Indian Revocation of Kashmir’s Special Status
August 12, 2019On August 5, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A from the country’s constitution. These two connected pieces of legislation grant the state of Jammu and Kashmir—the Indian-controlled portion of the overall Kashmir region—special semi-autonomous status. Scrapping these provisions will have significant implications for Jammu and Kashmir’s Muslim-majority citizenry, grave ramifications for already tense India-Pakistan relations, and could lead to violence in the region.
Q1: What is the significance of Articles 370 and 35-A? What are the implications of their revocation for the Kashmiri people?
A1: When the subcontinent gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and separated into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, the status of Kashmir became a point of tension between the two countries, both of whom wanted Kashmir within their freshly drawn borders. The ruling Hindu maharaja of Muslim-majority Kashmir initially declared Kashmir an independent princely state, but upon a threat of Pakistani takeover, eventually acceded to joining India under certain conditions of autonomy granted to the region.
These conditions were translated to Articles 370 and 35-A, introduced soon thereafter into the Constitution of India. These articles institutionalized a significant level of autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir within Indian law. Although the central government in New Delhi retains jurisdiction over issues such as foreign affairs and defense, Articles 370 and 35-A have allowed Jammu and Kashmir to form their own state legislature and create their own laws. Most notably, the laws restrict permanent residency and land ownership in the region by and large to local Kashmiris, providing some modicum of control and protection to Kashmiri citizens in a heavily contested region. Revoking Articles 370 and 35-A wrests this autonomy from the population of Jammu and Kashmir, numbering about 8 million, and into the central government’s hands. By allowing non-Kashmiris to settle and purchase land in the region, the Hindu-nationalist BJP is seen by many Kashmiris as seeking to change the Muslim-majority demography of Jammu and Kashmir.
Q2: What is India’s motivation behind revoking this legislation?
A2: The provisions under Articles 370 and 35-A have long been an ideological sticking point for the BJP, “who view India as a fundamentally Hindu nation” and have qualms about a “Muslim majority state with special privileges.” The annulment of this legislation featured prominently in the Hindu nationalist party’s recent electoral campaign. Prime Minister Modi and other BJP leaders have claimed that Articles 370 and 35-A were obstacles to Kashmiri prosperity, stunting economic development, encouraging “dynastic politics and corruption,” and nurturing “terrorism and separatism” in the region. The BJP’s resounding victory in the 2019 general elections, coupled with the outpouring of public enthusiasm amongst BJP supporters for the revocation in recent days, indicate that amongst his constituents, Prime Minister Modi is appealing to a large swath of the Indian public.
This action also took place mere weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks on U.S. mediation between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue during Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s July 2019 visit to the United States. India has always insisted that any dialogue on Kashmir must be strictly bilateral, as per the tenets of the 1971 Simla Agreement, and President Trump’s claim that Prime Minister Modi had approached him to mediate between the two neighboring countries likely provoked frustration within New Delhi, evident in the manner in which it was swiftly denied by the Indian government. The timing of Prime Minister Modi’s August 9 decision on Jammu and Kashmir could, perhaps, be taken as a reaction to the same incident, an opportunity to both to position himself as the regional strongman and to galvanize Hindu nationalist support around that strongman image.
Q3: What do we know about the situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir?
A3: One week after the BJP made the unprecedented move to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A, the situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir remains very murky. A near-total communications blackout—no internet, cell phone, or landline access, and restrictions on journalists have led to fragmented pieces of information coming out of Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi sent 35,000 additional troops to the region just days before revoking its special status. While the Indian government is stating that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is stable, piecemeal reports have emerged of more than 300 political leaders under arrest, tight security and curfews restricting movement in the region, large protests and protester crackdowns—denied by the Indian government but captured by the BBC in a video release that led to some controversy—and shortages of currency and basic necessities within Jammu and Kashmir. Restrictions were reportedly eased slightly for the Eid holiday on Sunday, but the region remains largely under tight control of Indian security forces.
Although the opposition Congress Party has not come out against the BJP’s actions, there is legal criticism arising within the Indian civil society that deems the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A unconstitutional. Critics argue that the executive voided an entire section of the constitution without debate in the Parliament of India or requisite approval from Jammu and Kashmir’s state legislature. The central government found a loophole and used it: when the Kashmiri coalition heading the state legislature lost its majority in June 2018, New Delhi implemented federal rule through its own appointed governor as the regional authority, and it was the governor’s consent that was used as justification for the revocation. Activists have begun petitioning the Supreme Court of India to rule the nullification of Articles 370 and 35-A unconstitutional, but it remains to be seen if legal challenges will be successful in reversing Prime Minister Modi’s decision.
Q4: What impact does the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A have on India-Pakistan relations and on regional security as a whole?
A4: The BJP’s actions are likely to exacerbate the fraught relationship with Pakistan and negatively impact regional security in South Asia. Since its inception as a state, Pakistan has seen the Kashmir issue as an existential one and has seen its role as the champion and protector of Kashmir’s Muslim-majority citizenry. Although the Modi administration has insisted that the revocation of the legislation in question is a domestic Indian matter, it is likely quite aware of Pakistan’s reaction to the move.
The international community has raised concerns about the situation in Kashmir, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urging “maximum restraint” by all parties. Pakistan’s confrontational rhetoric urges action rather than restraint, and Prime Minister Khan vowed to raise India’s actions in Kashmir at the UN General Assembly. Additionally, the government in Islamabad has taken several actions against India: it has expelled the Indian ambassador in Islamabad, downgraded diplomatic relations and severed trade with its neighbor, suspended the cross-border Samjohta Express rail service, and banned the screening of Bollywood movies and broadcasting of Indian channels on cable television.
In addition, the developing situation in Kashmir might negatively impact the peace process in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been wary of Indian intentions in Afghanistan for decades, and this turn of events in Kashmir will make Islamabad that much more mistrusting of its neighbor. Pakistan has been playing a significant role in recent U.S.-Afghan peace negotiations with the Taliban. The Kashmir issue may not only detract Pakistani resources and political will away from Afghanistan but potentially could also be used as leverage to persuade the United States to intervene with India.
Finally, there is the likelihood of an escalation of tensions in Kashmir into full-blown violence. Forced demographic changes would create an atmosphere ripe for communal violence between Muslims and Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir that risks escalating to the whole country. Communal tensions have already been high since Prime Minister Modi’s first term, and events in Kashmir would only fan the flames farther. The BJP’s actions in Kashmir will likely be a narrative boon for violent extremist groups, who are already radicalizing disenfranchised Kashmiris toward their cause. With Pakistan’s history of backing Kashmiri separatists and militants, the situation bodes ill for regional security.
Hijab Shah is a research associate with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Melissa Dalton directs the Cooperative Defense Project and is deputy director and a senior fellow with the International Security Program at CSIS.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2019 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.