For the first time, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its allies have an overwhelming advantage in the nation’s lower house of parliament, which means that they can make any decision they see fit. Since 2017, the president of the country has been Ram Nath Kovind, a former close ally of Modi and a person who is absolutely loyal to the decisions of the party. This means that the bill on the abolition of Kashmir’s autonomy is certain to be adopted, according to Valdai club expert Alexei Kupriyanov, Researcher of the Sector of International Organizations and Global Political Regulation at the Department of International Political Problems at IMEMO RAS.
From the very beginning of its existence, the BJP has advocated for the abolition of Kashmir’s special status. At times louder, and at other times more quietly, it has always made its stance know. Before the last national elections in April, this issue was quite strongly articulated in the party program. Now the BJP has the opportunity to fulfil a promise – and it has fulfilled it.
The special status that Jammu and Kashmir has enjoyed since its entry into India in 1947 implies many privileges. There are quotas facilitating the admission of Kashmiris to Kashmir universities, there are quotas favouring the admission of Kashmiris to work in the Kashmir administration, and there is a very powerful restriction on the purchase of land by people who do not live in the state. Kashmir, until now, had very broad autonomy in India and enjoyed rights that no one else enjoys.
At the same time, Kashmir is the only state of India with a Muslim majority. Since 1989, the so-called Kashmir intifada has been going on there – a sluggish uprising that is morally supported (according to the Indian secret services and arms suppliers) from Pakistan. For thirty years, India has tried to suppress this uprising and has proven unable to. New Delhi believes that the reason is the ineffective governance system of Kashmir. From the point of view of the majority of ordinary Indians, it is not only ineffective, but generally criminal, because India floods Kashmir with money and the blood of its soldiers, but without effect. Under the current system, this rebellion will not stop. Accordingly, a decision came to fruition, that Kashmir must be deprived of its status and divided into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, which will trade its quasi-autonomous legislature for an Legislative Assembly resembling that of any other Indian state, and Ladakh, which will lose self-rule altogether. The very idea of Kashmir’s division maturated over the course of thirty years. Its initiators are mainly residents of Ladakh – for the most part, Buddhists and Hindus who are dissatisfied with the rule of the Kashmiri government, where the majority are Muslims.
The government is firmly focused on integrating Kashmir into India and is ready to deal with the fallout from the decision. “I have nothing to offer you except blood, sweat and tears,” Modi could say, quoting Churchill. Many Kashmir politicians who are not absolutely loyal to India have already been placed under house arrest, about eight thousand troops have been moved to the region, and the authorities are bracing for mass protests.
Oddly enough, although at first glance this step of India has led to escalation, it may well lead to a relaxation of the situation in Kashmir. The problem is that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir was in limbo for a very long time and under the current conditions it is practically unsolvable. At the same time, India, Pakistan and China, which also occupies part of Kashmir, understand that the status quo cannot be changed. None of the parties can capture Kashmir using military means, and it cannot be united by peaceful means either. The best solution would be to turn the control line in Kashmir into a permanent border. This is very difficult to do when there is the state of Jammu and Kashmir, part of which is formally considered occupied. But in the event that everything is radically revised, the current move could be the first step towards shifting the avalanche and lead to a series of decisions that, in turn, will solve the Kashmir issue.