Kashmir move timed for Modi’s address

Updated August 06, 2019

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — Reuters/File
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — Reuters/File

NEW DELHI: The Indian government’s move on Monday to abrogate constitutional provisions that give India-held Kashmir special rights was roundly condemned by leading opposition parties, but also received unexpected support from other rivals.

The measures were kept secret and revealed only in parliament, and are said to be timed to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Aug 15 address to present a robust account of his government as it struggles with a sagging economy.

Among the leaders who backed the move were Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Dalit leader Mayawati, while Congress party’s parliamentarian P. Chidambaram described it as a black day in Indian history. “This house will regret what it has done today,” Mr Chidambaram said in a speech that warned of regional resentments over the virtual undemocratic methods used by the government to destroy the Constitution.

Leading Kashmiri separatists were picked up weeks ago and their incarceration was aimed at helping to stifle Kashmiri opinion. However, a representative of a leading human rights group, which works with the families of hundreds of disappeared civilians in Kashmir, managed to send off a message early in the morning that gives the colour of the ordeal ahead for the people.

“Last few days have been chaotic in Kashmir. No major violence but a lot of deliberate rumours by government. Additional armed forces (at least 35,000 in addition to 650,000 armed forces and police personnel) have been brought to Kashmir.

Congress leader says parliament will regret its action, calls it a ‘black day in Indian history’

“Finally what appears is that there will be curfew imposed by midnight today. Internet will be completely shut, perhaps phones too.

“All this is being done for government of India to abrogate Article 35A, which will technically mean Indians can purchase property in Kashmir and become citizens of Kashmir. The Indian government thinks demographic changes will solve the conflict in Kashmir. This change apparently will be brought through parliament, but on ground in Kashmir only through gunpoint. They have silenced all political groups, gagged media and scared civil society. The government is well prepared to deal with protest and forces have been ordered to not negotiate with the protesters — just shoot. It is clear that there will be violence, but I hope and pray people remain peaceful and that we in Kashmir don’t lose anything more than these constitutional guarantees. The largest democracy is able to do all this because of the international silence.

“Sending this message to all of you before the internet and phone is shutdown.”

Rival Tamil parties took opposite sides.

‘Kashmir should not become a Kosovo’

Opposition leader Vaiko traversed the global canvass to warn what could go wrong in Kashmir. “Shakespeare stated in Macbeth - Even thousand perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten the little hand of Lady Macbeth. So, that has happened today,” he said. “What bothered me for the last few days when the army was completely omnipresent, deployed there, Kashmir should not become a Kosovo, Kashmir should not become an East Timor, Kashmir should not become a South Sudan. But it may happen,” he warned.

Marginalised senior leader of the ruling BJP L.K. Advani said the removal of special rights for Kashmiris was a bold step, and part of the core philosophy of the BJP.

Earlier, presenting a series of measures to vacate the special rights, Home Minister Amit Shah told Rajya Sabha that the existing special rights for Jammu and Kashmir “impeded democracy”.

It is believed that a major reason for the manoeuvre was to facilitate Indian business in the valley, as the move was welcomed by leading tycoon Anand Mahindra. “Cannot pretend this is just another Monday morning. The entire country is waiting to exhale over Kashmir. Can only pray for the safety of everyone there & for an outcome that makes the nation stronger & the future more positive,” the chairman of the Mahindra Group tweeted.

Meanwhile, street protests broke out sporadically, led by student groups, against the abrogation of Kashmir’s special rights.

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) described the mood in dark imagery.

The PUDR noted: “With a complete gag on democratic space, and unprecedented terror among people, Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled the resolution in Rajya Sabha to revoke autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir. At 11:15am, Mr Shah announced that President Kovind had already passed orders effectively abrogating Article 370, by extending all the provisions of the Constitution to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Through convoluted and illegal processes and amendments, Amit Shah then moved to introduce the J&K Reorganisation Bill — a power that the parliament would not have been allowed under the unamended Article 370 — in parliament among heavy protest and disruption.”

Bill to split Muslim population

The J&K Reorganisation Bill bifurcates the State into two union territories: one of Ladakh and the other of Jammu and Kashmir. The union territory of Ladakh is under the direct control of the Union Government through the Lt Governor, while the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir has a legislative assembly of its own with extremely limited powers, and is overall under the Lt Governor.

It is believed that the measure would undermine the strength of a united Muslim presence the way it exists, as now the community would be split between Kargil and the Kashmir valley.

Analysts believe that if the bifurcation bill is passed, the India-held Jammu and Kashmir could see its first Hindu chief minister.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2019