Hindu nationalists in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have long dreamed of stripping Indian-controlled Kashmir – named Jammu and Kashmir state – of its decades-old special status.
The special status gave the Muslim-majority state unique levels of autonomy, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly blamed it for poor economic growth and lack of investment in the territory.
“The people of Kashmir want freedom from the families who have occupied the region for 50 years,” said Modi earlier this year, swiping at the political clans that have dominated the state’s politics.
“The situation in Kashmir is such that the people there want change, whether it is over the issue of section 370 or section 35A,” he added. Section 370 is the constitutional provision that guarantees Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
The “abrogation of Article 370” was also mentioned in the BJP election manifesto, released in April ahead of India’s general elections. It was part of a promise “to overcome all obstacles that come in the way of development and provide adequate financial resources to all regions of the state.”
A long-held goal
On Monday, Modi’s government finally moved to revoke Article 370, in what analysts say is part of a Hindu nationalist agenda. Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir, described the move as illegal. It is not clear what happens next, though legal challenges are expected.
In the Indian parliament the same day, Modi’s interior minister Amit Shah blamed Article 370 for preventing true democracy in the state. “This section is discriminatory towards women, lower castes, tribals and is the source of terrorism,” he claimed.
But Harsh Mander, a human rights activist and author, says the government’s move is “part of an agenda in order to establish their idea of a Hindu nationalist nation.” Until now, the clause protected Jammu and Kashmir’s “permanent residents’” rights to employment, property ownership and state aid. Scrapping Article 370 would strip away those special protections, allowing people from various demographics to move to the Muslim-dominated state.
“The idea of a Hindu nationalist nation is very different one from the secular democratic idea of India which was written into our constitution,” he added. In the last five years, rallying cries for a Hindu state have been linked to lynchings and attacks on Muslims across the country. Critics blame the rhetoric spouted by BJP leaders for the increasing anxiety and unrest among minorities in one of the most diverse democracies in the world.
Government officials have dismissed criticism from opposition political leaders, insisting that the decision to modify the state’s administrative status is an attempt to bring it to par with the rest of India. However, according to a recent report released by the Indian government, the rate of unemployment in Jammu and Kashmir was 5.3% in 2017-18, below the national average of 6.1%
Risk of driving deeper alienation
Ever since the start of an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir in the 1990s, the leadership in New Delhi has often struggled to navigate what many say has become an increasingly fraught relationship with the local population.
Analysts say this has helped fuel militancy and a general sense of alienation, especially among young Kashmiris. Many now fear that the situation could worsen.
“This is going to only deepen the alienation a great deal more. They (the government) can have a territorial control of the land, they can change the demography but the Kashmiri people themselves, their sense of alienation is only going to deepen further,” said Mander.
Foreseeing opposition in the region, the government has shut down internet and phone services and restricted the movement of even small groups of people.
“I think it is almost inevitable that there will be even greater militarization. Kashmir is one of the most militarized parts of the world and there will be even further militarization in order to suppress violence and protests,” Mander added.