The Hindu nationalist government ended on Monday the special status that governed this region also claimed by Pakistan. An unexpected decision. The Indian government put an end to Indian Kashmir’s autonomy on Monday (August 5th). The special status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which was guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, was abolished by presidential decree. This rebel region is also claimed by the enemy brother of India: Pakistan.
Kashmir has been affected since the end of the British Indian Empire in 1947 by an uninterrupted wave of violence, including Pakistan’s territorial claims and the insurgency of Muslim separatists. The decision of the Indian government could provoke an outbreak of violence in this province where a separatist insurrection killed 70,000 people in 1989.
- Where is the Kashmir region?
The Kashmir region is located in the northern Indian subcontinent, in the Himalayan mountains. It is divided into two parts, between India and Pakistan, since the partition of the British colonial empire of India. A partition occurred in 1947 and saw the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir decide to join the Indian Union provided they maintain a very wide autonomy, says Liberation. It is the only state with a Muslim majority in the Indian federation.
The Indian part of Kashmir, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, covers more than 200,000 square kilometers, a little more than Great Britain, and has 12.5 million inhabitants. It is composed north of the predominantly Muslim Srinagar Valley, and from the Ladakh desert to the east, mostly Buddhist and sparsely populated. The Pakistani part of Kashmir extends over more than 86 000 km2, with 6.4 million inhabitants.
Kashmir enjoys autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This gives Jammu and Kashmir a distinct constitution and flag. Above all, the Indian federal government must delegate to the local executive and the legislature the management of internal affairs. In other words, the laws voted by New Delhi are not applied in Kashmir, except in the areas of defense, foreign affairs, finance, and communications.
- What does the government’s decision mean concretely?
The presidential decree will have to be definitively voted by Parliament. Then the Supreme Court will be seized. This jurisdiction is independent in India, despite the pressures, as underlined by France Culture Christophe Jeffrelot, a researcher at the International Research Center (Ceri). “It’s the only institution that resists authoritarianism and we’ll see how far it goes,” he adds.
If the end of autonomy is accepted, there will be two major changes at the institutional and social levels. First, Jammu and Kashmir will no longer be a state of the Union but a territory, and “the territories of the Union are not so democratic,” says Christophe Jaffrelot. They are ruled by New Delhi, especially with regard to police forces.
Second, it would change the access to property and senior positions in the public service. “The autonomy statute made it difficult for non-Kashmiris to acquire real estate”, which will no longer be the case, says Christophe Jaffrelot, referring to Article 35A of the Constitution. The Indians consider that Kashmir belongs to them and should not be abandoned to Muslims or Pakistan, explains Libération. The Kashmiris fear that the nationalist government wants to change the demography of their region.
- What is the situation in Kashmir?
The situation has tightened in recent weeks. A dozen days before the presidential decision of August 5, signals have alarmed the inhabitants as reported by the Figaro correspondent on the spot. “At the end of July, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent officially for the maintenance of order,” he says.
Then, Friday, August 2, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir ordered the immediate evacuation of all tourists and pilgrims present in the valley. Sunday, August 4, the leaders of the two local political parties were arrested and placed under house arrest, schools and universities closed. Internet and communications have been cut. “Since midnight Sunday, I can not join my family anymore,” worried Waqas Farooq, a student from Delhi’s Jamia University, who was interviewed by Le Figaro. For its part, the British news agency Reuters was not even able to reach its local staff. Finally, 8,000 additional soldiers were sent in reinforcement Monday.
- Why did the Indian government make that decision now?
It has been 70 years since Hindu nationalists wanted to end the specific status of Jammu and Kashmir. The fundamentalist right-wing Hindu party has never accepted the status of the region. The nationalist government of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister in power since 2014 and re-elected in the last election in May this year, regularly promised to end it.
On the local level, Kashmir has been going through an area of turbulence lately. The Kashmir Parliament was dissolved on November 2018 after the fall of the ruling regional coalition. The region had since been administered by New Delhi pending further elections, as explained by the local Liberation correspondent.
Finally, it would be for the government to divert on the situation of the country. With more than 170 million poor people in 2015 according to the World Bank, India accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s poverty. And the economic situation is not good economically and socially. The Indian economy is losing steam, investments are falling, consumption is below average. “It was time to find a theme that would divert public attention, remobilize on the Ethno-nationalist theme that Narendra Modi is affecting above all else.” Nothing is easier than to mobilize on the theme. of the Indian nation to unite and consolidate “, analyzes Christophe Jeffrelot, a researcher at the International Research Center (Cerl) on France Culture.
- What are the diplomatic consequences?
At the local level first, this is exacerbating tensions with Pakistan. The Pakistani government of Imran Khan condemned the revocation of Indian Kashmir’s autonomy and said it would “do everything in its power to counter the illegal measures.” In the aftermath of this announcement, Pakistan expects demonstrations in Muzaffarabad, the largest city in Pakistani Kashmir. The Pakistani army has declared “standing firm” alongside the residents of Kashmir.
At the international level, the announcement of the Indian government could also complicate the exit of Afghanistan from the Americans, after 18 years of war. Washington does indeed need Islamabad as an intermediary in talks with Taliban rebels. If the United States does not support Pakistani interests in Kashmir after the Indian decision, Islamabad may decide to disrupt the Afghan negotiations.
US President Donald Trump has recently proposed himself as a mediator between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute, an offer rejected by New Delhi that considers that the issue is only in the bilateral domain.