Erosion of democracy in Kashmir isn’t a new phenomenon

In August the Indian government stripped the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state of its autonomous status by revoking Article 370 of India’s constitution. It then sent in thousands of additional troops, shut down the internet and placed prominent leaders under house arrest. The decision has also prompted fears of escalating tensions with Pakistan, which asserts claims to the region and has strongly protested India’s decision to revoke Article 370.

The Asia Media Centre caught up with Priya Chacko, an expert on South Asia foreign policy and politics, to find out her views on the latest developments.

What’s the situation now in Jammu and Kashmir?

Kashmir has been under lock-down, under authoritarian rule for the past 25 days—about a month now. It’s cut off from communications, people are blocked from travelling into Kashmir, there’s a heavy media presence, people are being locked up for doing really minor things. Apparently about 4,000 people have been detained. That’s the status quo in Kashmir now ever since Article 370 was de-operationalised.

In terms of what’s happening in India more broadly, the issue has been taken to the Supreme Court and it will go to the bench to decide if the de-operationalisation of Article 370 is legal. That will take a few months. It’s likely the Supreme Court will rule with the government because that’s what it has been doing lately. The government has a large majority and the Supreme Court generally doesn’t contradict governments with large majorities.

In terms of other reactions domestically, most other political parties have endorsed what the government has done or they’ve endorsed the decision to de-operationalise Article 370, but not the way in which it was done. There’s a lot of political support for the move. Media organisations and NGOs unfortunately have been pretty generous in the way they’ve covered the story, except for a couple of really good websites that have done more critical coverage.

India’s election earlier this year was called the largest democratic exercise in the world. How does the Kashmir decision relate to India’s democracy?

This move in particular, the way that it was done, the constitutional gymnastics that it took to do this, are all patently unconstitutional and undemocratic. For something like this to happen normally, the government would need the consent of the state assembly in Kashmir. It was dissolved last year because the state assembly was led by a Kashmir party in coalition with the BJP, but the BJP withdrew its support for the government. The Indian government placed Kashmir under President’s rule, which means it’s being ruled by the centre. There hasn’t been democracy in Kashmir for about a year. The government has used this situation to de-operationalise Article 370 which compounds the growing authoritarianism in the region, but also the country more generally.

There’s been an erosion of Indian democracy since 2014 since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected and centralised power. In Kashmir things have been deteriorating since 2016 because the government has taken a hard-line military approach to dealing with militancy in the region, so that’s meant reports of assassinating popular leaders in Kashmir, using pellet guns against protesters resulting in mass blindings. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Elections are one story, but they don’t show the whole picture of a country’s democracy.


India PM Narendra Modi led his BJP party to election victory this year.

What’s Pakistan’s stance on the situation? 

Pakistan makes certain claims to Jammu and Kashmir. It wants the whole state to be part of Pakistan, because that’s what it expected from the partition of India. Jammu and Kashmir are a Muslim majority state. Pakistan in the last 70 years has been waging various forms of warfare against India trying to foment discontent, supporting militants and so on. That’s died down over the last 15 years. However there has been an uptick in the last four years, and that might increase. It is a possibility that Pakistan will resume supporting militant groups based in Pakistan to help foment a counter-insurgency war in Kashmir itself.

In terms of international forums, Pakistan has been trying to raise the issue. It’s not going to get much traction at the United Nations. There are various resolutions that both India and Pakistan are supposed to comply with but have ignored for the last 70 years, so it’s not going to go very far.

Another part of the decision sets up Ladakh as a Buddhist-majority Union Territory. What impact will this have on other religions and Hindu nationalism?

Hindu nationalism promotes a particular version of Hinduism, and says that India is a Hindu country and other minority groups like Muslims and Christians should assimilate. It’s a majoritarian nationalism. In terms of Buddhism, Hindu nationalists claim that Buddhists are Hindu. They see it as part of a pantheon. Buddhists in India would dispute that, but that’s what Hindu nationalists claim. Certainly in terms of the citizenship regime that the Hindu nationalists want to create, Hindus are dominant—their culture, norms and laws are meant to be predominant. Minority groups are basically treated as second-class citizens.

What does the decision signal for India’s foreign policy?

The biggest impact will be on India’s relationship with Pakistan. It means there aren’t going to be any sort of talks with Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Basically, what India has wanted in terms of resolving the current dispute is turning the current Line of Control (LoC) into an international border. With this move, by integrating Jammu and Kashmir into the union formally, it’s done that. It has said that this is an international border, effectively, and there’s no scope for discussing that with Pakistan. That’s the biggest impact of this decision—the deterioration of India’s relationship with Pakistan, which isn’t good for anyone.

Interview and editing by Rebecca Townsend.

- Asia Media Centre