Modi’s devastating distraction in Kashmir

India has been described as an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery. But Thursday, on the 73rd anniversary of its independence from British rule, it also became a monumental irony: Even as Indians celebrated the overthrow of colonial rule, the Indian army had turned the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir into an open air prison, where seven million residents were being held under curfew and banned from calling, tweeting, publishing — much less protesting. Their state legislature had been disbanded, their leaders were under house arrest, and the constitutional provisions granting them a measure of autonomy from New Delhi was suspended.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who engineered all this without any forewarning 10 days ago, is claiming that “fully integrating” — read: forcibly annexing — this ravaged state into broader India will turn it into a mecca of prosperity whose herbal products will find global markets and where tourists will once again roam. But there is every reason to suspect that Modi’s Kashmir stunt is meant to distract from the fact that instead of delivering growth and “acche din” — good times — to India as he had promised six years ago, he is presiding over a cratering economy.

Modi likes to surprise. But unlike his last big surprise, when he scrapped 80 percent of the national currency one evening three years ago as part of his so-called demonetization effort, his Kashmir move is wildly popular.

His Hindu nationalist supporters are cheering it because they have long dreamed of extending their religious dominion over this predominantly Muslim area. The Indian Parliament rubber-stamped Modi’s request to scrap Article 370, which had handed Kashmir special status to have its own constitution and flag, and Article 35A, which restricted the rights of non-citizens to own land (a problematic constitutional arrangement but one that India offers to a half-dozen other states). Within hours, these nationalists started jubilantly floating maps of India draped in their trademark saffron turban audaciously perched on Kashmir. They didn’t even bother masking their true intention by using the tri-color Indian flag.

But even Indians who aren’t militant Hindus are four squares behind Modi. Many see Kashmir with its snow-peaked mountains and lush valleys as India’s crown jewel. And some blame its “special status” for allowing Pakistan to make inroads into it.

Pakistan has always resented that even though Kashmir has a large Muslim population, the British did not hand it this coveted bit of land when they left in 1947. Rather, they let the Hindu prince who ruled Kashmir at the time make an alliance with India. Since then, Pakistan has waged four wars, dispatched foreign jihadis and funded a separatist insurgency in the Kashmiri valley to undermine India’s control.

Modi claims that dismissing Kashmir’s corrupt state government and replacing it with a strong central hand will make it easier to keep Pakistan at bay, root out insurgency and restore law and order in the state. At the same time, ending restrictions on Indians who wish to …read more

Source:: The Week – World


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