InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 01

Robbing Kashmir of special status

Eventually, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of the radical Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India has repealed the special status of Indian-held Kashmir by revoking the Article 370 A of the Indian Constitution. The special status of Indian occupied Kashmir, enshrined in the Article 370, has been revoked through a presidential proclamation. This move of the Modi government is of extreme importance and virtually would have large-scale consequences.


The foremost implication of the ending of the special constitutional status of Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) is that India has given up its legal and moral position of claiming Kashmir as part of the union. Herein lies the profound significance of the move to scotch the peculiar Constitutional status of Kashmir, therefore, the BJP government has chosen to cross the Rubicon. It is important to note that the BJP government of Prime Minister Modi has not taken the decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir prematurely. When the BJP last formed it government in 2014, it had unequivocally declared that it had plans to change the special status of Kashmir. As the BJP a couple of months back retained power by winning a majority in the lower house or Lok Sabha, it seems to have got emboldened by getting a huge mandate to take its radical agenda forward. The foremost objective of it is to practically make Kashmir an integral part of India and the revocation of the special status is a step in the direction.


The Article 370 gives a special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian state structure. The special status primarily provides to the Kashmiris the power to decide which of the laws made by the Indian Parliament could be extended to the state. In this context, it is indeed a very important provision of the Constitution. Former Chief Minister and Kashmiri leader Omar Abdullah, on one occasion, reacting to the BJP plans to revoke the special status of Kashmir, had said, “Either the Article will remain on the statute book, or Kashmir won’t be a part of India.” Now when the radical BJP government has revoked the special status of Kashmir, the region no longer has any link with New Delhi because the inclusion of the Kashmir region in the Indian Union in 1947 was very much conditional and that primarily envisaged not changing its peculiar status, which was protected by the Indian Constitution.


The revocation of the special status of Kashmir by the BJP government would bode ill for the relations of residents of the state and India. The inhabitants of the state already have strong anti-India feelings due to unabated state repression and large-scale underdevelopment and resulting poverty and unemployment in Kashmir. In the situation the move by the BJP, which is infamous for its Hindu revivalist agenda, the government would be received unfavourably in the Muslim majority population of Kashmir. Already, protests by the Kashmiris for independence from the Indian rule have reached their peak and an ever-growing number of the region’s residents are taking to the street. India, despite deploying more and more troops, is seemingly unable to crush the Kashmiris’ desire for freedom. In the situation, revoking the special status of Kashmir would be explosive. The Kashmiri organizations, fighting for freedom, would step up their activities and it would make the situation worst.


On the other hand, the move by the Narendra Modi government to end the special status of Kashmir would further bruise New Delhi relations with Islamabad. Pakistan is a significant party to the Kashmir dispute and any change of the status of Indian-held Kashmir, which is a still a very much disputed territory, must derail normalization of ties between the two states. Against the backdrop, the recent endeavours by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to put strained relations between India and Pakistan back on track have received a big blow. In Pakistan, even those who wanted to see relations between Pakistan and India improve, must be thinking that in such a situation it may not be possible. So, the ultimate victim of putting an end to the special status of Kashmir by the BJP government is peace in South Asia.


Abrogating the special status of Kashmir by the BJP government is rooted in its desire to fully integrate the state into the Indian Union. From the BJP’s ultra nationalistic, at times chauvinistic, standpoint this makes sense. A party and its ideological allies, like the Rashtraya Swaymek Sangh (RSS), India is not merely a state but ‘Maha’ (Mother India) and no part of it could be severed, particularly those that are still part of the state. Therefore, whether constitutionally or legally, the BJP government could not repeal the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir within the Indian Union as enshrined in the Article 370, politically it would like to affect such a change.


The BJP’s decision to abrogate the special status of Kashmir is also an act of frustration because despite debating the suggestion for years it could not become a popular demand in India or even Kashmir despite state repression and atrocities on inhabitant Muslims of Kashmir, so that they could be pressurized to ultimately accept any change in their region’s status. Even pro-India Kashmiri politicians, like former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and all other Kashmiri leaders, like Mehbooba Mufti, have rejected the move to abrogate the Article 370, what to talk of a common Kashmir, which has suffered great injustices and repression at the hands of the Indian state.


Omar Abdullah very rightly said: “You want to strengthen the State-Centre relationship but this is not the way. This will further widen the gap between the people of the state and the rest of the country which you will understand very soon. I can understand the political compulsion of the BJP, but first focus on other promises. The first attack is on Jammu and Kashmir.” An argument which the BJP has been protruding to change the special status provision of the Constitution is that the provision and the state subject laws were a hindrance to the development of Kashmir. However, this is totally a wrong argument because, for instance, one subject laws that no outsider could purchase land and property in Kashmir has been quite protective of the rights of Kashmiris.


If the state lacked in development it has been because of the prevailing situation and the presence of seven hundred thousands Indian troops, who every now and then unleash violence on Kashmiris for their struggle for independence from the Indian rule and withdrawal of the Indian forces. Before the eruption of militancy in 1989, nobody complained of such a thing. Factories were being set up everywhere but nobody questioned the state subject laws.


Although for a radical party, like the BJP, changing the special status of Kashmir is part of an agenda but nevertheless, to deflect the blame the party leadership has protruded the justification that the Article 370 is a hindrance to the development of Jammu & Kashmir. In this regard, the BJP leaders have cited the state’s subject laws which prevent outsiders from purchasing property in the state. In fact, the state subject laws were aimed at protecting the interest of the largely-poor residents of Jammu & Kashmir.


So, the revocation of the special status of Kashmir is the beginning of the end of a great crisis in the South Asian region.