Indian paramilitary troopers stand guard at a roadblock in Srinagar, Kashmir. Photo: AFP

India has revoked Article 370 of its constitution, which had granted special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah first made an announcement to this effect in the Indian upper house on Monday and it has since been approved by both houses of Parliament.

The state has also been bifurcated into two union territories, of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, meaning the central government will take direct control of the affairs in these territories.

Article 370 was drafted in 1954 in line with the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh allowing Jammu and Kashmir to possess its own constitution and limiting the role of the federal government in the affairs of the state. The provision also barred those who were not permanent residents of J&K from owning property in the state.

From the perspective of international relations, the event should be viewed from three levels of analysis: system, state and individual.

Systemic considerations

Viewed from the system level of analysis, the Kashmir issue is one of the world’s oldest pending issues, as Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan during Partition. While India has always maintained that the issue should be discussed and resolved bilaterally, Pakistan has advocated for a solution under the auspices of the United Nations. The two countries have fought three wars over Kashmir and their arms race has made the whole of South Asia a potential nuclear flashpoint.

The timing of the Indian government’s move is crucial. It comes after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met with US President Donald Trump last month at the White House. India had steadily built a very good relationship with the US over the last two decades in spite of being a traditional ally of Russia. Pakistan had been a US ally since the Cold War era, but the relationship eroded after Trump assumed office and frequently accused Pakistan of harboring terrorists and decided to stop billions of US aid.

Trump has become well known for his unpredictability in international relations. His policy flip-flops came to the fore when he decided to remove India’s preferential trade status at a time when the two countries seemed to share the best of relations. The Trump-Imran summit saw the US once again take Pakistan back into its fold when it declared that Pakistan’s support was crucial for the US to extricate itself from Afghanistan. That came as a blow to India, as such a move will degrade its leverage in Afghanistan.

Khan also claimed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought Trump’s mediation for resolution of the Kashmir issue. India was definitely annoyed by the claim and vehemently denied it.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry has condemned the Indian government’s move in Jammu and Kashmir as illegal. Khan has declared that he will not hesitate to take the matter to the UN Security Council. Hence it can be expected that there could be further deterioration of bilateral ties in the coming days.

Chances of an escalation of cross-border terrorism as well as skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces are also high, for which India will have to remain alert to secure its territory and safety of its citizens. The UN and major power powers have urged all concerned to exercise restraint and maintain peace along the Line of Control.

The US will find it tricky to make its position clear, while China has expressed its reservations over the issue considering its long-standing border dispute with India in the Kashmir region. China must also have been irked by Amit Shah’s declaration in Parliament that India considers Aksai Chin, claimed by both India and China and controlled by China, an integral part of India.

As far as India is concerned, it will strictly consider this move on J&K its internal matter and will oppose any interference from foreign countries.

If peace and stability are threatened in the region, it is bound to have adverse effects for small states like Nepal, as they will be caught up in big-power rivalry. Nepal should remain alert, as unwarranted forces could try to exploit its open border with India to carry out cross-border terrorism.

Domestic considerations

From the state (domestic) level of analysis, the Indian government’s move on J&K has sharply divided the political parties, media and people.

For its part, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had long advocated for abrogation of Article 370. Leaders of some political parties including the Indian National Congress have deplored the government’s move as unconstitutional and portrayed it as betrayal of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But on the other hand, many other parties have firmly stood in defense of the government’s move, claiming it has strengthened national integration.

People in other Indian states would tend to welcome the move as it will allow them to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever the case, the domestic politics of India is bound to pass through a volatile phase and become polarized in the days ahead.

Individual considerations

One of the most important factors the Indian government has not assessed properly in this case is judging the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They have not been involved in the decision to revoke Article 370, make their state a union territory and bifurcate it into two. This has provided an opportunity for opposing political parties in J&K to unite to regain their previous special status guaranteed by the constitution of India. It could also incite religious and sectarian conflicts. The demographic shift that could take place in the future as a result of the revocation of Article 370 will also not be welcomed by the people there.

Another significant domestic political aspect is the carving out of a separate union territory of Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir. While the Buddhist majority of Ladakh will be overjoyed by this prospect, it will create resentment among the people and political parties of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, the central government has its work cut out in maintaining security, political stability and social harmony in J&K and beyond. India’s decision to grant the status of union territory to Ladakh could open a Pandora’s box and provide impetus to similar demands in several northeastern states.

It can be said that the Indian prime minister made a bold decision by revoking Article 370. Modi has built an image of a strong leader over the last five years in India and abroad. He has a huge number of supporters as well as detractors. His choice of Amit Shah as home minister in the second BJP-led government was a clear indication that he wanted a bold personality to lead the ministry with whom he shared a good rapport.

Modi is an ardent fan of late nationalist leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who played a pivotal role in annexing the princely states of India into the union. Modi enjoys a huge mandate in Parliament to implement his long-term vision of India. He is also known to take calculated risks and is not hesitant to project a nationalist image both at home and abroad. This move on J&K will make both Modi and Shah popular among the majority of the Indian population but at the same time raise fears among the Kashmiris and minorities across the country.

The coming days will not be easy for the Modi government. Apart from maintaining security and peace in Jammu and Kashmir and its border with Pakistan, New Delhi will have to work hard to gain goodwill from the political parties and people of J&K. It will also have to deal with national and international organizations that have accused it of violating human rights and civil liberties in the state. The biggest worry for small countries like Nepal in South Asia will be the repercussions this move could have on the peace and stability of the region.

India is the largest democracy in the world, with huge diversity. The Modi government should put every effort into taking all the stakeholders on board for the purpose of maintaining unity in diversity.

Gaurab Shumsher Thapa is an analyst and writer on topics related to international relations. He is the president and managing director of the Nepal Forum of International Relations Studies (NEPAL FIRST).

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