Modi’s Kashmir gambit stokes fears of more violence

Fresh from a major election victory few months earlier, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made one of his boldest moves yet in early August after his government revoked the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  The unilateral move came at a time where Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have continuously embarked on a nationalistic drive to rally the support of the people toward the government. In the aftermath of the revocation, anxiety and fears have also gripped the Muslim-dominated part of India, resulting in thousands of troops being poured into the region to maintain calm and security. Restrictive measures were also being taken in order to prevent large-scale mobilization of protesters over the revocation. 

The presence of Section 370 that guaranteed the autonomy of Kashmir has long been viewed as a stumbling block for the region’s development and investment by Modi. For him, the so-called autonomy had only been used by various clans to advance their political interests, instead of the people and he had made it clear in the BJP election manifesto that the provision will be revoked if he got re-elected for the second term.  Although the motion was eventually passed, it was met with loud jeers from the opposition with some expressing concerns that Modi’s move was just aimed at stripping the power away from a region that has little bond with the central government in Delhi. 

Since the revocation, the Indian government has also taken no chances in preserving stability in a region that is prone to outbreak of violence. Troops were being deployed into main cities and towns in the Kashmir region including Srinagar where a curfew was imposed. Additionally, a lockdown was also put in place while communication infrastructures such as phone and internet lines were completely cut off for at least eight million residents. The curfew was occasionally relaxed to allow for movement of people due to special events such as the Eid al-Adha celebrations but there has not been a clear timeline on when all the restrictions will be completely lifted. With such information blackout, there have also been contradicting reports on the situation on the ground with the government claiming that only small protests have erupted while others insisting that clashes have broken out between the police and protesters. 

Apart from protests, there have also been fears that Modi’s move could drive up militancy in a region, where attacks against government installations as well as security forces are not uncommon. With Delhi’s troubled relationship with the locals, it is likely that the revocation will only further alienate the latter, who believed that they share very little in common with the rest of the country. Already one of the most militarized regions in the world, the government’s decision to pour in more troops to suppress any opposition is likely to only make matters worse. 

While the citizens of Kashmir continued to live in the dark, Modi instead used the country’s national day celebrations to rally support from the rest of India for his move. With the opposition parties remained in shambles, the government had managed to somehow keep the domestic resistance at bay though it was altogether a different scene internationally. The revocation had attracted strong criticisms from India’s archrival, Pakistan as well as China in which a boundary issue near Kashmir has lasted for several decades. As India’s most vocal critic, the Pakistani government said it rejected Modi’s announcements whereas the army said it will go to “any extent” against such move. The Pakistani airspace was also briefly closed following the revocation. Both countries’ relationship has already hit an all-time low after the Pulwama attack in February and India’s latest move is all but certain to escalate the tension further. 

What is Article 370?

Article 370 is a constitutional provision that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. It was drafted in 1947 by Sheikh Abdullah, who had by then been appointed the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir. The provision guaranteed that the state government had the final say on all matters with the exception of defence, foreign affairs, communications and finance. The provision has also raised a number of controversies in the past. For instance, the provision stated that non-Kashmir citizens are not allowed to purchase land or property in the state that some argued have hindered developments for the past several decades.

Chan Hoi Cheong
Security risk analyst based in Kuala Lumpur
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