Article: What does India want to do in Kashmir?

(Behzad Taimur)

This photograph provided by the PM office shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeting members of various political parties before the start of their meeting in New Delhi on Thursday.—APKashmir has once again been in the news. On June 23rd, last week, Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, held a “surprise” meeting with 14 political leaders from Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJK). This meeting has come to be seen as a “breaking of ice” moment following the illegal actions of the Modi government on August 5th, 2019, and thereafter. It is supposed to have begun a “political process” between New Delhi and IOJK. It is being said that this “political process” would lead to lifting of nearly two year-long curfew, assembly elections and “restoration of statehood” to (only the Jammu & Kashmir part of the) occupied territory. So then, what is going on? What is all this? And, what is India trying to do in the occupied region?

The answer to these questions is in the context of these events. When the Modi government suspended Article 370 in 2019, it followed it up with “Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019”. This law split the erstwhile IOJK into two federally-administered “Union Territories” (UT), namely Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir. At the time it was said that Ladakh region would continue to be administered federally. However, the Jammu & Kashmir UT would be given status of a state of the Indian Union, with its own legislative assembly. The current events are a step in the process of incorporating newly-carved Jammu & Kashmir UT into India as a ‘regular’ state of the union.

There are several important points to note here. A) Ladakh seems to have disappeared from public and policy discourse because focus seems to have shifted onto a sub-set of the historical IOJK – i.e. Jammu & Kashmir UT. Ladakh is very much a part of the original IOJK; Pakistan has claims on it as well; and, it cannot be de-linked from the broader discussion on the Kashmir dispute. B) As I have mentioned above, even originally, the intent in New Delhi was to formally incorporate Jammu & Kashmir into the Indian Union. Therefore, today, when “restoration of statehood” is discussed, it is an incorrect – and demeaning – characterization. A “restoration” would mean re-instatement of Article 370 which held special status provisions for IOJK. That is to say, a “restored” Jammu & Kashmir would have its own constituent assembly, its own constitution and its own flag. Giving Jammu & Kashmir UT a status equivalent to any other state in the Indian Union does not mean “restoration” at all. It means giving the same an entirely ‘new’ status. Here, this would mean Jammu & Kashmir getting a legislative assembly with truncated powers and without a regional constitution or flag.

This act, if and when fully executed, would be nothing more than unilaterally and arbitrarily absorbing half of the disputed territory into India – and then, to top it off – ringing a note of finality over it. Think of this: Will any Indian government in the future negotiate accession of one of its states from the Union or, more so, its accession and then merger with another country or entity? If it does, then what is stopping it from negotiating with other states over similar aspirations? Therefore, such is unlikely. Put another way, such an act would present both Kashmiris and Pakistan with a fait accompli by “changing things on the ground”.

Anyway, coming back, between the August 5th actions and “statehood” for Jammu & Kashmir UT, there are several important steps that we ought to consider. The same 2019 Reorganization law also made for a new legislative assembly for the soon-to-be ‘State of Jammu & Kashmir’. In this, it provided for a 114 member house. Of particular note in this context is that this new assembly is supposed to give the southerly region of Jammu greater representation in the house.

Now, Jammu is a Hindu-majority area and it has very significant influence of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Then, we can see, that the intent here is two-fold. I) To provisionally convert the new Jammu & Kashmir state into one with a reduced Muslim majority, even if only within the assembly; and, II) To create a new state where the BJP can form a government and rule, based on its potential electoral success in increased Jammu constituencies. Both of these are in-line with BJP’s stated policy objectives: One, single, basically homogenous Hindu-majority Akhand Bharat ruled by a singular Hindutva-espousing party, here the BJP.

As a next step to forming this new assembly and holding elections for it, India needs to delimit constituencies in the new Jammu & Kashmir. It is in this context that the Delhi talks were held last week. The Modi set-up is seeking to engage some leadership from Jammu and Kashmir regions to create political buy-in for the delimitation process. It is well within the imaginable that New Delhi could try to ‘go it alone’ on this process. However, that would be politically untenable in the long-run; would kick-start political opposition from even the pro-India or India-collaborating leadership; and, could potentially lead to a major 1989-like uprising. Though, more so, this has become more difficult to do because of one other major event that markedly shifted strategic balance in the Jammu & Kashmir region.

Between November, 2020, and January, 2021, India conducted local bodies elections in Jammu & Kashmir for district, et al, -level bodies that it had itself reorganized and reconstituted as part of its post-August 5th process. The hope there was also two-fold: i) Under-cut traditional political leadership in the region (e.g. National Conference of the Abdullahs; People’s Democratic Party of Ms. Mehbooba Mufti; et al) and create a pathway for new, potentially pro-India, pro-BJP, preferably youthful, leadership to emerge; and, ii) Create an opportunity for BJP itself to rise in the region as a potent political force. In turn, the hope here was that the BJP could build on its local bodies success to eventually take the Jammu & Kashmir state assembly. On the second count, the Modi set-up met considerable success. Of the 278 local bodies elections that were held, the BJP won in 75, mostly in Jammu, and became the single-largest political party in the region.

However, it floundered on the first count. Six traditional Kashmir region-based parties banded together to form the so-named “Gupkar Alliance” (named after an area in Srinagar where this alliance was consecrated). This “Gupkar Alliance” won in 110 of 278 elections. The 110 victories, in turn, accorded the member parties with very significant political legitimacy. What that meant was the Modi set-up had miscalculated and had shot itself in the foot. As a result of this political victory and, newfound and revived political legitimacy, these parties simply could no longer be ignored. It is this context that precipitated the Delhi talks of June 23.

So then, what were the Delhi talks for? To engage popular parties from the Kashmir region so that constituencies can be delimited for an election in the new Jammu & Kashmir state. Formally, the Gupkar Alliance had also been demanding restoration of Article 370. However now, not only that they have dropped the demand, they have also begun to talk to New Delhi over elections to a new state assembly. It is even more concerning that they have normalized grant of a new state status to Jammu & Kashmir as meaning “restoration of statehood” – an incorrect and demeaning phraseology.

Parties that comprise the Gupkar Alliance have historically been India-collaborating and that is precisely what they are doing now. By beginning talks with New Delhi, they have taken one step forward in a process that would eventually lead to formal incorporation of Jammu & Kashmir region into the Indian Union. Thus, on our part, we need to re-contextualize the Delhi talks and associated events, to develop a more holistic understanding of what India is up to in the disputed territory. Here, this means unilateral and arbitrary absorption of parts of IOJK into India proper. It is important to understand the full context and implication of events in IOJK so that we can look at them with the level of urgency that they deserve – for reasons aforementioned. Lastly, we must not forget that Ladakh is also a part of it all and that Pakistan has historical claims over it as well.

( The Wire )