On 5 August 2019, Prime Minister Modi shocked the nation with an announcement that could turn out to be the political equivalent of demonetisation: another hasty and ill-considered move with devastating consequences for the nation.
After seven decades of assuring the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and the international community, that the state would continue to enjoy special autonomous status under the Indian Constitution, the Modi government announced that it had unilaterally divided the state, carving out a Union Territory in the high plateaux and hills of Ladakh in the eastern half of the state, and reducing the remainder—still named Jammu and Kashmir—from the status of a state to that of a Union Territory.
One year later, where do we stand?
Art 370 Revoked: A Year On, Sense of ‘Separateness’ In J&K Is Worse
The government’s defenders had argued that autonomy had only enhanced a sense of separateness in the Kashmir Valley, that it had not prevented the region experiencing large-scale separatist violence, that it had permitted a growing Islamicization marked by the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu Pandits from their traditional homes in the Valley, and that the special status prevented progressive Indian laws and court rulings (such as those assuring affirmative action to the Dalit community) applying to the state. All this was true, but it had happened despite Article 370, not because of it.
A year after the end of J&K’s special status, the sense of separateness is worse, having transmuted into a pervasive alienation. Violence has persisted and tensions are higher than they were a year ago; Islamic fervour is palpably on the increase; and Pakistan has been increasing infiltration across the Line of Control, with daily cease-fire violations and multiplying incidents involving militants clashing with security forces.
The stripping of special status, apologists also argued, would ensure more economic development in the state, since non-Kashmiris would be free to buy land and would invest more freely. Indeed, the Governor publicly invited out-of-state investors for a conference; there was talk of big corporations, including India’s biggest, Reliance, starting projects in the state; and Bollywood producers tripped over themselves to book all possible titles for future blockbusters to be made in and about the state. All of these initiatives have fizzled out in the sullen lockdown that has followed in the area in the last twelve months.
- A year after the end of J&K’s special status, the sense of separateness is worse, having transmuted into a pervasive alienation.
- Worries have increased that, as with demonetisation and PM Modi’s COVID-19 strategy, the short and medium-term damage caused by his decision will greatly outweigh the theoretical long-term benefits.
- The Kashmir episode was a reminder of a timeless lesson—that constitutional promises made by governments should never be broken.
- By locking up democratic parties and their leaders, the government has opened up the space for undemocratic forces.
Violence to India’s Democratic Culture
Worries have increased that, as with demonetisation and PM Modi’s COVID-19 strategy, the short and medium-term damage caused by his decision will greatly outweigh the theoretical long-term benefits.
First, and foremost, is the violence to India’s democratic culture: the government has changed the basic constitutional relationship of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to the Republic of India without consulting them or their elected representatives. Indeed, it locked them up, depriving Kashmiri democrats of the very voices that had spoken for them within the Indian constitutional space. One former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, was incarcerated for 232 days; another, Mehbooba Mufti, remains in detention as these words are written, as does veteran Congress leader and former Union Minister, Saifuddin Soz. This is a breath-taking betrayal of our democracy and nothing short of legislative authoritarianism.
It could also be done to other states in the future. The Kashmir episode was a reminder of a timeless lesson—that constitutional promises made by governments should never be broken, especially through manoeuvres that are so questionable, because that sets a precedent that, if emulated elsewhere in the country, could in due course destabilise the whole republic.
Removing J&K’s Special Status Was An Act Of ‘Garrison Governance’
By claiming that the concurrence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir had been obtained, when it was under President’s rule; by translating ‘state’ to mean the Governor the Modi government had appointed; and by interpreting ‘legislature’ to mean the Parliament in New Delhi rather than the body elected to represent the views of the people of Jammu and Kashmir––the central government showed utter contempt for the people of the state, and for the values of democratic decency that are meant to animate our political culture.
This action goes against the spirit of Indian democracy and has been described as an act of ‘garrison governance’. In many ways, it is a betrayal of the nationalism that made Kashmiris part of the Indian Union. The price for this may yet be paid by the rest of the nation.
Worse, by locking up democratic parties and their leaders, the government has opened up the space for undemocratic forces. The special status accorded to the state served as a fig leaf to permit a host of Kashmiri leaders to participate in mainstream politics as defenders of autonomy within India.
Revoking Art 370 May Have Inadvertently Given Terrorism In J&K A Fresh Lease Of Life
Now that this cover has been stripped away, the state‘s leading politicians have been rendered irrelevant and powerless to stop extremism. New Delhi had claimed that the government was ‘winning’ the battle against terrorism—but now it may have given a fresh lease of life to the terrorists, a new injustice for them to cite.
The signs are ominous: more and more misguided young Kashmiris speak openly of wanting to join militancy.
Of the nearly 150 militants killed in Jammu and Kashmir in the first seven months of this year, only 17 had come from Pakistan, pointing to a dramatic increase in home-grown militancy from the same period last year –– a savage indictment of the government's policy.
Our government has unnecessarily placed more of India’s brave and beleaguered soldiers in harm’s way. Indeed, official figures show an increase in violent incidents, and news filters in of almost daily ‘encounters’ in which Indian soldiers and police have lost their lives, fighting the very terrorists this move claimed to be eliminating.
An Ominous Time For India’s Pluralists & Democrats
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the communications blockade in the Valley has been persisted with, hampering efforts to contain the transmission of the virus. 4G is still not available in Kashmir, hampering the efforts of students and online entrepreneurs. ‘Normalcy’ remains a distant prospect.
The ‘lockdown within a lockdown’ and the continuing militant violence belittles the government’s claims of their constitutional changes being intended to bring about prosperity and economic growth, while also highlighting the growing feeling among Kashmiris that they are ‘second-class citizens’.
Those of us who have long seen India’s democratic diversity as its greatest strength are now confronted by a government that is determined to erase all signs of it, and shows scant respect for the Constitution. It is an ominous time for India’s pluralists and democrats, its minorities and dissenters.
The precedent this entire affair sets for our democracy and our national unity is ominous and worrying. Let no one say we have not been warned.
(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and an author. He can be reached @ShashiTharoor. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)