By Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen and Ankit Malhotra
August 19, 2019
India revoked the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. The Kashmir issue has been a subject of dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947 when the Indian continent was partitioned.
The bill revoking the special status and a reorganization bill was debated and passed by the Rajya Sabha – India’s upper house of parliament – on August 5, 2019. Subsequently, the Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament – debated and passed the bill the next day on August 6.
The Indian president, Ram Nath Kovind, issued an order overriding the 1954 presidential order which effectively nullified the provisions of autonomy granted by the constitution. The reorganization bill effectively divided the region into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature of its own and Ladakh without a legislature.
The revocation of the special status has become a divisive issue within and outside India. Many in India, especially the Hindu nationalists, celebrated and said the government’s action will bring peace and investment to the region. The Buddhist community in Ladakh also welcomed the government’s move.
Across the border, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vehemently attacked the Indian government’s move, which he described as an attempt to “change the demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing” and a crackdown on the rights of the Kashmiri people.
In protest, Pakistan suspended bilateral trade between the two nations and shuttered transportation services. Pakistan also reportedly sought China’s support for the reversal of India’s move.
While China has asked Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue diplomatically with India, the United States has said it is watching the situation closely and asked Pakistan to exercise restraint on the issue.
International human rights groups have condemned India’s actions, such as cutting off internet connections, severing mobile and landline phone lines, heavy presence of security forces and, more importantly, for curtailing the special freedoms the people have enjoyed for the past several decades.
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Kashmir, said that August 5 “is the blackest day of Indian democracy when its parliament, like thieves, snatched away everything from the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” Another former chief minister of the state, Farooq Abdullah, called the abrogation as “unconstitutional.”
Along similar lines, Indian National Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the government’s decision to scrap Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories is unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Vadra said, “The manner in which it has been done is completely unconstitutional and it’s against all the principles of democracy, there are rules to be followed when such things are done, which were not followed.”
In response to his critics, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 73rd Independence Day address on August 15, said, “Abrogating Article 370 is an important step in fulfilling Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s dream for a united India… One Nation, One Constitution – this spirit has become a reality and India is proud of it.”
Despite the opposition from some political parties and people of the affected region, the Modi government considers it to be a necessary and important move, which the prime minister said “…was on everyone’s mind but no one wanted to take the initiative.”
It is likely, at least in the near future, that people of the affected region will continue to protest and oppose what they perceive as the high-handedness of the central government. And because of the controversial nature of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan since the region’s accession to India, Pakistan is likely to continue its campaign to reverse or disrupt the Indian government’s action.
It is possible that more forms of terrorism could rise from within and across the border to disrupt peace and stability. It is also possible that there will be human rights violations from the security forces toward the civilian population, protests or unrests from the people.
The Indian government’s action also has the potential to formalize the Line of Control as the international boundary between the two rival nations. It is also possible that Pakistan will formalize its occupation of “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.” More importantly, it may be an end to the internationalization of the Kashmir dispute.
The message that Pakistan wants to send out is that India’s move is against the desire of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan also wants to make a statement that it is an international dispute and should be settled by the involvement of a third party, either mediation by a major power or by an international institution such as the United Nations.
On the other hand, India wants to send a clear message that the disputed region has always been an integral part of India and the revocation of the special status was an internal matter of the country.
In 1954, the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir resolved that the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Moreover, Article 3 of the 1956 constitution of Jammu and Kashmir had stated that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian union.
While the Indian government has every right to pursue what it thinks best for the country, a peaceful resolution could have been pursued either by closely involving the state and the people concerned. Or, it could have pushed for a bilateral solution as agreed upon by the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.
Now it is a paramount importance that the government of India delivers concrete results, especially restoring peace, stability and development of the region, as well as the adherence to equality and freedom for all.
The protracted tension is likely to linger on but it was a bold move by the Modi government on such a sensitive issue, especially in less than three months since taking office.
Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is associate professor, assistant dean and executive director at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. Ankit Malhotra is an undergraduate law student pursuing a law degree at the Jindal Global Law School and an intern at CSEAS.