Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370: an Indian perspective

Constitutional reform International relations Military operations India Pakistan

Prime Minister Modi’s recent decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status, has stirred controversy across the political spectrum. While supporters of the initiative emphasise that the move fulfils a campaign promise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was returned for a second term with an increased vote share of six per cent, critics see it as the prelude to a shift to majoritarianism. On the external front, the move is being commended for taking advantage of Pakistan’s focus on its western flank and the end game in Afghanistan, and for changing the issue of Kashmir from being a dispute with Pakistan to an internal matter. To critics, however, the reduction of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the status of a union territory – truncated by the slicing off of Ladakh – does not end the issue of Kashmir being the source of an international dispute and that it is only a matter of time before Pakistan makes its presence felt, possibly through renewed conflict, either directly or through proxies.

This article makes the case that Pakistan, which has underplayed the changes effected by India, will, over time, reactivate the proxy war and upset India’s calculation that its move will end the problem of Kashmir. It argues that since this is a somewhat obvious conclusion, the sources of India’s action are not to be found in strategic calculus as much as in the current administration’s ideological underpinnings. The BJP’s strategy, informed as it is by Hindutva ideology, is not about restoring stability to Kashmir as it claims, but to heighten the instability inherent in the situation, thereby inducing Pakistan into a proxy war. If that were to happen, it could pay an internal political dividend by allowing the BJP to reshape secular India into its aspirational Hindutva-based form and, externally, place Pakistan in a corner, forcing it, once again, to prosecute a war.

Key points:

  • The BJP government’s motives for its recent moves in Kashmir lie less in the reasons professed – governance and development – than they do in the ideological direction it is taking the country.
  • The likelihood of war with Pakistan that is inherent in the Kashmiri situation will depend on India’s response to the civil unrest that is likely to break out in Kashmir when the restrictive conditions, such as curfews, are lifted.
  • The impending civilian unrest, prospects of renewed insurgency and Pakistan-sponsored asymmetrical warfare ended India’s hopes of returning stability to Kashmir soon. It appears that India’s constitutional initiative was based on a flawed security analysis.
  • The right-wing BJP government would not be averse to a deterioration in the security situation since that would enable it to continue its hardline policies of “Othering” that are part of its wider majoritarian project of embedding Hindutva into India’s polity.
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