgency died down in late 1990s due to several factors, including a Nationalist-Islamist fratricide, the demands for independence kept simmering in the hearts and minds of Kashmiris.
Fresh mass pro-independence protests broke out in 2008 and 2010, in which hundreds of demonstrators were killed by Indian security forces, turning a new chapter in Kashmir's history. Termed as "new age militancy," hundreds of Kashmiri youths joined anti-India militant groups. Prominent among them was a 21-year-old rebel commander named Burhan Wani whose death in a gunfight in July 2016 triggered a three-month long uprising.
His brutal death at the hands of Indian forces inspired many young Kashmiri men to take up arms and fight the "occupiers", including Adil Ahmad Dar, who rammed a car filled with explosives into an Indian security forces convoy killing at least 49 Indian troops on 15 February earlier this year. The deadly attack once again brought nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
India's Kashmir 'checkmate'
The latest Indian move, seen by some observers as a checkmate move, is bound to have repercussions on the lives of millions of Kashmiris. Though New Delhi claims to have taken the decision in the wider interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and vowed to turn the region into India's most developed state, it is fraught with frailties.
Even Kashmir's pro-India leadership complained it was completely side-lined and not taken into confidence while entire Kashmiri populace has been put under total lock down, prompting shortages in basic items and unrest.
According to Inshah Malik, Kashmiri academic and writer, the deterioration of the situation in Kashmir is not just due to the removal of 'special status' as it has been a disputed territory ever since India moved its troops in 1947.
"Article 370 indeed was a temporary provision in the Indian constitution because the promise of a referendum was on standby. Over the past 70 years, India had sufficiently eroded Kashmir's autonomy, such as through presidential orders that dissolved Kashmir's constituent assembly and jailed its last prime minister in 1953," the young writer told The New Arab, adding that New Delhi has a dismal record of election rigging and human rights abuses.
"Kashmir had no special status but a de facto occupation," Inshah Malik concluded while declaring that the latest move is "an illegal annexation of a territory by overriding the legislative assembly and larger will of people and holding them down under a siege. Further, dividing up the territory along religious lines offers another testimony on the right-wing Hindu fascism that now controls India."
While the latest move to revoke Kashmir's special status is bound to face challenges in the Indian Supreme Court, many analysts believe PM Modi's government is seeking to bring demographic changes by populating Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindus from other parts of the country.
However, such a move is bound to backfire and prompt more Kashmiris to take up arms and mount violent attacks on Indian troops stationed in the region.
Disguised as a plan to address "monumental injustices" meted out to Kashmiris in the past, Modi government's designs are set to make the future of Jammu and Kashmir bleaker than ever before.
Moign Khawaja is a PhD candidate at Dublin City University. His research focuses on the "stateness" of the "Islamic State" and how IS projected it through a sustained visual propaganda campaign.
Moign has a Master's degree in Journalism from the University of Lincoln in England, and has worked as a journalist for several media outlets including BBC Radio Lincolnshire, Foreign Policy Journal, and Times of Oman.
Follow him on Twitter: @moignkhawaja.