The Dummy’s Guide To The Crisis In Kashmir
If you’re confused, this might help.
The Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 was passed in Lok Sabha this morning, effectively formalising the events of the last two days. Article 370 and Section 35A that give Jammu and Kashmir special status were revoked, and the state stands bifurcated into the Union Territories of Ladakh, and Jammu & Kashmir. All this with the valley effectively cut off - internet services are down, curfew still in place, some 40,000 troops roam the streets, and Kashmiri leaders have been arrested.
The move fulfills a long standing promise of the BJP, and has been largely supported by the wider political establishment. At the same time, it’s been described as authoritarian and unconstitutional, with many pointing to its long term implications. Left organisations and civil society have called for a nationwide protest today, demanding that special status be restored.
All this while Kashmir remains under curfew; internet and mobile services cut off.
If you’re struggling to make sense of the above, we don’t blame you. The Kashmir crisis is possibly one of the most complicated conflicts in the world -- and the abrogation of special status is tied to that complication.
Here’s our attempt to simplify it for you. (Simplify being the key word here; many details and intricacies are purposely left out).
In 1947, the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir had to decide between India and Pakistan. Jammu & Kashmir was not the only princely state, it was one amongst over 500. But J&K was unique in that it was contiguous to the territory of both India and Pakistan, with a Hindu Maharaja ruling over a Muslim majority population.
Before Maharaja Hari Singh could make a decision (they say he wanted an independent country), violence broke out in Poonch. Pakistan says it was a spontaneous, local articulation of discontent - but the Indian position is that the Pakistani military led the revolt.
To cut a long story short, Hari Singh needed help -- and that’s when India stepped in, on the condition that the state formally accede to India, albeit temporarily - until the will of the people could be determined. With this provision included, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to India on October 26, 1947.
This is the basis of Article 370, giving India control over J&K’s foreign affairs, defense, and communications - and only limited powers in making laws for the state.
The Question of Autonomy
Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India under very special circumstances, central to which was the autonomy of its people. That’s something New Delhi did not respect from the get go -- be it the dismissal of democratically elected leaders, extending the right of the Centre to make laws for the state, repeatedly imposing President’s rule, and changing Article 370 to a point where it bore no resemblance to its original form.
And if one key development needs to be highlighted, it’s the blatant rigging of the 1987 state elections (in a bid to usher in a Rajeev Gandhi - Farooq Abdullah coalition) - which proved to be the final nail in the coffin, leading to full blown militancy in 1989.
As Sajjad Lone told this writer in an interview in 2009, “Pakistan’s offer of the gun was always there, the sentiment unfavourable to India was always there, what was new was the rigging of elections and the message that the only way to stay in power was to please New Delhi.”
We could argue that a root cause for the alienation of the Kashmiri people is that they were repeatedly shut out of the decision making process.
So Why Is There Opposition?
In a democracy, a state is its people, and the people of Jammu & Kashmir have had very little say in it all. Even today, as the decision to revoke Article35A and Section 370 has been taken by the Centre, the state of Jammu & Kashmir is under curfew. The opposition to the move has less to do with the removal of Section 370, and more to do with the manner in which it was done -- unilaterally without consultation or dialogue, in secret, with an entire state under lockdown.
The government says that the move will formally integrate Jammu & Kashmir into India, with Home Minister Amit Shah calling Article 370 a threat to India’s unity.
Is It Legal?
This is a bit of a grey area - as according to the Constitution of India, Article 370 could only be modified with the agreement of the "state government.” But there’s no state government in Kashmir, with New Delhi having extended President’s Rule to the state.
The central government says it’s well within its right to impose a presidential order, and that similar decisions have been taken by federal governments in the past -- and that’s true, with the Congress and other central governments being guilty of the same.
So What Does All This Mean?
For one, India will have one less state - with the state of Jammu & Kashmir divided into the Union Territories of Ladakh, and Jammu & Kashmir.
Two, Kashmir will no longer have a separate constitution, and Indian law now applies to the state in its entirely, extending the Centre’s authority.
Three, people from other parts of India can now buy property in the state. Will this change the demographics of the Muslim-majority valley? We’ll see.
Four, for the government - they have delivered on a long standing promise by revoking the special status accorded to Jammu & Kashmir.
Five, the move raises questions as far Indian federalism is concerned -- as it demonstrates that the Centre has the unilateral authority to decide a state’s future.
And What About The Kashmiris?
Once curfew is lifted and communication restored -- how will Kashmiris react to the decision? More than the immediate response, which will be checked in part by the 40,000 troops stationed in the state -- what will be the long term consequences?
As Mohan Guruswamy wrote in The Citizen, “The Indian state has now to offer something tangible to satisfy most aspirations in Kashmir, and we are talking only about Kashmir. Instead it seems by linking Kashmir in an unnatural union with Jammu and bringing them under Delhi’s direct rule, India is only offering the troubled people of Kashmir a choice of jackboots.
India must seek to accommodate Kashmir with an autonomy that will satisfy the aspirations nurtured by this long period of revolt.”