Kashmir: Revoking Article 370 Is Undemocratic And Dangerous

Indian Prime Minister Modi's decision is both unsurprising, and a shock.

Anti-Modi protesters in Peshawar, Pakistan
Anti-Modi protesters in Peshawar, Pakistan
Manoj Joshi


NEW DELHI — It is possible to suppress popular opinion for a while, but whether it will bring long-term peace to the state is a matter of speculation.

The proposal to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution and demote Jammu and Kashmir's status from a state to a Union Territory is nothing short of a Constitutional coup. It is a surprise and it is not. This contradictory observation can be explained this way: the ruling BJP party and its allied predecessors have never concealed the fact that they consider the need to abrogate the article as a foundational philosophy of their party. So it is not a surprise.

But considering that it is a drastic and dramatic step that can have consequences both internal and external for India, it is indeed a major surprise. Presumably and hopefully, the government has thought through the consequences of this action.

In itself, this is a deeply undemocratic action in that it has been done without the consent of the governed. It is possible to suppress popular opinion for a while using the police and the army, but whether it will bring long-term peace to the state is a matter of speculation. It is disturbing because the argument used by the government to suppress Kashmiri opinion can be used for any other part of the country.

Kashmiri autonomy had become a myth.

By itself the proposal will not mean much. Over the decades, Kashmiri autonomy promised under Article 370 had become a myth. It had been eroded under the government of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and Syed Mir Qasim and did not even manage to recover after the Beg-Parthasarthy agreement of 1975 restored Sheikh Abdullah to the mainstream. Indeed, between 1954 and 1995, the Union government had passed nearly 200 constitutional orders to take away the exclusive powers of the state under its own constitution.

Article 370 was, however hollow, a symbol of Kashmir's uniqueness to the Indian scheme of things. It may have been neutered, but it still remained a significant symbol of Kashmiri identity. Now Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have struck it down and it may have immediate psychological consequences and even a prolonged period of political unrest.

The demotion of the status of the state is an egregious insult. Far from upholding the state as a unique one in the Indian system, one that was once run by its own prime minister, it has been reduced to the status of a half-state, run by a Lt Governor. Here again, there is the de facto reality that J&K has been more or less run by the Union government since the 1990s, but there was an important veneer of local political activity under parties like the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party that made for stability.

By its actions, the government is force-feeding what it believes is bitter medicine to the Kashmiris, and the chances are that its impact will last generations. On the other hand, it could be the beginning of a new process that will tell Kashmiris, "Guys, grow up, the world of UN resolutions and Pakistan is long past. Kashmir has been and will remain a part of India and it would be a good idea if you get used to it."

The legal issues surrounding Kashmir's accession to India are in themselves quite intricate. The constitutionality of the move itself is suspect, since Article 370 can be abrogated by the president, but under clause 3, he can only do so following the recommendation of the state's constituent assembly, which was itself dissolved in 1956. So some mechanism is needed through which this clause can be satisfied. No doubt, the matter will figure in petitions to the Supreme Court soon.

No country in the world recognizes Kashmir to be a part of India.

Internationally, too, there is an issue. No country in the world recognizes Kashmir to be a part of India. They all view it as a disputed area whose final status needs to be worked out through negotiations between India and Pakistan. More important, the UN resolutions of April 1948 underline this point since they argue that the final status of the state needs to be determined by its people. No one has bought India's view that the participation of the people of the state in successive elections constitutes an expression of that view.

At the same time, international law means little to powerful states. In the words of Thucydides, "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." Countries like the US can trash international agreements like the JCPOA with Iran; Russia can occupy Crimea; China can scoff at the UNCLOS and claim a maritime jurisdiction by force or place millions in "re-education" camps; Israel can militarily occupy another nation. So, India can insist on having its way in J&K and the international community will not get their knickers in a twist. But, let's be clear, they will not endorse India's undisputed title over the state, at least as of the near term.

There is no doubt that the decision will generate wholesale alienation in the Valley and will almost certainly give a fillip to separatism in the short term. The most dangerous aspect of this could be the reaction of the J&K police forces, who play a crucial role in countering militancy today. If the sense of alienation extends across sections of society, we could see counter-militant activity become more difficult.

Is this an opportunistic move or a planned one? At one level, it is the fulfilment of the BJP's long-standing demand for abrogating Article 370. At another, it takes advantage of the times where the global American hegemon is itself shaking the international system and is unlikely to get involved in the region it is trying to leave. Further, the change in the U.S. position on Jerusalem and the recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights could well have been examples that inspired the government.

There should be no doubt that the move will be hailed across India.

Like many dramatic political moves, it is a leap in the dark, and probably its authors are aware of this. But in the scale of politics they are playing, their approach has been "nothing ventured nothing gained." In that scale, their ambition is to go back in time and reverse engineer India's political and cultural trajectory. So yes, they have been responsible for disasters like demonetization, but maybe they have taken a deliberate decision to gamble with the state with the belief that move will be hailed by the constituency that really matters to them – the majority Hindus.

The fact that the move has been welcomed by a clutch of parties ranging from the Biju Janata Dal to the YSR Congress party, and even the Aam Aadmi Party, is an indicator of the political dividend that the BJP can reap from the action. There should be no doubt that the move will be hailed across India, since a certain amount of Kashmir fatigue already afflicts the country and the attitude is that "Things have not worked for 70 years, maybe it's time for some drastic measures'.

But it will be some time before people realize that such "killer moves' like bank nationalisation or demonetisation, usually come with a price that is not apparent at the outset. More than that, when people are involved, change through popular consent is usually a better way out than the secretive process we have just witnessed.

Manoj Joshi is a distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!