On 5 August 2019, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had repealed the special provisions of Article 370 of India’s Constitution, which had given a semi-autonomous status to the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.
To celebrate the first anniversary, Modi together with RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has performed today the groundbreaking ceremony at Ayodhya, starting the construction of Ram temple at the site of demolished Babri Mosque.
Undoubtedly, the unconstitutional repeal of Article 370 is a matter of celebration for the Hindu nationalists in India but it has not only brought unimaginable misery and loss of identity for Kashmiris but it has also caused irreparable damages to India’s reputation as a secular democracy.
Since the repeal of Article 370, Kashmir has been under lockdown either officially or unofficially for a year. A large number of political leaders and activists are in jail or under house arrest. Brute force is being used to suppress any expression of dissent.
Press has been muzzled and the judicial system has been completely compromised. Phone and internet services are still limited and restricted. Modi had promised economic development of the region but the year-long volatile security situation and lack of communication have devasted Kashmir’s struggling economy instead.
Growing fear in Kashmir
There is a growing fear among the Kashmiris that their land and natural resources are being taken over by outsiders. The apprehension of planned demographic changes in the Valley following Israeli strategy in the West Bank has been compounded by the new domicile rules, which grant Kashmiri domicile certificate to people from any part of India within 15 days only.
Kashmir Valley is seething with anger and helplessness. Any hope of a political deal bringing peace and stability has completely disappeared. Political and administrative networks engaging the local population developed through the decades have been completely dismantled.
Modi government is not even attempting to create a façade of administering Kashmir with the help of Kashmiris. Delhi is ruling the Valley through its bureaucrats sent from outside. The situation has become desperate.
The growing anger of Kashmiris and the complete marginalisation of pro-India Kashmiri politicians have reignited the hope of Pakistan in succeeding in its Kashmir strategy. For decades, China used to take a public stance that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.
However, the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and turning Ladakh to a separate political unit, and the claim of India’s Home Minister Amit Shah to recapture the Aksai Chin area has made China wary.
Recent Chinese intrusion into Indian territory in Ladakh is a case in point.
The open alliance of China and Pakistan on Kashmir has drastically shifted the power balance away from India. The new political and strategic dynamics have encouraged Pakistan so much that it has even brought out a new political map including the state of Jammu and Kashmir in it.
Narendra Modi’s repeal of the semi-autonomous status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the ongoing suppression of basic human rights in the Valley have brought international criticism and condemnation. Global media and human rights groups have been relentless in their effort to expose the suffering of Kashmiris.
The ‘guided tours’ to Kashmir organised by the Modi government of some foreign diplomats and politicians have not helped India’s cause. India’s global standing as a secular democratic country has taken a serious beating. The failure of the judiciary to protect the constitutional rights of Kashmiris have also exposed India’s institutional strength.
There is no doubt, the decision of the Modi government to abrogate Article 370 a year ago has become counterproductive to India’s interest in many ways.
It has pushed Kashmiris further away. The open alliance of China and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue has become a serious concern for India’s territorial integrity.
However, all these do not take away the fact that the abrogation of Kashmir’s limited autonomy has brought significant dividends for Modi’s Hindutva politics.
It not only fulfils a long-time demand of his party, but also in the eyes of Hindu nationalists, Kashmiris are seen primarily as Muslims, and Modi’s hardline stance improves his image further as a ‘strong’ Hindu leader.
For Modi’s politics, peace and stability in Kashmir do not bring benefits — violence and despair of Kashmiri Muslims do.
That is the reason Narendra Modi is celebrating first anniversary of his repeal of Article 370 at Ayodhya by formally starting the construction of Ram temple, another key Hindutva project.
Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.