21.06.2014 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Deteriorating Situation in the State of Jammu and Kashmir

indiaelections_450x300The main outcome of the elections to the lower house of the Indian Parliament, held throughout April and May 2014, was the triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the crushing defeat of the Indian National Congress (INC). The latter is particularly noteworthy because the Congress ruled the country almost continuously after India gained the status of an independent state in 1947 and before that for over twenty years, led by Mahatma Gandhi, was at the forefront of the fight for independence.

With regards to the existing state of the INC, it remains unclear on their prospect of exiting from its current condition of waning influence among the people and, especially, the restoration of its status as a national party.

Against this background, the second outcome of the elections, and most troublesome for India as a single state, was the confirmation of the long trend towards the strengthening position of the regional parties based on local religious, historical and social issues.

It is worth noting that, in its present form, a single and unified state, the Republic of India has existed for a relatively short period of time. Since the mid-19th century, up to 1947, “British India” was woven together out of hundreds of principalities in varying degrees of independence. The relative unity of this patchwork of states was at first ensured by the authority of the British Crown, but since 1947, the concept of a single nation was carried by the INC and by M. Gandhi personally.

It is also important to note that, the BJP itself is positioned on the right wing of the political spectrum, the electoral base of which is made up of followers of Hinduism. Although the proportion of Hindus in India today is estimated at 80%, but the number of practicing Muslims, which today is estimated at 14 or 15%, one of the main problems confronting modern Indian society is how to maintain inter-religious peace.

In the meantime, the BJP, as well as other nationalist parties and public associations were linked to the tragic events in 2002 in the state of Gujarat, in the course of which nearly one thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Not escaping from blame, or least the accusation of inaction, is Narendra Modi, who as of May is the current Prime Minister and who, in 2002, was Chief Minister in Gujarat.

It was not the first inter-religious incident in independent India. The same “Gujarat pogrom” occurred near the former mosque of Babur, built at the beginning of the 16th century and destroyed by Hindu mob in 1992. In the course of those clashes, nearly two thousand people were killed.

But the process of forming an independent state, the Republic of India, was met with a catastrophic and bloody separation of its territory that was inhabited almost exclusively by Muslims; that territory declared itself as an independent state under the name of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

As always happens in such cases, preceded by a long history of more or less peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims in a common territory created the condition of mutual mingling of representatives of both faiths. This territorial mingling was completely impossible to eradicate overnight based purely on the sudden and sudden shift in the political dynamics of the country.

Today, India and Pakistan share a border that is not internationally recognized; there is not even a “Line of Actual Control,” which extends for four thousand kilometers and separates India from China, but a ‘Ceasefire Line” that was initiated after several Indo-Pakistani wars. It divided the former principality of Kashmir, to complete control over which, directly or indirectly, is claimed by both countries. It is the very problem of ownership of Kashmir that is at the core of entire dynamic of Indo-Pakistani relations.

A unique status within India is a part of Kashmir, the state of Jammu and Kashmir; two-thirds of the population are followers of Islam and is defined in Article 370 of the national constitution. Its founding principle was that the state has no power and no law enacted by the national parliament can be adopted without the approval of the local parliament. Exceptions are made within the area of ​​defense, foreign policy and the national communications system.

The aforementioned article is periodically criticized by supporters as fruitless, idealistic and therefore dangerous bhai-bhaizma” (i.e. friendship with all) and a departure from the professed 50 year principle of non-alignment. In accordance with recent trends, India needs to move to the position of Realpolitik, which requires taking into account the real external and internal threats to national security and build on its own potential to protect itself from or conclude alliances with some of the world’s leading players.

Such criticism is amplified to a degree by India’s transformation into one of these players. Its object becomes the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru (direct political successor to Gandhi), which as it turned out, “handed over everything possible to China and Pakistan.” In particular, he is accused of accepting Article 370 of the national constitution. Although, in actual fact this was a consequence of political bargaining between the leaders of the Republic of India and elite elements in Kashmir on the conditions of it becoming a new state.

The final stage in the deteriorating problem of Article 370 began at the end of last year when N. Modi (already considered as highly likely for future prime minister) in one of the large political gatherings called for a public debate on the subject of its abolition (see Sanjay Khajuria, Narendra Modi’s demand for debate on Article 370 sparks political row: The Times of India, Dec 2, 2013). At the end of May this year, that is, once N. Modi had assumed the position of Prime Minister, his chief of staff Jitendra Singh said that the debate “is actually on-going.”

Sharply negative reaction in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to such statements has always been quite predictable. In particular, in response to the assertion that it is “already on-going,” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stated at the end of May 2014, noting that Article 370 is “the only constitutional link between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India … Either this article remains or the state will not be a part of India.”(Vijaita Singh, Omar fumes as Modi’s minister, Jitendra Singh says ‘process of repealing Article 370 has begun: The Indian EXPRESS, May 27, 2014).

Under these conditions, the only thing left is the wish for wisdom, patience and perseverance by both sides in what is shaping up to be the next confrontation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But, as it appears, this all relates to the new central government being formed by N. Modi. The deteriorating Kashmir issue will become a major internal challenge at the very beginning of the highest stage of his political career.

As was noted above, this problem has the foreign policy aspects, which were actualized significantly by the BJP coming to power and personally by N. Modi. However, the possible shifts in the foreign policy of the new government of one of the world’s leading players, which is de facto modern India, deserve special consideration.

Vladimir Terekhov is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Asia and the Middle East of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and a columnist for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.