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A Divisive Kashmir On Unity

By Emma Chiu

Source: Team MyNation

Kashmir has remained a disputed region ever since the end of British rule in 1947 when India and Pakistan went to war for control over Kashmir. As a result of the war, an agreement for the ceasefire line was established, and each side came to control different parts of the territory. There has been frequent unrest in the Indian-administered side due to a prolonged separatist insurgency against Indian rule. Questions of nationalism were brushed to the side due to Kashmir’s complex relationship with India; the Indian government made concessions in order to keep Kashmir at bay. The establishment of Article 35A of the Indian Constitution allowed Kashmir a degree of autonomy — its own constitution, a separate flag, and freedom to make laws — while leaving defense, foreign affairs, and communications to the Indian government.

Nevertheless, the question of nationalism and unity bubbled up to the surface once again, in August 2019, when Article 35A was revoked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. This move was said to be necessary to reintegrate Kashmir with the rest of India, which was widely supported due to public hostility towards Kashmiri politicians, secessionist tendencies, street protests, and Kashmiri ‘victimhood’. However, despite the government’s statement that revoking Article 35A is aimed at the development of Kashmir, this move antagonized many Kashmiris who believe the ruling party wants to change the demographic character of the Muslim-majority region.

In this effort to move India forward as a unified entity, Modi’s introduction of new reforms indicates a drastic change in governmental policies — directly removing Kashmir’s previously agreed upon right to self-governance. Partly due to the conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir, removing Kashmir’s autonomy further destabilizes the already sensitive relationship between the rest of India and Kashmir. Additionally, revoking Article 35A also ignores the 1972 Simla Agreement, which stipulates ‘Kashmir’s final status must be resolved by peaceful means, not unilateral diktat’.

The negative response by the Kashmiris seems to indicate that the pluralist and secular society envisaged by the founding fathers of India is not realized in the current execution of political affairs, from the Muslim minority’s point of view. This antagonism is also further exacerbated by newspapers and other media outlets, which have disseminated images of Kashmiri insurgency and anti-Indian sloganeering, which has pitted the mainstream Indian audience against the Kashmiri minorities.

Thus, despite the Indian government’s goal of moving the country forward with a unifying approach, the attempt to impose unity might actually alienate the population that the government is trying to re-incorporate into a wider notion of Indian nationalism. With sensitive issues that concern people’s religious, ethnic, and cultural identities, it is essential for the ruling party to tread with caution. Previously established political boundaries were not created arbitrarily — instead, they were put in place because of a wide variety of complex issues at stake.

Therefore, even though acting as a nonsectarian pluralist government has many difficulties, an attempt at maintaining this status is often what civilians expect. Stepping back from this ideal could possibly result in a more effective ruling. However, it can often lead to a backlash, which is not preferable to any democratic government that relies on the support of public opinion. Kashmir is a prime example of insurgency, due to the political tensions surrounding it from its conception — the government must not treat the region as a light matter.

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