Modi’s Kashmir Power Grab Was Decades in the Making

Yves here. We’ve been unable to provide as much insight into Kashmir since India has succeeded in cutting off the area’s access to the Internet. But this article provides important background.

By Zainab Ramahi is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law. Originally published at openDemocracy

Since 5 August, the people of Kashmir have been living under lockdown after the Indian government voted to revoke the state’s semi-sovereign status. The unilateral termination of Kashmir’s autonomy, has been a long-held goal of Prime Minister Narendi Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But while the scale of the crackdown – which has seen tens of thousands of troops deployed – is unprecedented, a historical account reveals that Kashmir’s sovereignty has been steadily undermined for decades.

After the Partition of India in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was left as an independent state. However, that same year, Kashmir’s ruler signed an Instrument of Accession to India in return for military aid to quell tribal invasion from the northwest. In response to the agreement, Lord Mountbatten, the then governor-general of India, noted that “the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”

The United Nations resolutions calling for this independent referendum to determine the future of Kashmir have never come to pass, but “still remain the collective expression of the voice of the international community” Instead, two-thirds of the state was occupied by India, one-third by Pakistan, and parts of the glacial regions claimed by China.

The BJP has always been open about its aims vis-à-vis Kashmir, seeking to settle the Kashmir dispute outright by altering the state’s demography. By removing Article 35(a), they have opened the way for non-Kashmiris to settle permanently in Kashmir or buy land there. The outcome of any future referenda in the state will be significantly impacted by any demographic changes caused as a result of non-Kashmiri settlers.

Efforts to diminish Kashmir’s autonomy have largely focused on undermining these articles. Previous attacks on the permanent residency protections of Article 35(a) have been framed by purported concern for gender equality in Kashmir. Despite the relevant regulation making no distinction between men and women, administrative practice had been to deprive women who married non-permanent residents of their own residency rights, which enabled them to buy and sell property in Kashmir. This discriminatory practice was brought before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 2002, which ruled that it was illegal under the Indian constitution. Jammu and Kashmir’s own constitution mandates equality for women in “social… political and legal” matters, and the court could have relied on this provision to strike down the practice.

The existential anxiety produced by this decision and the controversies that followed demonstrated that the rights articulated in the Indian constitution do not hold moral authority in Kashmir, where Kashmiris are routinely subject to state-sanctioned violence, including torture and rape. Indian law enables violations of human rights and agents of violence, even if nominally condemned, in fact enjoy widespread impunity for their actions. In this context, the ruling was not interpreted as a constitutional protection for women as a marginalised group, but instead as a strategic move for perpetuating Indian government domination and further undercutting aspirations of Kashmiri self-determination.

Before the BJP government abrogated Articles 370 and 35(a) outright on August 5, We the Citizens, an NGO whose members have links with the BJP, and that describes itself as enjoying “proximity” to the RSS, challenged the articles’ validity in court. The RSS is the extreme right-wing ideological parent of Hindu nationalist organizations across India, including the ruling BJP. The petition claimed that the addition of Article 35(a) to the constitution was procedurally invalid, essentially repeating three cases previously dismissed by the supreme court. Previous governments moved to challenge such claims, but the Modi administration refused to take a definite position on the matter, taking advantage of the explosion of nationalist debate on the issue in the public sphere.

In 2017, Modi’s government passed a resolution to deprive Jammu and Kashmir of its fiscal autonomy, including the power to impose taxes, a key component of its sovereignty. As early as 1952, India’s first prime minister conceded that tax revenue was “the main source of income from Kashmir and if we take it, the whole state finances will collapse.” In protest against the announcement, Kashmiris called a general strike. The Indian finance minister responded by saying that the bills merely represented a “politically significant” fulfillment of “the dream of economic integration”.

Since October 27, 1947, when Indian armed forces landed in Kashmir, India’s colonial treatment of Kashmir suggests a clear intent to integrate Kashmir into the Indian union. Instead of protecting the autonomy of the internationally disputed state pending resolution by plebiscite, Article 370 of the Indian constitution has been systematically undermined. Rather than the work of the Modi government alone, the slow erosion of Kashmir’s independence through political and judicial attacks opened the door for the BJP to finally strip the state of its rights.

Ultimately, the Indian government’s efforts to realise the total accession of Kashmir to India, over the Kashmiri populace’s calls for freedom, is the work of a neo-colonial power invoking ethno-nationalist claims to land in violation of the right to self-determination.

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  1. Ahimsa

    Both India and Pakistan have systematically denied Kashmiris a role in determining their own future. Pakistan has already colonized significant portions of Pak-occupied-Kashmir with settlers from Punjab, handed over chunks of territory to China and changed the character of Islam from the gentle Sufi-infused version to the Wahabi-dominated kind. India’s role is well delineated above. The nationalistic fervour instigated by the current party is in part a consequence of pandering of religious minorities in the past (for electoral expediency) and has unfortunately precipitated this current crisis. The rise of nationalism mirrors what we see in so called mature democracies of the west as well

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Ultimately, the Indian government’s efforts to realise the total accession of Kashmir to India, over the Kashmiri populace’s calls for freedom, is the work of a neo-colonial power invoking ethno-nationalist claims to land in violation of the right to self-determination.

    Glad to see an acknowledgment that its not just western powers which can be colonialist. Kashmir is part of a mess left by the British Empire, but it would seem that the obvious solution is an independent or at least partially autonomous Kashmir and Jammu acting as a buffer between India, Pakistan and China – possibly the only good idea Mountbattan had, even if he typically didn’t follow through on it.

    Its not a final answer of course – all those countries have a record of ‘creeping’ into the smaller Himalaya States when they can (Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan), but it would at least address some of the hot border issues. Mind you, I’m not so sure what Buddhist Ladakh would say about that, although I suspect they’d be happen enough with their own autonomy. Modi’s actions show clearly he has no interest in peaceful consensual answers to complex issues. India is of course a nuclear power.

  3. Oh

    “Ultimately, the Indian government’s efforts to realise the total accession of Kashmir to India, over the Kashmiri populace’s calls for freedom, is the work of a neo-colonial power invoking ethno-nationalist claims to land in violation of the right to self-determination.”
    It’s quite a strong statement. I don’t know if India has ever been a neo-colonial power even before the invasion by the Mughals and the colonization by the British.
    I believe that Kashmir has been a problem from the time of India’s independence. The number of Hindus killed by Pakistan’s take over of part of Kashmir (if IIRC) and then their call for a plebiscite in the UN was kind of self serving. Afer all, the Pakistanis infiltrated Kashmir with more (Wahabi) muslims and have been causing trouble ever since.
    Modi is a Hindu nationalist and he’s using this issue to disctract people from the weakiening economy and his failure to work on significant problems that India faces.
    The Kashmir issue is a complex one and use of troops by India has only made the problem worse. However, in the face of tensions between two neigbors (with aggravation by China) a peaceful solution (the only answer) seems to be elusive. No amount of armchair lecturing and condemning by so called developed nations (the same rogue countries who have colonized and continue to do so) seems to me like “Do as I say, don’t do as I do”!

  4. Peter

    I don’t know if India has ever been a neo-colonial power even before the invasion by the Mughals and the colonization by the British.

    Maybe not before the Mughals, but after they took power in India.

    A brief look back in history makes it evident that Kashmir’s oppression and colonial exploitation started long before the formation of modern India. Ever since its annexation by the Mughal empire in 1589 AD, Kashmir has never been ruled by Kashmiris themselves. After the Mughals, the region was ruled by the Afghans (1753-1819), Sikhs (1819-46), and the Dogras (1846-1947) until the Indian and Pakistani states took over.
    The Mughals, who did nothing to alleviate the region’s poverty or help it fight famines, instead built hundreds of gardens in Kashmir, converting it into a luxurious summer refuge for the rich. The Afghans not only sent Kashmiri people to Afghanistan as slaves, but also imposed extortionate taxes on the region’s famed shawl weavers, causing the shawl industry to shrink in size. Next came the Sikhs, who, according to the British explorer William Moorcroft, treated the Kashmiris “little better than cattle”.
    India not only resorted to brutal methods of oppression, such as physical violence, torture, fake encounters, rape and unlawful prosecutions, it also concocted an alternative history, twisting data and facts to turn Indian public opinion against the plight of Kashmiri Muslims. Meanwhile, Pakistan was no innocent supporter of the Kashmiri struggle, as one of its former Presidents, Pervez Musharraf,

    Beside violating the Indian constitution by eliminating the special status, Modi also violated the UN resolution regarding a plebiscite to determine the future status of Kashmir and the

    One has to keep in mind that Modi is influenced heavily by the Fascist ideology of the RSS ( which supports him massively and with his measures suppressing the Kashmerians – no access by independent press, 4000 political prisoners – he clearly shows where he wants to steer India.

    What is astonishing is the pussyfooting of the so called West when it comes to India’s illegal treatment of Kashmir in comparison to the retaking of Crimea after a plebiscite by Russia – to which legally Ukraine after its secession from the Russian Federation had no more right as it was ceded to Ukraine as it being part of the USSR by Khrushchev in 1954, a decision as to whose legality questions were being raised.
    The situation is similar to the one in Canada and the province of Quebec who was advised before previous referendum for secession that it would have to return parts of Labrador and the NWT after a successful vote.

  5. 8thAvatar

    I think for Kashmir’s problem, India’s old colonial ruler Brit – US’s distant cousins from across from pond- should be asked.
    After all they ruled India for 150+ years. Also, I heard they use to run India from some place in Kashmir during Summer time, because Delhi was getting too damn hot in summer for their white skin !

    Also, they are the one who drew partition line dividing India into two countries – India and Pakistan – just in few days – I heard. They didn’t care who gets cut into half – literally ! Dividing Families, homes, farms divided. Millions lives lost !

    Let the old colonial and new imperial powers decide – after all these (India/Pakistan) are brown skin people, what do they know ?

    I’m wondering how knowledgeable Ms Yev Smith is about India and Kashmir and the history.

    Does she know there were some 500 Princely state when India threw out Brit ? Some Princely state with Muslim population wanted to join Pakistan – most got resolved, except Kashmir – and it has long history, corrupt Nehru family has lot to do with it.

  6. Frank Reed

    Two many issues to unload but the revocation should have been done a long time ago to empower Kashmir as a state. Article 370 was temporary, but people got used to it. I have a friend, one of whose parent’s was born in Kashmir, guess what they can’t do? They can’t buy a home in Kashmir. I find that ridiculous, further back my ancestral home is also Kashmir and I can’t buy a home there. With this change, now that is possible. If you wanted to keep an area poor, you would leave in barriers like article 370.

    At the time of time, the ruler of Kashmir decided to join India. Is that not clear enough? Gujarat is part of India also from partition. Decisions were made to have both states part of India a very long time ago. That’s clear. How is that colonial? I agree to join your team and I am being colonized? Is Gujarat colonized? What about Kerala? Indian states are all very different people and cultures.

  7. Tyronius

    Kashmir; yet another story of a peaceful people in a beautiful land being attacked and murdered by outsiders. Will humanity ever learn?

  8. foobc1

    Yves posts an Islamic author that says:

    The BJP has always been open about its aims vis-à-vis Kashmir, seeking to settle the Kashmir dispute outright by altering the state’s demography. By removing Article 35(a), they have opened the way for non-Kashmiris to settle permanently in Kashmir or buy land there. The outcome of any future referenda in the state will be significantly impacted by any demographic changes caused as a result of non-Kashmiri settlers.

    1. The very existence of Pakistan from millennia old Indian territory is illegal.

    The only reason of this partition was to “protect” Muslims from Hindus.

    That ignored the factual 6 centuries of Hindus holocausted by Muslims/Mughals in centuries long barbarism. A conservative estimate is 80-100 million Hindus were slaughtered.

    It was Hindus that needed protection. Only the Hindus.

    Hindus invading and slaughtering other countries: zero.
    Hindus slipping across Kashmir border to slaughter Pakistanis: Zero

    Pakistani terrorists slipping across Kashmir border to slaughter Indian women, children, babies, pilgrims: literally daily.

    2. Then after mughal and colonial rule, Paksitan, founded to “protect” Muslims (ass-backwards, akin to “protect” Nazis from Jews) decimated Kashmir. There was NO article 370 in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
    Indians, being stupid, and inspite of the above, created an article 370 – for NO reason at all. Meanwhile Pakistan, illegal in itself and then illegally occupying part of Kashmir, genocided all Hindus living in any part of Pakistan (and Kashmir). Not only that, they don’t even allow Hinduism or any other religions in the entire country – is is an Islamic State.

    India allows all religions – including Islam.

    3. On top of all that, for the past 50 years, Pakistan has been the biggest source of Islamic terror on the planet. Daily/weekly/monthly bombings of Hindus and barbaric slaughter from Pakistan. In Kashmir, Delhi, other cities.

    Pakistan Taliban/Al-Queda.
    9/11 planner KSM was Pakistani
    London tube bombings (all Pakistani)
    Bombay/Mumbai slaughter by Pakistan created/supported/funded (officially state funded!) LeT terrorists (one of many such terror groups)
    Pulse and California shootings (all Pakistani)
    Times square attempted bomber (all Pakistani)

    It goes on and on.

    Meanwhile, hindus invading and slaughtering other countries: Zero.

    Article 370 was just Indian stupidity and a incurable Indian disease of “why can’t we all get along”. After millennia long holocausts, colonial rule and the past 50 years of attacks, Indians have hopefully finally realized the folly of wishful kumbaya thinking.

  9. Jalebi

    These far-right, Hindu supremacist talking points are deeply concerning and unusual to see on naked capitalism. Fellow regulars should please realise supporters of Hindu fascist orgs like the RSS and VHP, and their affiliates, frequently comment on English language coverage of Kashmir or Modi. Honestly, I’m surprised they found us following Google’s delisting and suppression.

    This article has a correct and sophisticated take on the issue. Kashmir has internal problems regarding minority rights which in no way justify the Indian governments violence and colonialism. It is a neocon talking point that homophobia and patriarchy justify violent invasions.

    Also note how these claims of Hindu genocide mirror white supremacist claims of white genocide. Far right stuff all around.

    I find myself trying to choose my words carefully because of the russiagate nonsense, but be aware of HAF, VHP, and RSS efforts to influence leftist/libertarian discourse in the west, on top of more overt efforts to coordinate with their natural Republican allies.

    Peace activists/lefties/anti-capitalists need to further educate themselves about India and hindutva in particular because we are susceptible, in our ignorance, to fascist counter-intelligence. Lately they wield base multi-culturalism and anti-colinial buzzwords to push their far-right agenda.

    Don’t be fooled the BJP seeks to murder Muslims, dalits, LGBT folks as evinced by their rhetoric, the Gujarat pogroms and skyrocketing number of lynchings.

  10. Jalebi

    I’m not sure if this comment will or should make it through moderation but the comments from foobc1, Frank Reed, and 8th avatar are point by point Hindutva/BJP talking points on Kashmir in suspiciously garbled and unusual English grammar. I don’t know NC moderation policies as well as I should but I have good reason to believe these are malicious comments intended to distort the usually brilliant discourse I’ve come to expect from NC readers. I personally wouldn’t want these comments removed but the associated email addresses should perhaps be blocked if we don’t want right wing counter-intelligence to populate NC.

    1. Plenue

      Eh, don’t worry. Their propaganda is landing like a damp squib. A guy ranting about ‘the Islamic mind’ isn’t going to make any headway for his cause around here.

  11. foobc1

    “talking points”.. lol!

    Jalebi (Islamic sock puppets): apart from ISI, LeT, countless other terror groups, Pakistani KSM 9/11, London, Florida Pulse club, Mumbai slaughter (by a Pakistani state supported terror group) and A. Kalam nuclear proliferation, was the chopping (while alive) of Daniel Pearl by..yet..another Pakistani terrorist from 18 years ago, also a “Hindutva/BJP talking point” ?

    Here you see a fundamental cognitive dissonance of the Islamic mind: an in-ability to even understand (let alone stop) the terror mindset. For the terrorist, it is a normal state of acceptable affairs.

    Hence the continuing non-stop attacks on Kashmir and the rest of the world.

    As India has found out over millennia and the rest of the world is finding out now..these terrorists will simply never ever stop.

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