PGI INSIGHT: India – Revocation of autonomy likely to embolden Kashmir’s separatist movement
- The revocation of Article 370 is likely to fuel recruitment for armed militant factions operating in the Kashmir Valley and could lead to a repeat of the brutal conflict that took place in 1989.
- The decision will worsen local discontent and threaten the Muslim-majority identity of Kashmir. Separatists will capitalise on such sentiments with more divisive anti-Hindu rhetoric.
- The security clampdown and the non-consultative method the government adopted to announce their decision will further alienate many Kashmiris, fuelling the separatist movement.
The Indian parliament revoked Article 370 of the constitution on 5 August, essentially removing special governing autonomy for Kashmir. The Indian home minister also repealed Article 35A, which defines the rights and privileges of permanent residents of Kashmir. Kashmir originally opted to remain a small independent state when India and Pakistan won independence in 1947. Soon after however, militants from Pakistan invaded the territory, leading Kashmir’s Hindu ruler to seek protection from India. Kashmir agreed to become part of India, but only under the autonomy enshrined in Article 370.
Why was Article 370 revoked now?
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had long opposed Article 370 and revoking it was in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.
- According to the constitution, Article 370 could only be modified with the agreement of the state government. In June 2018, India imposed federal rule after the government of the then-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was reduced to a minority when her coalition partner, the BJP, pulled out of the ruling alliance. This meant the federal government only had to seek the consent of the governor, who had been appointed by the president of India.
- The announcement has allowed the government to shift the narrative away from India’s recent economic slowdown and a disappointing first budget.
- The timing comes soon after US President Donald Trump offered to mediate the Kashmir issue during a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in July 2019. Modi, who has repeatedly called Kashmir an internal issue, has refused international offers of mediation. Trump’s remarks were celebrated in Islamabad and condemned by India, especially among BJP supporters. This may have pressured Modi to take a more aggressive stance on Kashmir in line with the party’s domestic political interests.
The revocation of Article 370 is likely to embolden Kashmiri separatists for four key reasons:
- The lack of coordination with local representatives: New Delhi did not inform local representatives prior to the announcement and detained nearly 300 Kashmiri leaders ahead of the revocation, including leaders of separatist movements. This move thwarted any opposition campaigns that would have likely arisen and signalled to many Kashmiris that their views were not considered. Separatists will exploit this perceived isolation to garner further support.
- The heavy-handed security response indicates that the Kashmiri population was likely to oppose the decision. The government deployed tens of thousands of troops, imposed a curfew, and locked down communications to prevent retaliatory protests. Implementing these restrictions plays into a common separatist narrative of repression in arguing for an independent Kashmir.
- The decision will worsen local discontent and threaten the Muslim-majority identity of Kashmir. Separatists will view the move by New Delhi as an attack on Kashmiri identity. Jammu and Kashmir is India’s only Muslim majority state. The revocation of Article 370 will allow Hindu settlers to move into the valley and will open more government jobs and university places to non-Muslims, potentially leading to an influx of Hindus, and changing the demographics of the region. This threatens to deepen existing economic and political frustrations in the Kashmir Valley. Separatists will capitalise on such sentiments with more divisive anti-Hindu rhetoric.
- Article 370 was at the very least of symbolic importance to Kashmir. Although the Indian state has repeatedly reduced Kashmir’s autonomy, Article 370 and the special status were hugely symbolic to the local population. Removing the autonomy that was the very basis of Kashmir joining India in 1947 will trigger support for separatists.
The decision is likely to fuel recruitment for the various armed militant factions operating in the Kashmir Valley and could lead to a repeat of the brutal conflict that took place in 1989, which devastated the region and cost tens of thousands of lives. Kashmir is now facing a similar atmosphere of challenges – widespread political discontent, repressive measures, a threat to their identity, and a huge population of young Kashmiri’s who are struggling to find work.
Kashmir is likely to see increased protests, clashes between armed separatists and security forces, and militant attacks. Once the communication block has ended, the separatist’s campaign for independence is likely to gain momentum. The security clampdown and the non-consultative method the government adopted to announce their decision will further alienate the Kashmiris, fuelling the separatist movement. The latest moves will also drive away those Kashmiris that viewed themselves as a part of India while enjoying their special autonomous status. Such a change in perception will strengthen militant recruitment, and lead to greater instability in an already restive region.
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