Prior to August 5, 2019, the area known as Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status within the union of India. When India and Pakistan were divided in 1947 Jammu Kashmir was one of the states caught in the middle of the division. Its population was primarily Muslim, but its ruler was Hindu. This was a deliberate design by the British Raj to keep the Hindu rulers of this territory always dependent upon the British colonial occupiers of the subcontinent. This design proved effective until independence arrived in 1947.
- Read More: Origins of the Kashmir Conflict
The people of Kashmir, for their part, did not want to be part of either Pakistan (the new Muslim nation formed at independence) or India (the Hindu nation formed at independence). They wanted their own state and had their own nationalist movement. In the terrible violence and upheaval that came to the subcontinent in 1947, the leaders of Jammu Kashmir stalled. Their hope was for a political solution that would end in their own independent nation. It was not to be.
Forces from Pakistan invaded the territory which prompted the Hindu ruler of the region to invite India’s military to his defense. India went into Jammu Kashmir, pushed the Pakistani forces out and it looked as though the situation was normalized. Many believed, and some even promised, that Indian forces would soon leave Jammu Kashmir and a vote could be taken among the people to see if they wanted their own nation or if they wanted to become part of India.
The vote never came, and India never left.
Instead of independence Jammu Kashmir was given a “special status.” The people of the region were not independent, but they did retain some levels of autonomy. This autonomy allowed Jammu Kashmir to make its own laws and culture, independent of India.
In the late 1980s, an insurgency flared in Jammu Kashmir and has required the Indian government’s attention ever since. Statistics are debated between the Indian government and human rights organizations. India says that by 2010 around 47,000 people had been killed in the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Human rights organizations place that number much higher. Between 2008 and 2018 more than 4,000 have been killed. Thousands have also “disappeared” in the fighting. Jammu Kashmir has long been a stain on the human rights record of India which was supposed to house the humanist vision of Mahatma Gandhi.
Agreements and peace negotiations in Jammu and Kashmir have failed through the decades even as India’s record of human rights abuses there has grown more infamous.
As terrible as events have been in Kashmir however, few expected what occurred on August 5 of this year. That was when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent tens of thousands of new Indian troops into Jammu Kashmir – an area that was already one of the most militarized places in the world. Included with the arrival of the new military forces was an effective stripping away of the “special status” which Kashmir has enjoyed for more than 70 years in India.
Why This Is Important…
Since August 5, Modi’s military forces and government have clamped down on Kashmir. Cell signals were disrupted. Internet was cut off. Political opponents in the area were arrested. The Indian government implemented what amounted to a political resistance blackout in Jammu and Kashmir. Thousands of activists were arrested or simply picked up by the military in a preemptive move to block unrest from occurring.
The move by India’s government, led by Modi, was authoritarian of the highest order – but the world has barely noticed it. These moves are also in line with the nationalist ideologies and promises of Modi in his recent reelection campaigns. For nearly three months India has held Jammu and Kashmir in a sort of political vice, silently forcing the region into submission. Opposition voices have not been tolerated. Human rights monitoring and accountability have been limited. Mobile phone services were only turned back on 72 days after they were first interrupted.
As the world stood by and silently allowed these current events to occur, last week the Indian government finalized its plans for Jammu and Kashmir, formally dividing the region into two new federally administered territories of India. Both new territories are now ruled directly from India’s capital in Delhi. New governors of these territories were sworn in last Thursday.
- Download my History of Modern India podcast series to learn more about India and the background of the Kashmir Conflict.
The final moves last week to forcefully strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status represent a rarity in the modern world of geopolitics. Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government ignored the legitimacy of slow-moving diplomacy and negotiation tactics and instead launched a full-force imposition of the Indian government’s will. This is nationalism. This is how it works.
Now the test will be to prove whether it does in fact work. While Jammu and Kashmir were strangled into submission over the last 90 days, India now promises that this new and final arrangement will afford the people there many of the benefits of inclusion within the federal system of India.
“Now the real participation of co-operative federalism will be seen. New highways, new railway lines, new schools, new hospitals will take the development of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to new heights.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi
If this proves effective, then we may see a new dawn of nationalism on the world stage that extends beyond domestic politics and into the realm of geopolitics. From Gaza to Myanmar, imposing the nation’s will and security by force over resistant minority populations could find new popularity and legitimacy not seen since before World War 2.
On the other hand, if this move proves a failure, we may see an unprecedented surge in the levels of violence and unrest between minority groups and nationalist governments and their militaries.