On August 5, 2019, the government of India proposed the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, claiming that depriving it of its privileges would end a local conflict that has been going on for thirty years. Nandan Unnikrishnan, Distinguished Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), discussed the reasons for this decision and its possible consequences in an interview with valdaiclub.com.
To start with some background. India views the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as Indian territory and believes that Pakistan is illegally controls a portion of it. On 5th of August the Indian government announced a radical reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kasmir. The territory controlled by India is now slated to be reorganized into two Union territories: Ladakh in the northeast, where there will be no legislative assembly, and Jammu and Kashmir, where there will be a legislative assembly. (In the Indian constitution there is a difference between a State and a Union Territory. The latter may have a legislature but is effectively controlled by the central government. So while people of Ladakh may see this reorganisation as an upgrade of their position, for Jammu adn Kashmir this will be a definite downgrade.)
Along with this reorganisation the Indian government suspended the operation of some clauses of the constitution, namely Article 370 and 35(a) that provided the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status and allowed its residents to enjoy some specific privileges. It is worth noting that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has for decades consistently opposed the extension of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. This was also part of the party’s election manifesto in 2019.
The timing of the decision is probably governed by a confluence of circumstances.
First, the favourable political balance in the Parliament. The BJP enjoys an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament (Lok Sabha). Whilst it does not have a majority in the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha) it is confident that on such an issue it will be able to muster support from other parties and ensure a majority (as it demonstrated). Thus, the approval of the measures is guaranteed. The party is also confident of general public support across the country, except maybe in the state of Jammu and Kashmir itself. Therefore, the BJP probably felt that this should be done as soon as possible, without taking a risk of a possible fall in popularity due to other external, for example a sluggish economy.
Second, the passage of such a measure would further consolidate the credentials and the populariyt of the party and its leaders. (Something similar to the rise of public support for the government when Crimea was reintegrated into Russia.)
Third, the likely developments in Afghanistan after the anticipated agreement between the Taliban and the United States. Indian security agencies believe that in Afghanistan is likely to develop negatively from the perspective of Indian security. In fact, substantial number of additional troops were inducted into Jammu and Kashmir shortly before the government announced it reorganisation plans for the territory. This was probably done as much to control any internal protests as well as protect the borders against infiltration of Pakistan-backed fighters.
While the decision is guaranteed parliamentary and public support there is one more hurdle it may have to face. The legality/constitutionality of the decision may be challenged in the Indian Supreme Court. But it appears improbable that Supreme Court may declare the decision illegal. After all, it is highly unlikely that the government would embark on such a high-risk political step without taking such factors into account.
So far the reaction to this initiative is as expected. The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, and leftist forces opposed the decision. Although there have been no major protests so far, small demonstrations reportedly took place in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s reaction was predictably negative, as was China’s. But these countries are not likely to go beyond diplomatic and symbolic measures to register their condemnation.
On the whole, the government of India has embarked on a high-risk strategy, which if successful, could radically alter the situation not only in India but in the region as a whole.
This article was updated on August 7, 2019 to reflect the latest developments.