On Monday, India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP effectively annexed the portion of the disputed Muslim-majority Kashmir region it controls by stripping it of the symbolic autonomy it has held for roughly seven decades.
With the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the Jammu and Kashmir region neither has the status of the state in India nor does it have the token autonomy granted to it for roughly seven decades. It is now a “union territory” and directly ruled by India’s central government.
Indian-controlled Kashmir has been bifurcated into two separate units: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Not only will all the laws of India now apply to Indian-controlled Kashmir, but all Indian citizens will be able to purchase real estate in the area—a privilege once restricted to locals, due to sensitivities about demographics.
The move, announced by Indian Home Minister Amit Shah yesterday, was met with jeers by the opposition and hailed by Hindu nationalists.
Local Leaders Say India Has Failed Kashmir
Monday’s announcement was preceded by the imposition of a draconian curfew in Indian-controlled Kashmir and an information blackout. Kashmiri leaders, including pro-India politicians, have been arrested.
Two former chief ministers of the state, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, were both placed under house arrest and later moved to guest houses. They reacted strongly to New Delhi’s annexation of Kashmir.
Mufti quite boldly stated that Kashmiri politicians who opted to join India after partition—against the will of the majority—made a mistake. She claimed that New Delhi seeks to disempower Muslims and change the demography of Kashmir. She also stated the abrogation of Article 370 “reduces India to an occupation force.” Mufti also chastized India’s hyper-nationalist media for celebrating the annexation.
Abdullah called the scrapping of Article 370 “unilateral, illegal and unconstitutional,” stating it would be challenged by his political party, the National Conference.
The detention of Abdullah and Mufti was a surprise as both come from families that have long worked with New Delhi, despite opposition from the majority of Kashmiris.
There has been no official reaction from separatist leaders from the Hurriyat umbrella organization, who, unsurprisingly, have been detained by New Delhi. Their detention is a routine affair. The 89-year-old Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Gilani has been under house arrest for years and has been barred from foreign travel. Yasin Malik, another separatist leader, has been in a New Delhi jail since April. His organization, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was banned by the Indian government in March.
Congress Leaders Oppose Modi’s Kashmir Move
Members of the opposition Indian National Congress slammed what it described as the BJP’s abuse of executive power.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the Indian constitution has been violated by scrapping Article 370 and reminded the government that “imprisoning elected representatives” does not strengthen national integration.
Another Congress leader, Shashi Tharoor, also called out the manner in which the bill was passed, calling it “flagrant violations of parliamentary procedure”.
Senior Congress leader and former home minister P. Chidambaram called the abrogation of Article 370 a “catastrophic” move and said that the BJP government had committed a fatal legal error. He added that he feared the government’s move would push young Kashmiri men towards violence.
“Momentarily you may think you have scored a victory … drum beats on streets may force you to think that you have corrected a so-called injustice but … future generations will realize what a grave mistake this House is making today,” he added.
Hindu Extremists and Even Some Opposition Figures Hail ‘Historic’ Move
The annexation of Kashmir was roundly celebrated by BJP figures, Hindu nationalist group leaders, and India’s hyper-nationalist media. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, the extremist parent organization of the BJP, applauded the government for abrogating Article 370—a demand of the group going back decades.
In a surprise move, leader of the liberal Aam Admi Party Arvind Kejriwal also backed the BJP government’s Kashmir decision. Kejriwal tweeted:
Modi’s decision to unilaterally annex Kashmir will bolster support for his government among Hindu nationalists as economic growth in India slows. It may propel his party to victory in upcoming state elections. But in Kashmir itself, greater unrest is all but guaranteed.