EER has published two previous articles on the Kashmir issue since this round of the crisis began, available here and here, and this is the latest article in that series, which intends to represent the various perspectives.
Arif Rafiq, non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC.
On 5 August 2019, India abrogated Article 370 of the constitution, stripping the portion of Jammu and Kashmir it controls of its nominal autonomy and annexing the disputed region.
The move was preceded by the deployment of tens of thousands of additional security personnel into an already heavily militarized region and the imposition of a curfew that effectively continues three weeks later.
Addressing the Indian public three days after the move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his decision was motivated by a desire to bring development to the region and integrate it into India as a whole.
But, importantly, Kashmiris could not hear his “good news”. A near-complete communications blackout was imposed on the region along with the draconian curfew. The reason for the curfew and blackout is obviously to suppress protests. Kashmiris largely oppose India’s annexation of their territory. The prevailing sentiment in Jammu and Kashmir, and in the Kashmir Valley in particular, is for “azaadi” or freedom from Indian rule.
Contrary to what Modi said earlier this month, the problem in Kashmir is political, not economic. Kashmir, in fact, ranks higher than most Indian states in human development. It even ranks higher than the state of Gujarat, which Modi ruled for thirteen years.
Modi is, of course, aware of this. His talk of development is a ruse, being used to present his Hindu nationalist policies in a more palatable form to his non-ideological supporters and the international community.
Hindu Extremist Ideology is a Main Driver of Modi’s Kashmir Decision
It is the Hindu nationalist ideology—or Hindutva—that Modi subscribes to that is a main driver of his decision to annex Kashmir. For decades, groups part of the Hindutva extremist network known as the Sangh Parivar have advocated for the annexation of Kashmir. Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Sangh Parivar’s chief ideological organization. His political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is its political front. The BJP, RSS, and other Hindutva organizations aim to remake India from a secular democracy into a “Hindu rashtra” or an explicitly Hindu state. They also have dreams of consolidating Indian control over all of South Asia and establishing “Akhand Bharat” or Greater India. Kashmir is part of the Sangh’s agenda of political centralization, social and legal Hinduization, and territorial expansion.
Tellingly, Modi not only revoked Kashmir’s nominal autonomy but also eliminated its status as a state, putting it directly under the control of the central government. We may see Modi attempt similar moves in other regions of India.
His decision on Kashmir is part of a broader campaign to eliminate any laws and policies that give Muslims a distinct socio-political identity. The BJP recently banned the instantaneous Muslim divorce procedure known locally as “triple talaq”, and elements of the party are now pushing for restrictions on: the Muslim call to prayer, the provision of halal meat, and subsidies for the hajj pilgrimage. In the coming months, they may move to build a Hindu temple on the site of a 400-year-old mosque destroyed by Hindu extremists.
From their very start in the 1920s, Hindutva organizations sought to equate Indianness with Hinduness. More recently, Subramanian Swamy, a prominent Hindutva politician, said that Muslims who refused to say that they have Hindu ancestry should be stripped of their voting rights.
Economic Troubles Also A Factor
For over a decade, Modi has sought to present himself as an economic reformer. But it is increasingly clear that this image was based more on myth than reality. His imposition of a demonetization program and goods and services tax has hit the middle and lower classes hard, driving down consumption and pushing both the manufacturing and financial services industries toward crisis. Sales of cars and fast-moving consumer goods are in steep decline. The Indian economy is shedding jobs. And independent observers now question the credibility of India’s official economic growth data.
By doubling down on Hindu nationalist politics, Modi is keeping his base happy as he dismantles India’s secular edifice to create what he calls a “New India”.
Modi’s decision on Kashmir was largely driven by domestic politics. As The New York Times makes clear, the BJP government’s plan to annex Kashmir was set into motion last year when it backed out of a coalition government in the “state,” paving the way for the governor’s rule. But the changing geopolitical landscape in the region could have also been a factor.
The Trump administration is keen on a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan has been instrumental in getting the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table. A new power dispensation in Kabul is likely to leave out New Delhi’s major allies. And India is the sole regional power that has yet to meaningfully engage the Taliban.
Moreover, New Delhi fears that should Pakistan deliver an honorable exit for the United States, relations between Islamabad and Washington will improve, reducing its ability to engage in unilateral actions. So Modi took action within what may have been a closing window of opportunity to radically change the status quo in Kashmir.
What Lies Ahead
Kashmir is destined for a long period of instability and even violence. India’s imposition of a curfew on millions of Kashmiris indicates that it knows that the local population is against annexation and will resist the move. New Delhi is likely to continue with its campaign of political engineering and psychological warfare in Kashmir, hoping to support a new generation of politicians who support neither independence nor autonomy, and punishing both leaders and ordinary Kashmiris who do not submit to the new rules of the game.
Hundreds of political leaders and thousands of others have been arrested. Many, if not most, of these people will stay in detention over the coming weeks. The curfew may eventually become a bit more ambiguous, eased for a few days or weeks and then hardened once again. But the Kashmiris will come out and protest. And Indian forces will aim to suppress them with violence, which will, in turn, produce more violence. The curfew will, more or less, remain permanent.
The process of India-Pakistan dialogue, which was endorsed by the Pakistani Army, is off for now. Pakistan will not accept India’s attempt to convert the Line of Control that separates the portions of Kashmir they control into a hard border.
At the moment, regional and global powers have issued tepid responses to India’s decision to annex Kashmir. India is a rising economic power and many, including the United States, see it as a bulwark against the emerging superpower, China. But foreign powers will eventually lose the luxury to look away from Modi’s efforts to radically change the landscape in Kashmir as well as India.
What India is witnessing is a slow-motion imposition of emergency rule, akin to what Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed in 1975, but inspired by Hindu extremism. The Kashmiris will bear the brunt of Modi’s authoritarianism. The campaign to make Indian Muslims into second-class citizens will gain momentum. And Modi will likely then come after India’s southern regions, where he has less support.
The siege of Kashmir signals that strongman rule has come to India. But it will not bring stability. Far from it.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.