India's Kashmir move: Two perspectives

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SrinagarImage source, Abid Bhat
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Article 370 granted special status for the part of Kashmir India controls

India's decision to revoke Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted special status for the part of Kashmir it controls, divided political opinion in the country. Shortly after the move the BBC asked two Indian politicians from opposite sides of the spectrum - Baijayant Jay Panda and Shashi Tharoor - to give their separate perspectives on the implications of India's decision. The perspectives stand alone and are not responses to each other.

'Kashmir now has the potential to be infinitely better'

Baijayant Jay Panda is a four-time MP and a national Vice President of India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

It's notable that the government's move on Kashmir has enthused many more Indians than just the BJP's staunch supporters - many opposition leaders have also supported it.

There have, however, been bitter recriminations by Kashmiri separatists, as well as some in India's opposition, who claim the move is unconstitutional and will end in tears.

But it is hard to predict how a defanged Article 370 could in practice be any worse than the decades during which it prevailed.

That era saw well over 40,000 deaths in Kashmir as well as two wars and a limited conflict fought over the region by India and Pakistan. It also saw the brutal persecution of hundreds of thousands of its minority Hindu Pandit community, who were forced out of the region in the 1990s as Muslim militancy grew.

Kashmir now has the potential to be infinitely better.

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Image caption,
The move to revoke Article 370 enthused many more Indians than just the the BJP's staunch supporters

The region's special status under Article 370 meant that many progressive Indian court rulings and laws passed by parliament did not apply there.

These included the prevention of child marriages, the rights of Dalits (formerly untouchables), attempts to eliminate discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community, and the prevention of corruption, among many others.

The Nehru government's introduction of Article 370 into India's constitution in 1949, granting the region its own constitution, flag, and special status, was never tenable in the long run. Even Nehru himself said so, and it was explicitly worded as a temporary provision.

In any event, Kashmir formally acceded to India in October 1947 under the same rules as all other princely states.

Thereafter, strictly speaking, both the introduction of Article 370 and its amendments were a matter for India's Parliament. Neither Pakistan nor any other body has any legal role in the matter, any more than it would have for any other state that acceded to India.

Importantly, the people of the region continue to have the same democratic rights as before, just like citizens of any other part of India. They will still have elections and constitutional rights of equality, just like all of India's 1.36 billion citizens, including more than 200 million Muslims.

And although, as a union territory, it will have less devolution of administrative powers from the federal government than states, it will allow the union government to better co-ordinate federal and state resources for security.

Image source, Abid Bhat
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Kashmiri separatists, as well as some in India's opposition, claim the move is unconstitutional and will end in tears

Since 1948, India's huge infusion of federal funds into Jammu and Kashmir (four times the amount for the rest of the country on a per capita basis) has not had a proportionately lasting effect.

Though on several socioeconomic parameters Kashmir seems to be near the Indian average, that is not because of its own development, but rather because of large handouts from Delhi.

Its special provisions not only facilitated enormous leakages from the Indian treasury, in conjunction with the security situation it also inhibited investment in a sustainable local economy.

That is set to change dramatically. A major business meeting is planned for October, and some of the biggest Indian companies have indicated they will announce large investments. It is not just the big players - many others are keen to participate in its development.

Land is an emotive issue all over the Indian subcontinent and this region is no exception. Article 370 not only prevented Indians from other parts from buying land there, but even disenfranchised Kashmiri women who married non-Kashmiris. Modern, liberal democracies should have no place for such discrimination.

Though there are similar restrictions in a few other states as well, there is a crucial difference. In the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, for instance, there is a specified length of residency required before Indians from outside the state can buy land. While requiring a demonstration of commitment to a region for land purchase can arguably be a good thing, a total ban based on regionalism or gender will only foster ghettoisation.

Image source, AFP
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Some of the biggest Indian companies have indicated they will announce large investments in the region

Similar arguments have been made about preserving the demographics of India's only Muslim-majority state.

That goes to the root of Pakistan's angst about the region because of its foundational two-nation theory - but that is surely redundant after its eastern wing broke away citing linguistic and ethnic discrimination to become the nation of Bangladesh.

On the other hand, unlike the dwindling of Pakistan's minorities, India has seen the flourishing of its own, with Muslims going from less than 10% of the population after partition to more than 14% now.

India's Muslims have seen all-round success too. They have held high office in political, judicial and military circles, and joined the ranks of the nation's billionaires.

The autonomy that Kashmiris have aspired for is already built into the federal structure of the biggest democracy that humankind has ever seen. As a fully integrated part of it, whether now as a union territory or later once again as a state, it will be much better placed to deliver a better life to its people.

As India's Ambassador to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, so eloquently put it, the amendment of Article 370 has no external implications whatsoever.

The temporary security measures there have successfully prevented the engineering of violence and casualties; and as for dialogue with Pakistan, India remains committed to the Shimla agreement, which saw both nations conceive steps to normalise relations and end conflict.

'The Kashmir move is a betrayal of democracy'

Shashi Tharoor is a Congress party MP and former diplomat

The revocation of Article 370 and of Article 35A, which permitted Kashmir to define its "permanent residents" and what distinguishes them (which, among other things, restricted others from acquiring or inheriting property there) was meant to be a bold move.

The government's defenders argue that autonomy had only enhanced a sense of separateness in the Kashmir valley, and had not prevented the region from experiencing large-scale separatist violence.

They say it permitted a growing Islamicisation which led to the brutal persecution of the Kashmiri Pandits (high-caste Hindus) from their traditional homes in the valley, and that the special status prevented progressive Indian laws and court rulings (such as those assuring affirmative action to Scheduled Castes and the Dalit community) applying to the state.

All this is, of course, true, but it had happened despite Article 370 - not because of it.

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There have been protests against the move in Kashmir

The stripping of special status, apologists also argue, would ensure more economic development in the state, since non-Kashmiris would be free to buy land and would invest more freely.

Indeed, in the weeks since the revocation was announced, the governor has invited out-of-state investors for a conference; big corporations, including India's biggest, Reliance, have conveyed their intention to start projects in the state; and Bollywood producers have been tripping over themselves to book all possible titles for future blockbusters to be made in and about the state.

Most distastefully, a senior politician in Haryana state suggested their gender-balance problems could be more easily overcome through the import of fair Kashmiri girls.

Many, however, worry that the short and medium-term damage caused by this decision will greatly outweigh the theoretical long-term benefits.

First and foremost is the violence to India's democratic culture: the government has changed the basic constitutional relationship of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to the republic of India without consulting them or their elected representatives.

The legal sleight of hand employed here sends ominous signals to other Indian states: if it can be done to Jammu and Kashmir, it can be done to you in future.

Image source, Getty Images
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For many people in Kashmir, Article 370 was the main justification for being a part of India

By claiming that (as the Indian constitution requires) the agreement of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been obtained, when it is under direct federal rule, and translating "state" to mean the governor Delhi itself has appointed, the government has in effect taken its own consent to amend the constitution.

The decision was brought to parliament (where the ruling party's majority guaranteed its prompt passage) without consultation with the local political parties; with the state legislature suspended for more than six months; and with democratically elected political leaders under "preventive" arrest.

Kashmir itself was literally plunged into the dark while this coup was carried out: educational institutions were closed, exams postponed, stores and petrol pumps shut, television networks suspended, communications cut, landlines blocked, the internet down.

The vast majority of our Kashmiri citizens were forced to live in a near-total blackout while their status was transformed.

Even if the government's lawyers can convince the Supreme Court (where their actions have predictably been challenged) that it is upholding the letter of the law, this action betrays the spirit of Indian democracy and has rightly been described as an act of "garrison governance".

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The BBC meets some protesters who were injured allegedly at the hands of Kashmir's security forces.

The economic damage is already becoming apparent. Tourism, the lifeline of Kashmir, has been devastated; decades of effort by all Indian governments to convey a message of normalcy to the world, to reverse the advisories by foreign governments telling their citizens not to travel to Kashmir by assuring foreigners that the state was not in crisis and was safe to visit, have been undone by this action.

The irony is that the prime minister, on a visit to the state in 2017, had called on the youth of Kashmir (where unemployment, at 24.6%, is double the rate of the rest of India) to choose between tourism and terrorism.

Tourism could have absorbed many of these unemployed youths. But now the tourists have been thrown out with the clampdown in Jammu and Kashmir; advisories are again being issued by foreign governments, the fabled houseboats are out of business, and handicraft makers and carpet-weavers - the great artisans of Kashmir - are broke.

The Amarnath Yatra - a proud symbol of Indian secularism - which annually takes thousands of Hindu pilgrims to a shrine in the snowy north of the state, has been rudely interrupted.

Most worryingly, by locking up democratic parties and their leaders, the government is opening up the space for undemocratic forces.

Image source, Abid Bhat
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Tourism could have absorbed many unemployed youth - but now the tourists have been thrown out with the clampdown

The special status accorded the state served as a fig-leaf to permit a host of Kashmiri leaders to participate in mainstream politics as defenders of autonomy within India.

Now this cover has been stripped away; the state's leading politicians have been rendered irrelevant and powerless to stop extremism.

Delhi had claimed that the government was winning the battle against terrorism - but now it may have given a fresh lease of life to terrorism, a new injustice for militants to cite. It may drive more misguided young Kashmiris to join them than ever before and place more of India's brave and beleaguered soldiers in harm's way.

While so far Delhi's actions have been greeted peacefully, it is too early to predict what might happen when the clampdown is eased and lifted, as some day it must be.

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