The official restructuring of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir comes into effect on October 31. The region’s special status had been a thorn in the side of Hindu nationalists for a long time.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the special status of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in early August this year. Its autonomy and its own constitution, as well as its special rights for permanent residents, most of whom are Muslims, were abolished. Furthermore, the parliament in New Delhi passed a bill to split Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories — J&K and Ladakh — which would be directly administered by New Delhi.
Following the independence of India in 1947, J&K was given a special status and permitted to have its own constitution. Despite that, a rebel movement supported by Pakistan arose in 1989, followed by massive repression by India and the militarization of public life in Kashmir. Estimates of fatalities, mostly among civilians, due to Indian anti-terrorist operations and separatist attacks, vary between 40,000 and 70,000. It was not until the early 2000s that violence subsided.
Doubtful steps towards reconciliation
However, violence has increased again in recent years. "Radicalization is, above all, an internal phenomenon since 2016. More Kashmiris from the Indian side are joining militant groups. This shows the failure of the Indian government under Modi, to look for a rational dialogue in J&K," said South Asia expert Christian Wagner of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Modi maintains that he wants to eradicate militancy and achieve economic growth by abolishing special rights for J&K and through the Indian government's direct administration. Many observers, however, expect more tension and conflict because Hindus will advance into previously protected areas where Muslims, who are the majority in J&K, have settled.
Advantages for Hindus and Buddhists
The abolishment of special rights means, among others, that all Indians will have access to jobs in the private sector as well as admission into J&K universities. Previously these spots were reserved for people who were living in the state on 14 May, 1954 (the day Article 35A came into effect), as well as those who have lived in the area for 10 years.
The same applies to the acquisition of land and other property by Indians from outside the state.
The situation has also changed for women from J&K. Earlier, when they married someone from outside the state, they lost all rights to inheritance. Now, there are no legal hurdles for such alliances. Through the planned restructuring of electoral areas, the region around Jammu, which has more Hindus and supporters of Modi, could become more important within the state.
Observers see a clever move by Modi in the restructuring of J&K: divide and rule. He is obliging Hindu nationalists who have been demanding deeper integration of J&K into the Indian state. And he is securing the support of the big Buddhist community in Ladakh, who see an enhancement of their region and interests in the splitting of J&K.
Massive security presence
The decision to restructure J&K was accompanied by a wave of arrests and the shutting down of internet and mobile services — some of which have lasted until now. Thousands of extra soldiers were deployed to the area and around 4,000 people were arrested, including over 200 politicians from different parties and two former chief ministers of the state.
Around 2,600 of those arrested were released by mid-September. Despite a partial relaxation — which enabled tourists to travel into the area — public life in Kashmir is restricted. Many shops are closed in protest, school children and students stay away from classes. In the last four weeks, four truck drivers transporting apples, a chief produce of Kashmir, were shot by unknown persons. On Tuesday, during an unofficial visit by EU lawmakers in Srinagar, clashes took place between security forces and anti-India protesters.
Protests by neighbors China and Pakistan
As expected, Pakistan, which like India claims the entire area of the former kingdom of J&K for itself and sees itself as the protector of the Muslim population there, sharply criticized Modi's actions, including indirect threats of war. Beijing also weighed in. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman described the incident as "unacceptable steps by India to change the status quo in Kashmir" and that "India's modification of its laws damages China's territorial sovereignty."
According to Christian Wagner, however, this reaction is not coherent and is understood as an attempt to support Pakistan. "China has been occupying the Aksai Chin area since the border war with India in 1962 and it received a part of Kashmir from Pakistan in 1963. But I do not know of any further historical interpretation or demands of China on the basis of which these territories have been claimed."
A small diplomatic success for Pakistan
At the very least, Pakistan, with China's help, has managed for the first time since 1971 to get the UN Security Council to return to the Kashmir question — a diplomatic success for Islamabad, although there was no official statement after the meeting on August 16.
The Kashmir question did not officially play any role during a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi earlier in October in southern India. According to Wagner, this made it clear that China was back to its old position, in which the Kashmir question needs to be solved bilaterally between India and Pakistan.