Written By: Amna Razzaq, Research Fellow, PRCCSF.
On 5 August 2019, the government of India revoked the special constitutional status of Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) under Article 370 of the Constitution, and abrogated Article 35A which had allowed it to define who its ‘permanent residents’ are and what rights and privileges are attached to such residency. The former state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of Ladakh (without a legislature) and Jammu-Kashmir (with a legislature). Concurrently, the Indian government imposed a near-total telecommunications lockdown in the region, detained political leaders and dissidents, and enforced Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code.
The conditions on the ground remained the same for over a year, with many political leaders remaining in detention, District Development Council (DDC) elections were conducted as mere tokens of normalcy, while 4G internet services were restored only as late as February 2021. Despite the government’s actions, India received a minimal adverse reaction from the international community. However, the months following the de-operationalization of Article 370 witnessed only a muted response, particularly from the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia. The few exceptions were Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Turkey, and Iran, which expressed concerns over developments in 2019.
Article 370 was added to India’s Constitution in 1949. It allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have their own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. This autonomy has been greatly eroded in practice over recent decades.
The BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have always treated the Kashmir dispute as a communal and law-and-order issue. Once it got an absolute majority in Parliament in 2019 and gained control over Kashmir after toppling the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government followed by revocation of Article 370, it adopted a two-pronged policy towards Kashmir. On the one hand, it has crushed dissent with an iron hand. Alongside, it has tried to control the administration of Kashmir by appointing non-Kashmiris/ outsiders. In almost every critical administrative department, Kashmiri officials have been replaced by non-Kashmiris. Non-Kashmiri officers also dominate the police in Kashmir. Most Kashmiris see this as the first step in attempts to change the religious demography of the former State.
The heavy presence of armed forces, absence of a democratically-elected government coupled with broadly non-Kashmiri administrative and police structure have created a peculiar situation. The administrative machinery has lost touch with the local population. The return of Kashmiri Pandits was always a favourite ploy of the BJP. The party claimed that by scrapping the special status of IIOJK granted under Article 370, all obstacles in the way of their return would disappear. It defended numerous autocratic measures in the name of the return of the Pandits, and the issue dominated several Assembly elections since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
If we look at the legal aspect, it is evident that the Narendra Modi regime has violated Fourth Geneva Convention and UN resolutions on Kashmir by illegally annexing Jammu and Kashmir pursuant to the unconstitutional abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
India is changing the demography of Kashmir with a pernicious intent and treacherous plan. This is a well-crafted scheme for the exclusion and displacement of the local Kashmiris by settling the non-resident extremist Hindus. A senior Indian National Congress leader Chidambaram and India’s prominent constitutional expert A. G. Noorani described the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A from the Indian Constitution as a “catastrophic step” and an “illegal decision”, akin to committing fraud. In June 2018, purposefully a political void was created by reducing the government of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti into a minority and imposing governor rule.
Jammu and Kashmir Salvation Movement (JKSM) Chairman and Hurriyat leader Altaf Ahmed Bhat have said that the August 5, 2019 action was the same as Indian aggression in 1947 that changed the internationally recognized status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) and it was now consolidating its hold in various ways also justifying their illegal occupation.
Post-2014 general elections, the BJP made inroads as a coalition partner with the regional PDP, then headed by the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, to form a government, much against the wishes of voters who gave the PDP a mandate. It was a critical political development for Kashmir. The late Mufti knotted a bond with the BJP termed the “Agenda of Alliance” to address the long-pending Kashmir issue. The main points of that agenda imply that BJP will not make any changes in the special status guaranteed under Article 370, along with making collective efforts to bring all parties to the conflict to the dialogue table for a peaceful solution. With the death of Mufti, however, he was succeeded by his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti. The situation soon slipped out of her grasp.
On June 19, 2018, the BJP finally pulled out of the coalition government, claiming that “Mehbooba failed to handle the situation in the Valley.” Pulling out of the coalition was followed soon after by the abrogation of Article 370, in direct violation of the previous promise.
As Indian high-handedness to deal with KFM got intensified, the Valley’s internal politics also went into turmoil. The region has been torn apart politically since the fall of the government in 2018 when the BJP withdrew its support for the PDP.
As it turned out, the change in the BJP’s Kashmir policy not only prepared the ground for the abrogation of Article 370 but ensured no opposition from Kashmiri politicians. Being placed under arrest for months made most of them keep silent.
“The picture of Kashmir is suffocating. There is anxiety, fear, concern, and uncertainty which is the lowest ever psychological pressure that a Kashmiri is facing today. But it can’t go on forever like this.”
On the ground in Kashmir, one could easily sense there are no more hopes or expectations for mainstream leaders. All of them have lost credibility and are disconnected from the majority of people.
On the other hand, based on the statements of former senior political leaders, it seems they have also abandoned their hopes for a revival of the original journey toward mainstream politics.
Kashmiris are yet to recover from the blow dealt by the Modi government on August 5. The evacuation of all tourists from the region and the lockdown in the abrogation’s aftermath ensured the crumbling of the business sector as well as the halting of the transport system in Kashmir. Work was difficult to find. “This is what the BJP was aiming to do with Kashmiris i.e. crush them economically and mentally and show the entire world that everything is normal in Kashmir.”
Three years after the Indian government snatched the special status of Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir (IIOJK), the economy of the state is reeling under immense pressure and facing depression due to incessant lockdowns, curfews, internet blockades and never-ending uncertain situation. Narendra Modi-led government had taken many unlawful measures since the abrogation of articles 370 and 35-A, with a special focus on changing the demography and crushing the economy of Kashmir to force people to bow down on their demand for the right to self-determination. At the time of stripping the special status of Kashmir, BJP had claimed that changes would result in better development of the region and boost its economy.
However, three years after that unlawful measure, the economy of Kashmir has been literary put on its deathbed. Political and economic analysts believe that the situation has only deteriorated during the past three years as the economy had to face the worst negative impact of the August 5, 2019 decisions. The measures affected most industrialists and traders besides rendering thousands of people jobless to worsen the unemployment condition of the state.
The Kashmir Institute of International Affairs, in its report on Dissecting Kashmir’s Economy – Post Revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution concludes that the basic fundamental human rights, such as the right to information, mobility and connectivity, were completely disrupted in the region since August 5, 2019. This resulted in declining tourism, internet clampdowns, loss of education and slackening E-commerce. August 5, 2019, had ruined the IIOJK economy, it observed.
Pakistan and the people of Kashmir, around the world, will be observing ‘Youm-e-Istehsal’ on August 05 (Friday) to mark the third anniversary of India’s abrogation of Article 370 of its constitution, which led to an attempt to illegally annex IIOJK and divide it into two union territories.
The main intent behind observing the occasion in solemnity is to expose Indian atrocities and show solidarity with the people of IIOJK.
Experts believe that the silence of people about the drastic changes in Kashmir should not be ignored. Developments have been coming hard and fast: the abrogation of Article 370, the bifurcation of the state, a downgrade to a union territory, domicile law changes, delimitation of constituencies, notifying “strategic areas” for use by the army, a six-month political logjam followed by a pandemic lockdown, and a connectivity embargo. All these moves are fanning the flames of popular anger and sooner or later will burst into a disaster.
The unprecedented act of the Indian Premier of taking away Kashmiri’s identity has serious implications for regional peace. Firstly, it may lead to the beginning of a new bloody freedom fight that might result in unprecedented violence in the valley. Such development may alter the peace of the whole region and can push the two neighbouring nuclear powers to the brink of a nuclear war. Secondly, the revocation is anticipated to affect the internal demographic and political realities of Kashmir. An influx of the Hindu population particularly extremist segments of Indian society may lead to a shift in demographic realities of Kashmir where the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley would be converted into a Muslim minority region. This demographic shift would squeeze the opportunities for the local youth as well as establish a Hindu-dominated political order.
On the UNSC Agenda, the Kashmir dispute remains one of the oldest matters. It is pertinent to mention that Indian actions concerning J&K are discordant with international law, bilateral agreements, and even its domestic law.
It is high time for the international community to intervene and help resolve of Kashmir issue for promoting peace and security that could lead to the economic development of all regions, particularly Kashmir.