California – Prime Minister Modi’s decision to revoke the semi autonomous status of Kashmir, not by debate or deliberation, but by placing the valley under a security clampdown and turning off even Internet services, is unbecoming of the largest democracy.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has made no secret of its vision of India as a Hindu country, has for decades called for the abrogation of the semi autonomous status granted to Kashmir, a move viewed by the two right wing groups as a historical blunder.
Article 370, put in place in 1949, as a condition of accession of the then princely state into India, gives special autonomy to Kashmir, including the power to have its own constitution, flag, and govern itself in most other matters except finance, defense, foreign affairs and communications.
Indian constitution permits revocation of the semi autonomous status by presidential order, with the consent of the state’s Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly was dissolved in 1957, leaving the procedure to withdraw article 370 open to interpretation. The most natural thing is to take the approval of state lawmakers in lieu of the Constituent Assembly.
Prime Minister Modi, instead of taking the consent of state lawmakers flexed his authoritarian muscles by ordering tens of thousands more troops into what is already one of the most militarized zones in the world, putting political figures under house arrest, and cutting off internet and mobile services.
To be sure, better integration of Kashmir with the rest of the country would make the valley economically more stable, and offer a better quality of life to its residents who now live in a virtual fortress, and also offer Kashmiri Pandits, many of whom have emigrated out of the valley due to persecution by Muslim insurgents, an opportunity to move back into their native land.
But the right way to integrate Kashmir would have been with the consent of the Kashmiri population.
Our years of history of ignoring human rights violations in the Valley, and an overnight move to relegate Kashmir from a semi autonomous state to a mere union territory, a lightweight version of taxation without representation, all while leaving Kashmiris in the dark about their own fate, doesn’t make us any different from the British that colonized us.
This independence day, as we celebrate our independence from 400 years of British rule, the question none of us can answer is why is our desire to govern ourselves morally superior to those Kashmiris who too desire to govern themselves?