De-Facto Annexation of Kashmir Means India as a Secular State is Ending

Yves here. A distressing but nevertheless important Real News Network report on the implications of India’s de facto takeover of Kashmir.

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

On Thursday, as many as 10 people were killed in a fire exchange between Indian and Pakistani troops along the border of Kashmir as tensions continue to rise between the two countries. The border incident comes after the Indian Parliament revoked Kashmir’s limited autonomy by amending India’s Constitution. The parliament also partitioned the region of Kashmir that it controls into a Buddhist majority region and a Muslim majority region. In the Pakistani city of Lahore, thousands gathered on Thursday to protest the Indian partition and de facto annexation of Kashmir. The Pakistani government declared a Black Day and protesters waved black flags. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, spoke at the rally.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, FOREIGN MINISTER OF PAKISTAN:   My eyes, the eyes of the region, and the eyes of the world are on the UN Security Council meeting tomorrow. Pakistan has decided that it will fight on diplomatic, political and legal fronts, and we will support the Kashmiri people until our last breath. Pakistani people, are you ready to support the Kashmiri people?

GREG WILPERT: One of the protesters said the following.

PAKISTANI PROTESTER: On this occasion of the Black Day when India is celebrating its Independence Day and announcing that is the biggest democracy in the world, we want to show its unbecoming face, that it is the worse oppressor in democracy, that it has suspended the rights of minorities.

GREG WILPERT: The question of international borders, sovereignty, and respect for UN Security Council resolutions is just one issue of the story. Another very important issue is how the occupation affects the lives of the people of Kashmir living under what is effectively an Indian military occupation. Last weekend, for example, was the Eid Al-Adha, one of the most important holidays on the Muslim calendar. Most Kashmiris are Muslim, but the observation of Eid Al-Adha was suppressed by Indian authorities. Visitors to the area report a heavy sense of oppression and fear among the population.

Joining me now to discuss the latest developments in India and Kashmir is Sidharth Bhatia. He’s a journalist and Co-Founder and Editor of the independent news website The Wire. Thanks for joining us today, Sidharth.


GREG WILPERT: On India’s Independence Day, which was on Thursday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, spoke about “a new roadmap for India” through the annexation of Kashmir. Now, Modi is often referred to in the media as a Hindu nationalist. However, India was founded as a secular state and clearly Modi is moving away from this. So what does the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and allowing Hindus now to settle in Kashmir mean for India as a secular society?

SIDHARTH BHATIA: The decision to revoke Article 370, which was a constitutionally mandated and guaranteed arrangement with the state of Jammu and Kashmir under which barring all activities which would be handled by the federal government— that is, currency, defense, foreign affairs, etc. Everything else, including law and order and land – control of land and resources, would be handled by the state government. Now, over the years it’s become a little frayed. But the benefits of that have been that there’s been a large scale of government funding and there is political expression. Now that’s gone. So when you split it, you will have – the government has done the following. It has gone back on its 70-year-old arrangement. It has taken away the fig leave of—And I say “fig leaf” because to the world, we could easily say that India as a diverse country in which a Muslim majority state exists and we have given them special dispensation of rights. So that’s gone.

The message has gone down to the rest of the country and to the other states that the government could theoretically bypass the constitutional process and exercise its might at the [inaudible 00:04:28]. And the minorities now, because you have 120 million are Muslims in the country, may – will start feeling in fact, insecure because they will feel that they are going to be – their rights are going to be tempered upon. Because one of the things is also that the central government at this moment is going into areas where there are a lot of Muslims and in a sense disenfranchising them by questioning their citizenship.

So all these taken together and the takeover of Kashmir by bypassing—”Takeover” being a strong word and do use the word “annexation.” That, too, being a strong word. But the revocation, which has been deemed by the international community as a takeover. All that is going to spread some insecurity, perhaps some strife, at least in Kashmir because you alienated 7 million people. And most importantly, shake up the very foundations of the secular republic because now the minorities are perhaps not going to be full participants in the citizenship process.

So yes, it’s going to have an impact on India’s secular tradition and India’s secularism, per se. And it’s going to have a very big impact on India’s federal structure. And of course, there will be social upheaval and turmoil because you will have states as well as minorities feeling insecure. So I think in a that sense, this is a very risky gamble. For whatever reason, the government has done it. We have, we are not, this is not a question to answer that. And it could be a rocky road from down – from here.

GREG WILPERT: Now, on Friday, the UN Security Council is holding a closed door session on the crisis in Kashmir. What can we expect from the, sorry, from the Security Council? And is there anything realistic that the Security Council could actually do for the people of Kashmir? What do you think?

SIDHARTH BHATIA: Obviously the Security Council now will, you know, get pulled in several directions. We know what China’s going to do. We are in India waiting to see what Russia and perhaps the United States are going to do. There’s a good chance, given that the international community’s condemnation has been somewhat lukewarm, and this was admitted by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. it is possible that—Firstly, it’s closed doors, so we won’t know what goes inside, but one can expect some fireworks. But it’s possible that India will posit that as some kind of indication of victory, should there not be any other state condemning it.

What can the UNSC do? In many situations, the UNSC has been extremely helpless. India is a signatory to everything, to multinational treaties, and respects the Security Council. While it has the potential to reject it, but it respects. So whether the Security Council gets it back together and exerts some kind of pressure—Because actually, this has gone against a UN resolution, several UN resolutions. So what was not de facto has now become de facto because the situation on the ground was not necessarily what the UN had mandated, but now it’s become de facto. I think we need to see how this meeting goes and what comes out of it. Obviously Pakistan is lobbying, and its best friend China is going to help it and support it.

GREG WILPERT: I want to turn to the issue of why Modi is doing this right now. That is, one school of thought believes that he is simply capitalizing on his success in the recent national elections and following a clear path of Hindu nationalism that he was already embarking upon from the start of his political career. Now, the other school of thought says that the Indian Parliament and government are being emboldened by a world order in which populist right-wing leaders test the limits of what they can do, and basically ignoring international law left and right, just as US President Trump has done on several occasions. Why do you think India made this unilateral move against Kashmir at this time?

SIDHARTH BHATIA: There’s a third school of thought that says that the Indian government decided to speed things up because President Trump made an off-the-cuff remark, more or less, where he said in the presence of Mr. Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, that he had received a request from Mr. Modi to mediate in India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which is completely contrary to India’s stand for the last 50-plus years. That’s supposed to have speeded up, but speeded up what? Revoking the Article 370 was very much in the manifesto of the BJP, which is where Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of, and so he’s done exactly that. That’s one. Two, he definitely has taken advantage of his overwhelming majority in parliament, but also the weakness off the opposition. There is no real opposition, and certainly not a united opposition, and many opposition parties voted with the government. So that is the second, and that definitely emboldened him. Regarding the—And you know, their political calculations are perfect and bang-on because a vast majority of Indians had supported this move. I think the process of doing it and the way it was done, I think those have been disregarded.

The third is that they do want to see how far they can go, and in fact, in pursuit of their own right-wing Hindu agenda. But when you see— and this has happened in many other countries— that there is absolutely no international condemnation, every step of the way you feel that much bolder. So it’s a combination of everything.

But I have argued that the ultimate goal is taking them toward further structural and legal changes, constitutional changes, which will create some kind of a Hindu country. It may be some time off, but you know, the building blocks have been put in place. So this is part of their building blocks because Kashmir was always seen as a symbol of Indian secularism. And now that is no longer the case because secularism is something this government does not – particularly not even pay lip service to. So they are not [inaudible] secularists. So it’s a combination of all that, but it’s in pursuit of a larger goal.

GREG WILPERT: Now, finally, how do you see the likelihood of a military conflict erupting between India and Pakistan? There’ve already been firefights last month, or actually two months ago. There was a shooting down of an Indian jet fighter over Pakistan. So the conflict is certainly heating up. And of course with the two countries having nuclear weapons, the situation is extremely dangerous. How likely do you see that an actual conflict or war will erupt between the two now?

SIDHARTH BHATIA: Greg, I’m not really privy to what the thinking on both sides is, but skirmishes and clashes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers on the borders are nothing new. I think it’s possible that they would escalate a bit and there would be a few more. I doubt whether the international community will want any kind of full-scale war. I personally think neither country has the real appetite to go for war right at this moment, and nor may they be—They may not be even interested at this moment. What happens in the future? I can’t say, but certainly Pakistan has seen this as a provocative act. And there are fears, real fears, that now all kinds of [inaudible] and other freedom fighters, so called, and terrorists and the militant from different parts will pour in. India’s always said that these terrorists are sponsored by the Pakistani state. They’re non-state actors, but they are sponsored by the state. But who’s to say how people from, let’s say, Afghanistan come in? Because the borders are quite open, in many ways.

One way or the other, it’s going to be trouble on the border, and even if—I will not say that there’s going to be a war right now, but there could be trouble at the border. But you’re also going to have a situation where 7 million people in Kashmir are alienated, so that could be fertile ground for recruitment. It’s going to lead to some kind of – a bit of upheaval or turmoil or uncertainty— or call it whatever, however low-key you want to play this— in the rest of India. Because people are pretty taken aback at this decision, and not necessarily only Muslims. I think I must make it clear that a lot of non-Muslims in India, civil society, ordinary Hindus, are quite shaken up by this.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Sidharth Bhatia, a Co-Founder and Editor of the news website The Wire. Thanks again, Sidharth, for having joined us today.


GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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  1. dearieme

    The parliament also partitioned the region of Kashmir that it controls into a Buddhist majority region and a Muslim majority region.

    God Bless America.

  2. R

    Misleading title. The takeover happened in the 1940s. What the indian government did is (1) to withdraw certain restrictions in the property rights in J&K effective from May 1954 (2) to split the state into two entities.

  3. nothing but the truth

    So now muslims are claiming they will be ethically cleansed in Kashmir?

    What do the facts say?

    That the muslims ethnically cleansed hindus out of kashmir in 1989. Yes, the wonderful secular state of India let it happen, partly because of that “temporary” lame article 370 which prevents the federal authorities from getting sense into the locals.

    They are just scared of their own karma.

    1. praxis

      Kashmir Valley’s Hindu minority went from ~5% to 2% over last hundred years. The existence and use of historic violence doesn’t justify its continuation. Diplomacy? What was wrong with the status quo? Why not negotiate a new arrangement with all of Kashmir?

      Call this what it is – a land grab. Be prepared to pay the price in blood and social unrest/disharmony as the rest of India’s Muslim minority wonder when it will be their turn.

  4. Bill Smith

    Hadn’t this in effect already been done by the temporary special status of Kashmir? Kashmir had been set up as a Muslim majority area for India? Parliament action just chopped it up into a smaller piece – assuming it reflected the reality on the ground?

    And is “annexation” the right word to use in the title? Kashmir has been part of India since 1947?

    1. ambrit

      Kashmir has also been claimed by Pakistan and China. All the way back to a Raj era survey, the India China border has been ‘in play.’ Notice that a part of what is usually considered to be Kashmir, to the North, is occupied by China. If Pakistan can come up with a credible accommodation with China, India will be looking at a real problem all along it’s northern borderlands. The only countervailing force here is china’s abyssmal treatment of it’s own ethnic muslim minorities in Xinjaing and of course the Tibet question.
      This is not a purely Pakistan/India problem.

      1. Thomas P

        India and Pakistan has also for a long time fought a proxy war in Afghanistan supporting different sides, so if tensions rise it could be bad news for that country, and that can in turn get USA and Iran involved.

  5. Lee

    For a ripping good yarn depicting inter-faith hatred on the Indian subcontinent see Sacred Games. Netflix is now running the first two of four segments of their adaptation of the novel. Anyone read the book?

    Meanwhile, I recently read somewhere that investors are concerned that Netflix is spending too much money on its own productions. Higher profits through crapification!

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

      I read Sacred Games just after it was published. Wonderful read! With the added benefit that I learned some first-rate Hindi expletives – the US edition of the book includes a glossary of expressions that one won’t find in a standard Hindi/English dictionary.

  6. Desai

    Greetings from India,
    As a regular reader of TheWire I find this take rather surprising. Yes, it is implemented in a coup like manner (massive military deployed , all communications cut , all important Kashmiri politicians arrested, etc.). But saying this revocation as “shake up the very foundations of the secular republic because now the minorities are perhaps not going to be full participants in the citizenship process” seems hyperbole. Muslims aren’t the only minority in India. Minority communities in India includes Sikhs , Buddhists, Jains , Christians and Parsis , also. None of this religious communities are going to feel threatened or insecure as a result in this move. They will continue to take part in citizenship process same way as they are doing it right now. This is because it has always been “hindu vs. muslim” rather than “hindu vs. rest of religion”. Both hindus and muslims has always been at peace with non-muslim minorities. Thus , calling revocation of 370 as “shake up of very foundation secular of republic” is inappropriate. Further, article 370 provided special rights to Kashmiri people not to the Muslims , that is to say that is to say that it did not give any rights to muslims residing in other part of country. Now Kashmiri muslims have same right as muslim residing in other parts of country, and yes muslims do have different rights in India than other religion and removing article 370 will not affect that. Don’t misunderstand me , I am not saying all is well and good. Situation is certainly degrading in terms of hindu-muslim peace and in “freedom of speech and expression” but revoking article 370 has to do more with specific issue of kashmir rather than than broader issue of religious freedom.

    As to the question of “why now” , I believe answer is obvious that it is to keep RSS (RSS stands for “Rāṣṭrīya Svayamsevaka Saṅgha”, lit. “National Volunteer Organisation”) happy. RSS has very strong influence over BJP and BJP relies heavily on RSS’s vast manpower to win election. And just sometimes ago RSS was very angry on Modi-Shah because of zero progress over Ram mandir( temple of Ram) and removal of article 370 despite having majority government for 5 years.(source:- criticism of Modi government in various speechs of RSS officials as reported in media). There were also rumours that RSS is going to replace Modi with Nitin Gadakari as prime-minister candidate. Of course after Balakot strike RSS stopped its criticism and eventually endorsed Modi as prime-minister candidate. However it was clear that RSS was losing patience and thus Modi-Shah had to appease RSS somehow. Further, doing something about Ram mandir is very risky as it would have consequences in whole India and supreme court is heavily involved in it. Thus I believe Modi-Shah used revocation of article 370 to appease RSS as it is less risky and consequences limited to kashmir rather than whole India.

    The most concerning aspect is how Modi government can repeatedly bend rules and get away with it. From time of Nehru, Indian Politicians always bended rules for their convenience but this government has took it too a whole another level. But than this is something which is happening all over the world.

    1. ambrit

      Thanks for the information from “on the scene.”
      Try getting information like this from present day MSM sources.

    2. Janie

      Thank you for the information. The little international news we get in our papers seems shallow, as a rule.

  7. PlutoniumKun

    Just to clarify what isn’t entirely clear form the report – the partition of Kashmir appears to be just confirming the existing situation where the Buddhist part – Ladakh – maintains a sort of self-governing status separate from Kashmir. Although it is part of Kashmir in name, Ladakh has always been quite distinct culturally. The population are related to Tibetan peoples and almost entirely Buddhist. Many Tibetan refugees have settled there. Fortunately for them, the area is so tough to navigate they can more or less insulate themselves from trouble in Muslim Kashmir.

    Although to complicate things, Ladakh nominally includes the disputed area of Aksai Chin, an almost uninhabited area of 5000 metre plus upland which is occupied by China.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Yes, I actually think it makes sense to separate Ladakh completely; it is culturally very distinct from Kashmir as you indicate. There’s some bad history between Buddhists and Muslims (Afghanistan was at one time Buddhist – remember the Bamiyan statues?), so if the Kashmiris became more fanatical, things could get pretty ugly. And handing it to Pakistan, which a referendum over the whole area might well do, would be horrible.

  8. Ian Perkins

    “The United States recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel on March 25, 2019. The directive made the United States the first country, other than Israel, to recognize Israeli rather than Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights region. The Golan Heights are widely viewed as Syrian territory under Israeli military occupation.” – Wikipedia
    The interview alludes to the US “basically ignoring international law left and right”, and to one of Trump’s off the cuff remarks, but this in particular bears so many parallels that it must surely have emboldened Modi’s government.

  9. Noel Nospamington

    One thing I find curious is that both Pakistan and Bangladesh effectively ethnically cleansed nearly all of their non-Muslim populations decades ago, without any repercussions from the international community.

    And yet, it seems that India is being heavy criticised even though Muslims are far better treated there, both now and in the past, then any remaining non-Muslims are in those two neighbouring countries.

    Should India be punished for not engaging in the same degree of ethnic cleansing as it neighbours during partition? How does one legitimise the right of self determinism after ethnic cleansing?

    Both Pakistan and even more so Bangladesh will suffer greatly with projected sea level rise due to climate change. Rather than making nice with their neighbours, they are hardening resentment in India against them, insuring a very bad situation with regard to climate refugees that attempt to cross the border into India.

    1. Oh

      I’ve been trying get information from both sides of this issue but all I can see in the “progressive” media is that making Kashmir a centrally administrated territory is somehow an “occupation”, “annexation” and the like. Kashmir, from what I know, has always been part of India since Independence and Pakistan has been trying to occupy it. I appreicate the input from Desai from India (in the comment above), and yours.

      1. False Solace

        It might be regarded as an occupation because India cut all communications in and out of Kashmir, jailed a bunch of local politicians for apparently no reason, and banned gatherings of 5 or more people. It’s still very difficult to get any reporting out of the area. It’s heavyhanded to say the least, not to mention contrary to most conceptions of human rights.

        1. Noel Nospamington

          @False, agreed that it looks like an occupation now due to the current gathering and communication restrictions imposed by the Indian government.

          But considering that the Muslim majority parts of Kashmir has previously resorted to brutal violence, including the targeting of civilians and coordinating with factions on the Pakistan side of the border, some temporary restrictions are necessary when any change to the status quo occurs.

          If any significant violence does occur, I fear that the Indian government will likely reciprocate, and possibly further escalate tensions with Pakistan, resulting in many more deaths and misery in the region on all sides.

          Hopefully no significance violence will occur and those restrictions in Kashmir will be lifted soon.

  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    This was also a lead story on PBS Newshour yesterday evening. Given the history of relations between the two nations since the 1947 partition, I find the statement by the Pakistani foreign minister as stated in the RNN interview encouraging. Although he did not rule out future military action, he said Pakistan has decided that it will fight this on diplomatic, political and legal fronts.

    It appears to me as a low information American that Modi’s calculated act places Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan in a difficult position, both domestically and internationally. Further, while past conflicts have been contained, there is always a possibility that a miscalculation could cause events to spiral out of control. And as Bhatia said in the interview, there is some likelihood of other forms of pushback by extremist non-state actors that can lead to tragic outcomes.

  11. JBird4049

    I have no real knowledge of the current situation except to say that it looks like the ruling party of India is using Hindu nationalism to maintain control of the nation of India through the control of the majority Hindu population; President Trump and others in the Republican Party have been using White nationalism to get and maintain a growing amount of control of the American nation by using the still majority white population.

  12. Lee

    The material basis for the conflict is described by Antifa on today’s links page. Here’s the money quote:

    Yes, there are demographic and historical disputes aplenty over who and when and where the population was majority Muslim or Hindu. That hasn’t really mattered to Kashmiris, for centuries. That isn’t the crux of the issue. Any explanation of India’s sudden military annexation of Kashmir that doesn’t talk about the 26 tributaries of Kashmir’s Indus river system is either distraction or is ignoring the elephant in the room. India has acted like an amateur dacoit in this event — easily seizing the estate at gunpoint, but completely flummoxed about what to do with the people living there.

  13. K k

    Any article that starts off by mis-stating the name of the state (Jammu and Kashmir, or even more informatively if one were to diverge from the actual name, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh) and then freely conflating the actual state of religious majority in these different areas is basically hear-say half-truth. And indeed, not mentioning why the state matters so much to Pakistan geopolitically (water !) just adds to the mess: it is not as if Pakistan is interested in Kashmiri independence.

    NC could do a much better job :)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is a cross post from the Real News Network so you need to take it up with them. The interviewee is with The Wire, a top publication in India, so we had every reason to think the information was sound.

      This is a finance and economics site, not a geopolitical site, so this is way outside our normal beats.

      Since we can’t evaluate commentary from this part of the world, we’ll no longer provide it.

      1. Desai

        Oh come on. There is no need to stop providing commentary just because of some angry people. There are others like me who appreciate it.

  14. KFritz

    Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Twitter account has been devoid of any reaction to India’s annexation since Aug 5. She advocated for Narendra Modi to be granted a visa to the US before he became PM, which was opposed by many who held him responsible, in part, for the multi-fatality 2002 Gujarat Riots. This is not a call for “guilt by implication,” but given Ms. Gabbard’s connection to India, it would be brave and principled of her to oppose the annexation directly and publicly.

  15. dre42

    Magisterial take on Indian history and why the root cause of so many problems in that part of the World is rule by Upper Caste Hindus:

    Behind a paywall, but more recent, and shows again how India’s problems are chronic and not the result of authoritarian leader du-jour:\

    It’s not just a matter of Kashmir, but the fact that close to a billion people live on less than $2 per day (lower caste and religious minorities), while the Upper Caste count of millionaires and billionaires keeps going up (*Capital* by Rana Dasgupta is a good look at their mentality: ).

    1. Mattski

      These takes of Anderson’s are in my view unsurpassed. Anyone interested in the deeper background on Brazil also needs to read him, in the LRB, on that subject. Thanks for these links.

  16. dre42

    Yes, Anderson’s writing is a rare treat in terms of quality and perspicacity (at least in its analytic, not prescriptive Marx-inflected form, imho).

    The extreme sense of entitlement of those who were the ruling class/caste (‘sistema de castas’) in places like Brazil and India for centuries is difficult to convey to those who have not seen it first-hand. This interview (section on Brazil starts around minute 25) gives some idea of the strength of this conviction among those who, like, India’s ruling castes regard themselves as high-born as well as born to rule:

    In India too, it’s generally acknowledged, even among the saner Hindu rule devotees (usually in private, as publicly acknowledging such a taboo is not good for your public standing) that it wasn’t Muslim separatism that was responsible for partition of British India but the hankering after power of Hindu upper-caste leaders like Nehru, Patel, and even the sainted Gandhi:

    B.R. Ambedkar, quoted in the NY Review of Books article, got to see these “great leaders” from the point of view of a lower-caste person and his take is quite different from what you’d gather from the movie Gandhi’:

    Yes, Anderson’s writing is a rare treat in terms of quality and perspicacity (at least in its analytic, not prescriptive Marx-inflected form, imho).

    The extreme sense of entitlement of those who were the ruling class/caste (‘sistema de castas’) in places like Brazil and India for centuries is difficult to convey to those who have not seen it first-hand. This interview (section on Brazil starts around minute 25) gives some idea of the strength of this conviction among those who, like, India’s ruling castes regard themselves as high-born as well as born to rule:

    In India too, it’s generally acknowledged, even among the saner Hindu rule devotees (usually in private, as publicly acknowledging such a taboo is not good for your public standing) that it wasn’t Muslim separatism that was responsible for partition of British India but the hankering after power of Hindu upper-caste leaders like Nehru, Patel, and even the sainted Gandhi:

    B.R. Ambedkar, quoted at length in the NYRB article, had a more level-headed take on the Hindu conservative (almost a chauvinist) that was Gandhi:

    P.S. Here’s the corrected link to the NYRB article from my previous post:

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