Article: Kashmir is bleeding. So is its economy

Maknoon Wani

On January 1, 2023, as the world celebrated the start of a new year, several families were mourning in the Rajouri district of Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Armed men stormed a village and killed four civilians, injuring six others. Two more civilians were killed the following day.

Just a few weeks earlier, on December 13, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai had presented investment data for Jammu and Kashmir. The numbers spoke for themselves: investments have fallen by 55 percent over the past four years.

Together, the killings and the declining investments contradict two central arguments that have been at the heart of the Indian government’s rationale for the 2019 abrogation of the special status that the region previously enjoyed: that the move would help improve security and spur economic development.

In the past, federal governments in New Delhi have often blamed Jammu and Kashmir’s woes on local governments in power in the territory. That’s no longer an excuse that works.

When the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi eliminated Article 370 of the Indian constitution — which gave Kashmir “special status” — it also carved out the territory of Ladakh from the region. Kashmir’s statehood was withdrawn, and it was made a union territory, directly controlled by New Delhi.

The abrogation of Article 370 allowed non-residents to buy and own land in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time. Critics of the terrirtor’s previous special status frequently cited restrictions on land ownership as a major reason why private sector industries were reluctant to set up businesses there.

However, data published by the Indian government’s Ministry of Home Affairs — and made public by Rai — calls a bluff on those claims. Total investment in 2021-22 in Jammu and Kashmir stood at $46m, down from $50.5m the previous year, and dramatically less than the $102.8m spent in 2017-18.

While the COVID-19 pandemic no doubt affected Kashmir’s economy, the statistics suggest that wasn’t the biggest factor in investments drying up. After all, the steepest fall in investments came the year that the Indian government ended Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, before the pandemic, halving from $72.3m in 2018-19 to $36.3m in 2019-20.

Things aren’t much better on the security front. Although political protests have subsided because most pro-freedom leaders have been imprisoned.

The Indian government had claimed that Article 370 restricted people’s participation in the political process and led to a few families dominating the politics of the territory. However, since 2019, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has taken steps to further disempower local Kashmiris.

First, constituency boundaries for the terrotory legislature were redrawn in a way that gives Hindu-majority Jammu a greater say in elections than its population, relative to Muslim-majority Kashmir’s, merits. In effect, that strengthens the chances of the BJP coming to power in Jammu and Kashmir.

Then a revision of the voter list was carried out, giving voting rights to outsiders. Jammu and Kashmir is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and army personnel — if allowed to vote, their electoral influence is going to be significant.

While Kashmiris and non-locals alike suffer, there is no reason to expect that Modi and his government will change their policy towards Kashmir.

The truth, of course, is more complicated. The BJP’s policies have led to increased insecurity for people living in the territory— whether they’re Hindu or Muslim. And there has been no economic payoff, either.

(The writer is Researcher and incoming graduate student at Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford)

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