Kashmir Beyond Kashmir
Even though India’s Kashmir narrative projects the territory’s annexation as an internal problem, the decision by the Modi government to nullify its special status is likely to yield consequences that affect the geopolitics of the entire South Asian region and even beyond.
Similarly, the annexation runs the danger of affecting not just the Kashmiris, 68 percent of whom are Muslim, but almost the entire social and political landscape of India in ways that go deep into obliterating the secular legacy of India that was envisioned by the late Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister – a past that until now has continued to define the essential Indian constitution.
Since independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 and the murderous partition that followed, Kashmir has been a flashpoint between Pakistan and India. Three wars have been fought between the two over the magnificently scenic territory of 12.5 million people, a former princely state ruled by the Shah Mir dynasty. Numerous lesser clashes have taken place.
What makes Kashmir a burning issue within India is not just its special constitutional status and relationship with the Indian Federation but also because it is a Muslim state. That has seen Kashmir’s importance increase exponentially in India’s socially and politically charged communal environment under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
New Delhi’s revocation of Article 370 and 35-A of the Constitution, which guaranteed limited autonomy to the state, means Kashmir’s special status has come to an end, and with this end has also come the end of Kashmir’s special laws that in practice restricted rights of permanent residency and ownership to the Kashmiris only, paving the way for an expected influx of Indian citizens, most of whom will be of Hindu religious origin, into the Valley.
While for Kashmiris this inevitable influx will mean a major demographic shift and consequent relegation to political insignificance in their own land, the rest of India, particularly the BJP vote bank, can be expected to translate this as a major victory in the goal of making India an exclusively Hindu-dominated state.
Let’s not forget that the BJP’s fundamental ideology has long opposed the existence of a “Muslim majority” state with special autonomy and privileges, although these privileges have not mattered much in the presence of almost a million-strong military force keeping a lid on a rebellious citizenry. The indirect control from New Delhi has also circumscribed the vale’s ability to self-govern.
Doing away with a Muslim majority state will charge India’s already-tense communal environment and can be expected to further embolden the Hindutva brigades, groups that openly espouse expelling India’s entire Muslim population of 200 million people – nearly 15 percent of the population -- except for those who first convert to Hinduism.
There is no denying that these ideas have significant popular support, a fact that has even led to rendering the Congress party almost mum on the Kashmir issue despite the wellsprings of its secular existence under Nehru.
What Kashmir’s annexation will do to the rest of India is exacerbate communal relations and the related perpetuation of a politics of religion-based hatred and division – something that runs diametrically opposite to Modi’s slogan of ‘Shine India.’
But Modi won’t be much worried about this problem, for his policy of giving a systematic boost to the ideals of Hindutva is going to boost his vote bank in ways that the Indian social and political landscape hasn’t experienced since independence from the British colonialism in 1947.
While this might give boost to the BJP vote bank, rising communal tension and massive unrest in Kashmir will have far-reaching consequences for Indo-Pakistan relations. Already, within Pakistan, the popular sentiment seems to prefer action over restraint. Islamabad has already expelled the Indian ambassador and vowed to raise Kashmir issue on all possible forums. Pakistan’s foreign minister has been busy making calls to almost everyone in the world, conveying to them not only the internal threat that the Kashmiris are facing but also the danger of Kashmir turning into a nuclear flashpoint.
While a nuclear war is unlikely to break out in South Asia considering the scale of devastation it could be expected to cause, there is every possibility that Pakistan might once again start supporting Kashmir separatist militant groups who could be expected to swim rather easily in the sea of a receptive Muslim population in a bid to fight Indian hegemonic moves within India. The revocation of the special articles has made Kashmir a formal part of India – a “union territory” to be specific.
This will fit the already going-on tussle between the two countries with regards to Afghanistan, where Pakistan has made successful gains in reducing India’s role in the Afghan endgame to utter insignificance.
However, considering the lukewarm response that Pakistan has received from the international community about its ‘Kashmir cause,’ it is possible, as diplomatic sources told Asia Sentinel, that Pakistan might leverage its strong position in the Afghan peace process to put pressure on the US to force India into changing its hard-line position on declaring Kashmir an ‘internal matter’ and engage with Pakistan in dialogue to resolve the 72-year-old territorial dispute.
The ‘Kashmir issue’ is, in the light of this analysis, not just about the people of Kashmir, who have been in virtual lockdown for almost a month now – a situation that continues to refuse to normalize and is instead giving signs of a massive explosion that will affect the Kashmiris and the non-Kashmiris alike.