Narendera Modi’s government, on August 5, 2019, took the controversial but necessary step of revoking Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian constitution. While western media has largely been focused on the communications blackout in Kashmir, the long-term impact has not been covered. In order to determine the impact this move will have, let us first examine Articles 35A and 370.
Article 35A defines a special class of citizens, who must have either had a Kashmiri father, been born in Kashmir prior to 1911, or owned land in Kashmir prior to 1946. Article 35A therefore excludes outsiders – any one of India’s 1.3 billion people outside of Kashmir – from partaking in normal activities in Kashmir. Outsiders are prohibited from owning property, settling in or having a government job in Jammu and Kashmir. This article was intended to protect Kashmir’s 97% Muslim demography (Jammu is 60% Hindu, overall J&K is roughly 70% Muslim and 30% Hindu), with the fear that an influx of Hindus from Indian states could wreak havoc on the local culture. But Article 35A has also greatly impeded development in the region. Despite receiving a disproportionate amount of funds from the Centre, the state ranks 24th among India’s 30 states and Union territories. This is largely because talent from outside J&K – which only has 12.5 million people, compared to India’s 1.3 billion – is severely deterred from entering the state. There is currently a massive shortage of teachers in J&K, largely thanks to article 35A.
Article 35A makes little sense in a united, secular India. The existence of Article 35A seems to defy the precedent set by other Indian states – Maharashtra, for example, has a very strong regional identity, but does not have special privileges in the constitution. Tamil culture is still intact, and Tamil separatism, once a powerful force in Tamil politics, has largely given way to regionalism. If Article 35A were to exist in another secular democracy – say the United States – California and Texas would not be the economic powerhouses they are today, but backwards states, unable to take advantage of economic opportunities.
Article 370 is the second constitutional article pertinent to J&K. Many have called for its repeal, as it grants J&K the right to make its own laws that supercede central laws, with the exception of matters of Defense, Communications, Finance, and Foreign Affairs. Due to Article 370, J&K had its own constitution, and own flag – J&K was more so a protectorate of India, rather than a state of India. This article legally cut off Kashmir from the rest of India, and thus, further contributed to preventing development and integrating the region.
Many have criticized India’s security presence, curfew, and communications blackout imposed in Kashmir. Internet shutdowns are a borderline regular occurrence in India, for better or for worse. Internet shutdowns have occurred during elections, after controversial court rulings, or to counteract state seperatist movements in areas such as West Bengal. The rationale behind these shutdowns is likely focused on the curtail of misinformation, spread through online mediums such as WhatsApp. The spread of misinformation over WhatsApp has resulted in the deaths of 46 in mob killings over the course of the past few years, and misinformation spreads like wildfire during tense situations such as the present Kashmir issue. India and Pakistan saw this firsthand during the February-March standoff of 2019 – for example, a false rumor spread that the Indian navy was launching strikes against Karachi, resulting in panic on Twitter and WhatsApp. This being said, India’s internet shutdown and curfew should not go on for much longer. If India wants to integrate the people of Kashmir, it must restore what they previously had. Kashmir’s curfew was partially lifted on Friday to allow for prayers, and phone services and internet are gradually being restored before Eid.
Already, an investment summit has been planned for the region. Srinagar’s metro plans to hire 1300 Engineers to help construct an advanced metro system. Indian companies have expressed a strong desire to invest in Kashmir. The long-term benefits of this are obvious – increased prosperity, health, and education. Even more importantly, bringing good jobs to Kashmir will reduce stress among youth and improve mental health – which could reduce insurgencies and create peace in the region.
Modi’s move may be controversial, and the execution of the move can certainly be criticized. But integrating and developing Kashmir is the only way forward for the region.