A Tale of Two Modi Governments: 3 Months of Post-370 Kashmir
The aftermath of the decision by PM Narendra Modi’s government to strip the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status by revoking two articles of India’s constitution on August 5 has by now become a tale of two governments. One Modi government acting brilliantly, cementing its power internally. The other one seemingly losing control, and possibly compromising its diplomatic standing in the world.
The first government, the domestically-focused one, has handled the opposition party and public sentiment almost perfectly. The quick action and speed of the constitutional changes, combined with the communications blackout and security restrictions imposed in Kashmir, left the opposition reeling, unable to mount a robust criticism and further unable to access any credible information from the region.
At the same time, public sentiment in the rest of India swung strongly behind Modi. Indians of almost all classes and divisions hailed the move as long overdue. Even many Congress party supporters welcomed the decision to end the special status for Kashmir. Domestically, things could not have gone any better for Modi.
A Complacent Central Government?
Unfortunately, things have not been so rosy for the second government, the internationally-focused one charged with managing the fallout with foreign governments and entities. From the beginning, it has seemed like the government did not anticipate and was unprepared for the extreme interest the move and subsequent suppression of the Kashmiri population would arouse in the international community.
Perhaps they had been lulled into a sense of complacency since there had not been any serious discussion about Kashmir in international fora for several decades. Perhaps they assumed that interest in the issue would fade after a few weeks, much like international interest has faded after terrorist attacks and skirmishes in the region. Or maybe the accelerated timeline of the revocation left them insufficient time to prepare, particularly when a new government was just settling in after the May elections. Whatever the case, the government is struggling now to control the international discussion.
Like it or Not, Kashmir Issue is Getting Internationalised
The primary risk here for the Modi government is the internationalization of an issue that all parties in India have long claimed to be an internal matter, or at most a bilateral issue with Pakistan. Throughout its 72-year history, India has steadfastly maintained that the international community has no role or business in Kashmir. And after a few discussions and resolutions in the United Nations, the last one taking place in 1971, the international community has largely agreed. Despite constant pressure from Pakistan to become more involved, the United Nations and foreign powers have largely stayed out of it.
However, that all changed on August 5. Despite India’s continued assertions that this is both an internal matter and that everything is fine, the international community has focused on Kashmir in a way that it has not for almost 50 years. The United Nations Security Council held a private discussion on Kashmir, the United States Congress held a hearing focused almost entirely on Indian actions in Kashmir, and Kashmiri diaspora around the world have found their voices anew in the form of protests and meetings with international leaders. For Modi, this could not have gone any worse.
Damage Control Has Worsened the Situation
Not surprisingly, the government’s attempts at damage control have only aggravated this situation. As reports have trickled out from Kashmir of curfews, arrests, violence, internet blackouts, severed phone service, closed schools, and shuttered businesses, the government’s “nothing to see here” mantra has become increasingly intense yet worn dangerously thin. Combined with the government’s refusal to let journalists, U.N. officials, members of the U.S. Congress, and even some Indian politicians visit the region, there is a distinct suspicion that the government has something to hide in Kashmir. And whatever that something is, it is not good.
Sensing international outrage building, the Indian government finally relented and allowed a delegation of European Parliament members to tour the region on October 29. But even this small glimpse given to foreign officials did nothing to quell the concern. Although the members of the delegation quickly made statements from Srinagar that the situation in Kashmir was “not as bad as we thought,'' the whole event had the air of stage management.
The members skewed heavily towards right-wing European parties whose politics align closely with Modi’s, one member was disinvited after requesting an audience with local citizens without a police escort (leading him to label the visit a “PR stunt”), the visit was disavowed by the EU itself, and the entire tour was carefully arranged by the central government. Perhaps most concerning, the parliament members expressed talking points strikingly similar to those of the Modi government, leaving the distinct impression that they had been advised on what to say.
India’s Diplomatic Standing is Beginning to Erode
As other international groups continue to be denied access to the region, international sentiment toward India is starting to turn. India’s actions in Kashmir may have previously been ignored by the international community, but they are now front and center. And many are deciding that these actions are not befitting the world’s largest democracy. As a result, India’s diplomatic standing is beginning to erode. International leaders are now openly questioning India’s commitment to transparency, human rights, religious tolerance, and rule of law.
Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of changing India’s constitution and Kashmir’s status, it is certainly not wise to allegedly suppress a domestic population and then block access to that population for the majority of the international community. If this continues for too long, it will be a great tragedy for India, for there are legitimate ongoing terrorism issues in the region that are not getting the attention they deserve. In addition, India has worked hard for many years to raise its global profile and to build a reputation as a liberal, secular democracy. Such reputations are easily undermined, but not easily recovered.
Modi’s domestic government has made him now more popular than ever in India, in all likelihood cementing his grip on power and his domestic legacy for years to come. India’s long-term global legacy, dependent entirely on the performance of his international government, is unfortunately a bit more shaky.
(Dr. Anish Goel is a fellow in New America's International Security program. He recently completed three years of service to the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, where he served as a Professional Staff Member. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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