Palestine or Shangri-La: Which way will Kashmir drift?

Even if the disputed region were to become a Shangri-La, it would be a Shangri-La manufactured by India with sheer military force and money.

A massive public uprising erupted when in 2008 about 50 acres of forestland were transferred clandestinely to a panel managing the annual pilgrimage to a Himalayan Hindu cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir region. Muslims, who are the majority, feared the land would be used to build permanent buildings in the ecologically fragile region.

The local comprador government, which had facilitated the transfer, fell. Scores of Muslim protesters were shot dead and hundreds injured and arrested during peaceful street demonstrations. Even bigger anti-India uprisings erupted in 2010 over the killing of a teenage student and another one in 2016 over the killing of a rebel commander.

But surprisingly, barring a few protests, the region was comparatively calmer when on August 5 the ruling Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi altered the status of this disputed region where the 30-year-old anti-India insurgency has surged in the past few years. 

On a political Richter scale, this is a grade 9 earthquake that has already riled China and Pakistan.

The reason for the absence of people’s reaction, besides shock, was deployment of between 60,000 to 180,000 soldiers who complemented about half a million soldiers, policemen and civilian militias already stationed there. The Indian government had also foreclosed the possibility of protests by shutting phone and internet services, imposing a curfew and rounding up hundreds of dissenters, including three former pro-India chief ministers — the highest elected officials — for whom these constitutional guarantees were the biggest weapon to woo the rebellious population during elections and persuade them that staying with India was in their best interest.

Why people have responded carefully for now could be gauged from the example of a peaceful demonstration of, according to a reporter who was filming the event, about 30,000 people that were fired at by government forces on Friday in Srinagar, injuring several, even though the protesters said they had requested a police officer to let them march peacefully. Mian Qayoom, a distinguished lawyer who could have challenged in the Indian Supreme Court the scrapping of the legislations has been arrested and flown to a jail in Agra city of Uttar Pradesh state. 

Another reason for the subdued response is that many separatists believe that despite the legislations guaranteeing special legal and constitutional status for J&K, India has been riding roughshod over the democratic rights of the Muslims of this region. 

Therefore, this line of thinking argues, that these guarantees, which had been hollowed out during the past seven decades, had had no effect in stopping New Delhi’s predatory attitude toward the region in the past, the attitude that had forced them to start the armed insurgency in the first place in 1989. But they might be forced to rethink after Pakistan partially suspended diplomatic relations with India.

The development shocked even a sizable number of Indians. Why? First, the Narendra Modi-led government has subverted constitutional norms. Also, rather than being consulted, the eight million-odd Muslims of the region have been virtually jailed. They learnt about the decision from satellite TV. The bulldozing of the region’s special status also went against the pact India’s founding fathers had made with then Kashmiri leadership.


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