Secularists decry India ending Kashmir's special status

Critics accuse the BJP of imposing its Hindu nationalist agenda in the Muslim-majority state
Secularists decry India ending Kashmir's special status

People protest after the Indian parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill to remove the special status of the Muslim-majority state on Aug. 5. (IANS photo)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India
August 7, 2019
The pro-Hindu government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken away the special status given to Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state, changing a 65-year-old constitutional provision in a surprise move.

Federal Home Minister Amit Shah read out the order of President Ram Nath Kovind in the upper house of parliament. It said the new presidential order supersedes a 1954 order and that all provisions of the Indian constitution would now apply to the state.

The 1954 order gave extra constitutional privileges to residents of Jammu and Kashmir and allowed them to live under different rules from people in other parts of India.

All Indian laws, except those pertaining to foreign affairs, defense and communications, were not applicable in the state unless they were ratified by the state legislature. It was also illegal for Indians living elsewhere to buy land in the state.

Soon after the presidential order was read out, Shah presented a bill proposing to divide the state into Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. It also proposed to keep the administration of both areas under the federal government.

While Ladakh has a Buddhist majority, Hindus dominate Jammu and Muslims are the majority in Kashmir. 

Both the presidential order and bill were voted on and passed in both houses of parliament. The upper house passed them on Aug. 5, with a section of the opposition supporting the move. The 545-seat lower house, where the Modi-led coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a majority, passed the changes with 370 votes late on Aug. 6. 

Hindu nationalist base

Critics say the BJP had always wanted to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir as one of its three goals if voted to power. The other two are a uniform civil code to replace religion-based personal laws and building a temple for Lord Ram at his birthplace in Ayodhya.

The latest move “suits the BJP’s grand Hindu nationalist base and now all Indians will have the right to own property in Kashmir,” said an opposition member on condition of anonymity.

Josy Joseph, a New Delhi-based political observer, said the move was not surprising as many expected it after Modi won a second term in May with a thumping majority.

“But what was surprising was the manner in which they did it. The legality of bringing in a presidential order in this fashion, when the state is ruled by the federal government,” could become questionable in court, Joseph said.

“Shocking also is the way they amended a vital part of the constitution without any moral inhibition” to suit a political agenda, Joseph added.

Joseph said India has lost the state of Jammu and Kashmir. “It was symbolic of India’s liberal, progressive and secular identity” as its majority Muslims struggled to be part of secular India.

Special privileges are given not just to Jammu and Kashmir but also to some other states in northeast India, respecting their sociocultural and ethnic variety and sensibilities, Joseph said.

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“The idea of India is the unity of such diversity achieved through respecting each other's sensibilities. Bulldozing them all to push through a single agenda is demolishing the spirit of India,” Joseph said.

P. Chidambaram, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said It was a “black day in the constitutional history of India. What the government has done is unprecedented.”

Communist leader K.K. Ragesh told ucanews.com that the government “has killed the state of Jammu and Kashmir.” He also referred to the military build-up, the house arrest of local leaders and imposing prohibitory orders in Jammu and Kashmir prior to the move.

“An extraordinary situation is prevailing in the state. Local political leaders are kept under house arrest. If they think they are doing what people wanted, why deploy 35,000 army personnel in the state?” Ragesh asked.

Jose K. Mani, a parliamentarian in the southern state of Kerala, said the government move was “fomenting anger … there are sighs and screams of dissent among its citizens.”

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