India Faces Criticism Over Its Move to Revoke Kashmiri Autonomy


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NEW DELHI — India-administered Kashmir remained in lockdown Tuesday and India faced mounting criticism, a day after New Delhi stripped the disputed territory of its autonomy.

The prime minister of Pakistan, which claims part of Kashmir and has fought two wars with India over it, lashed out at his counterpart, Narendra Modi, accusing him of promoting “an ideology that puts Hindus above all other religions and seeks to establish a state that represses all other religious groups.”

While Mr. Modi’s decision was welcomed by many Indians, some analysts were sharply critical, calling it another attack on India’s secular identity, part of a populist streak that plays to the prejudices and fears of its Hindu majority. Kashmir is majority Muslim.

“There are times in the history of a republic when it reduces itself to jackboot. Nothing more and nothing less. We are witnessing that moment in Kashmir,” wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a columnist at The Indian Express. “This is not the dawn of a new constitutional settlement, designed to elicit free allegiance. It is repression, plain and simple.”

Reaction was muted again Tuesday in Kashmir, where all telephone and internet services remained suspended and schools were closed. With tens of thousands of Indian soldiers patrolling the streets and enforcing a curfew, few people dared to venture outside.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said Tuesday that, “We are prepared and shall go to any extent” to help Kashmiris. Most analysts, though, believe that Pakistan, with its economy on the skids and its eagerness to find some help from Western allies, won’t do anything aggressive and will mostly complain.

[What Is Article 370, and Why Does It Matter in Kashmir?]

For decades, Kashmir has suffered along the India-Pakistan border, a mountainous territory claimed by both nuclear-armed countries and the site of intense border clashes.

But on Monday, India’s government announced it had found a new solution. Amit Shah, India’s home minister, delivered the stunning news on the floor of Parliament that the central government was unilaterally revoking the special status that Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed as a semiautonomous state since 1947 and splitting the state into two federal territories.

Mr. Shah insisted this would bring better governance, a flood of investment and, most importantly, peace. Many Indians support him, including progressive political leaders from other parties who seem to sense how well stern action on Kashmir plays into nationalist feelings.

But some Indians say that turning Kashmir into a federally controlled territory, which has never before happened to an Indian state, will demoralize Kashmiris and damage India’s democracy. The way this was done, they say, was like a coup.

For Kashmir, peace would be welcome, amid a status quo of militant attacks, repression, and protests that has destroyed the economy. But with the information lockout, it has been virtually impossible for Kashmiris to share their views on the new arrangement.

Some analysts warned that if Mr. Modi succeeds in his strategy with Kashmir he might then move to other even more religiously polarizing issues. These include wiping out Muslim marriage and inheritance laws and building a Hindu temple in Ayodhya on the ruins of a Muslim mosque.

“This is a government that feels they have got this massive mandate,’’ Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College London, referring to the election in May in which Mr. Modi’s party. His Bharatiya Janata Party, known as the B.J.P., won close to two-thirds of the votes. “They believe their agenda is now a mainstream agenda.’’

“Clearly now, in the first few months,’’ he added, “they’re moving full steam ahead.”

The changing attitudes are reflected in the B.J.P.’s campaign manifestos. In 2014, when Mr. Modi first ran for prime minister, his party vowed to revoke Kashmir’s special status, but said it would “discuss this with all stakeholders.’’ In the 2019 manifesto, that stakeholder phrase was omitted, a sign of things to come.

On the floor of Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Shah called the government’s decision a “golden moment” in the history of the Indian Parliament. Shortly thereafter, lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament gave final approval to the reorganization by an overwhelming majority.

“This is a constitutional tragedy,” said Manish Tiwari of the Indian National Congress, one of the few opposition parties to speak out. “What kind of constitutional precedent are you establishing? This is an attack on India’s federal character.”

India’s move seems destined to be tested in court. On Tuesday, a veteran public interest lawyer filed the first legal challenge to the government’s actions in the Supreme Court, which has a history of blocking government laws and administrative decisions.

Kashmir has always been an anomaly in India. It was a princely state, ruled by a Hindu maharajah, but with a population that was majority Muslim. It chose to remain apart from India and Pakistan, but shortly after those two countries were granted independence from Britain in 1947, militants from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, sending the maharajah running to India for help.

That led to a federation with India, whose special status was enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. That article guaranteed Kashmir a fair degree of autonomy from the central government and allowed it to pass its own land and criminal laws. One such law made it illegal for non-Kashmiris to own land — a virtually existential issue for natives of the Muslim-majority territory, who fear being swallowed up by India’s Hindus.

Scholars are split on the chances of a drastic improvement for Kashmir. The area has enormous economic potential: stunning alpine scenery, great downhill skiing, endless apple orchards and a centuries old excellence in weaving carpets. But because of the conflict and restrictions on outsiders owning land most big companies have stayed away.

Arati Jerath, a prominent newspaper columnist, said she expected investment to increase. With the land restrictions gone, she said, “people all over India will be able to buy land in Kashmir.”

But she was unsure if the change would improve development, as the government has argued, or simply further alienate Kashmiris.

“The question,” she said, “is whether they will win over people in Kashmir or whether it will become another West Bank.”

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