Why Did Narendra Modi Crack Down in Kashmir?

Scrapping the province's autonomy is a ploy to distract from India's cratering economy.


India has been described as an enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery. But last Thursday, on the 73rd anniversary of its independence from British rule, it also became a monumental irony: Even as Indians celebrated the overthrow of colonial rule, the Indian army had turned the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir into an open-air prison, where seven million residents were being held under curfew and banned from calling, tweeting, publishing—much less protesting. Their state legislature had been disbanded, their leaders were under house arrest, and the constitutional provisions granting them a measure of autonomy from New Delhi had been suspended.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who engineered all this without any forewarning 10 days ago, is claiming that "fully integrating" (read: forcibly annexing) this ravaged state into broader India will turn it into a mecca of prosperity whose herbal products will find global markets and where tourists will once again roam. But there is every reason to suspect that Modi's Kashmir stunt is meant to distract from the fact that instead of delivering growth and "acche din"—good times—to India as he had promised six years ago, he is presiding over a cratering economy.

Modi likes to surprise. But unlike his last big surprise, when he scrapped 80 percent of the national currency one evening three years ago as part of his so-called demonetization effort, his Kashmir move is wildly popular.

His Hindu nationalist supporters are cheering it because they have long dreamed of extending their religious dominion over this predominantly Muslim area. The Indian Parliament rubber-stamped Modi's request to scrap Article 370, which had handed Kashmir special status to have its own constitution and flag, and Article 35A, which restricted the rights of noncitizens to own land (a problematic constitutional arrangement, but one that India offers to a half-dozen other states). Within hours, these nationalists started jubilantly floating maps of India draped in their trademark saffron turban audaciously perched on Kashmir. They didn't even bother masking their true intention by using the tri-color Indian flag.

But even Indians who aren't militant Hindus are foursquare behind Modi. Many see Kashmir with its snow-peaked mountains and lush valleys as India's crown jewel. And some blame its "special status" for allowing Pakistan to make inroads into it.

Pakistan has always resented that even though Kashmir has a large Muslim population, the British did not hand it this coveted bit of land when they left in 1947. Rather, they let the Hindu prince who ruled Kashmir at the time make an alliance with India. Since then, Pakistan has waged four wars, dispatched foreign jihadis, and funded a separatist insurgency in the Kashmiri valley to undermine India's control.

Modi claims that dismissing Kashmir's corrupt state government and replacing it with a strong central hand will make it easier to keep Pakistan at bay, root out insurgency, and restore law and order in the state. At the same time, ending restrictions on Indians who wish to settle or buy property will reopen Kashmir for business and investment.

It's a nice vision—except that local Muslims aren't buying it, which is why Modi had to mobilize 35,000 additional soldiers to put them in lockdown ahead of his announcement lest they protest and riot.

Why are Kashmiris so skeptical? For starters, as far as they are concerned, opening up the state won't bring development as much as an influx of Hindus, diluting their presence at a time when Hindu militancy is on the rise, which could worsen the security situation in the state.

Moreover, it's not like central rule has never been tried in Kashmir. It has. Many times. Indeed, the Kashmiri insurgency originally broke out in the late 1980s precisely because the ruling Congress Party dismissed a popularly elected state government and installed a stooge.

Modi wants everyone to believe the Congress Party failed in Kashmir because it was corrupt and didn't care about the country's greater good whereas he is squeaky-clean and driven by national interest. But what he lacks in corruption he makes up in ideological aggression. He doesn't care about local Kashmiris, which is why there is reason to fear that his rule of brute force will escalate.

Indeed, why did Modi pick this moment to do something so radical? Violence in Kashmir had been trending downwards for the last year, after all. The main reason, besides President Donald Trump's alarming offer to mediate a settlement, is that he wanted a distraction from India's mounting economic woes.

India's GDP growth dropped from over 8 percent to 5.8 percent over the last year, and it is widely expected to dip further. Just as ominous has been the crash in consumer demand. India's usual problem has been an insufficient supply to meet its voracious appetite for vehicles, cell phones, and other similar goods. But sales figures for all consumer goods have posted a precipitous decline, slamming businesses that are dramatically scaling back investments.

All of this is, to a large extent, the result of Modi's demonetization blunder, which wiped out India's farmers and the self-employed. Meanwhile, India's exports have plummeted. This is partly due to the global trade war between the U.S. and China. But the far bigger reason, notes Swaminathan Aiyar in The Economic Times, is that Indian exports have failed to maintain their international competitiveness due to high labor and land acquisition costs and a 42 percent effective corporate tax rate.

Reversing all this would mean painstaking and painful economic reforms that would require Modi to stand up to a lot of powerful constituencies, including his own party. It is far more politically expedient to take over Kashmir.

But if Modi can't deliver "acche din" to greater India after six years of rule, there is little reason to believe he can do so in a troubled and traumatized region like Kashmir. Modi's happy spin notwithstanding, the fact is that authoritarian leaders are better at flexing their muscles and taking land than getting their hands dirty building economies.

Independence is just another word for them.

A version of this column originally appeared in The Week.


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  1. It’s India so who cares?

    1. Well, maybe because despotic, authoritarian assholes world-wide admire each other, and crib notes from one another? Maybe because we should be on our guard against Der TrumpfenFurher… Or in the future, Comrade Bernie… When they try similar stunts to trick us?

      1. I suppose since nothing like this has ever happened before now would be a good time to make people aware of it.

      2. You mean, like…unilaterally imposing Federal control over California?

  2. Modi is Trump’s fuck-buddy!

    “Scrapping the province’s autonomy is a ploy to distract from India’s cratering economy.”

    Scrapping my economic autonomy (my freedom to hire illegal sub-humans, or to buy from Chinese or other un-American producers on an equal economic basis with American producers) is a ploy to distract from my decaying freedoms, economic and otherwise.

    Trump hasn’t budged ONE inch to get me freedom of cheap plastic flute-blowing!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

    1. Yawn.
      You may actually be the worst commenter on Reason, and there are many, many contenders vying for the title.

    2. Dude, the “scrapping of autonomy” was primarily about scrapping legislation that prevented investment in Kashmir by non-Kashmiris — i.e. scrapping a legislation that was antithetical to free trade.

      People like you and Shikha couldn’t get more idiotic.

      1. Read the fine print…


        How the Indian Government Changed the Legal Status of Jammu and Kashmir

        Originally, Jammu and Kashmir agreed to become (part of it at least) part of India, with it being written and understood that Kashmir would have a semi-autonomous nature, and it would NOT be taken away, w/o consultation with Kashmiri politicians! It ain’t happened… Modi shit all over constitutional law. You OK with that? I know, it happens in the USA all the time… Ya want MORE of that? If the Constitution is obsolete, change it honestly!

    3. “Modi is Trump’s fuck-buddy!”

      Your homophobia is showing.
      The Left Always Projects.

  3. ..mecca of prosperity whose herbal products will find global markets and where tourists will once again roam.
    So, it’s about dope, right?

    1. Mmm Kashmiri charas. The best.

  4. You know, there might be other simpler causes for what we see in Kashmir. I note the author glossed over some important context: China lays claim to swaths of Kashmir, and has been moving in troops now for some time. There have already been clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

    It just could be something much simpler than the convoluted explanation put forth in this tortured article: Countries are loathe to give up their territory without a fight.

    1. Often, nothing in life is black and white. It could be both what you said and the above, and maybe a few other considerations as well. China’s claims probably have about as much basis in reality as their claims about self-made islands, but I really hope the Indian military tries to start something with them, for their sake.

  5. *DOESN’T

    I really hope the Indian military DOESN’T try to start something with them, ffs can we get an edit button?

    1. Or at least a delete.

  6. It’s interesting to read about events in India. However, given the author’s total lack of credibility when talking about events in the US (I’m still not convinced that Reason isn’t run by anti-immigrant people who hired her to make the pro-immigration side look bad), I’m naturally inclined to take everything she writes about India with a very large grain of salt.

    1. Yeah, Shikha’s article is rubbish as usual — the “crackdown” was primarily about scrapping a piece of legislation that made it impossible for non-Kashmiris to invest or buy land in Kashmir.

      1. That sounds both racist *and* anti free trade!

        Shouldn’t Shikha be rejoicing?

  7. Just here to find out the Trump angle.

  8. “…opening up the state won’t bring development as much as an influx of Hindus, diluting their presence….”

    Those racist Kashmiris. Don’t they know open borders and free immigration are the key to prosperity?

    And “diluting their presence” sounds rather…nationalist…to me.

    1. I suppose she was so fixed on Modi that she did not realize the implications of what she was writing there.

    2. This is hilarious.

      Naturally I didn’t read the article, but Shikha has topped herself here.

      She obviously doesn’t have an ounce of self awareness.

      “Kashmir for the Kashmiris!”

      It’s really too much from the lead Open Borders shill at Reason. As usual, I guess “It’s only bad when Whitey does it”.


  9. All these comments and not a single Led Zeppelin reference?

    1. “Indian exports have failed to maintain their international competitiveness due to high labor and land acquisition costs and a 42 percent effective corporate tax rate.”

      So…we should GIVE corporations sweetheart deals on land acquisition, cut their taxes and import cheaper labor?? Damn, can’t wait for those stupid “anti-globalists” idiot to claim this indicates some kind of conspiracy or something.

    2. My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
      Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir

      Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails, across the sea of years
      With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear…

      Well shit, it sure looks like “the straits of fear” are winning in Kashmir… I don’t think I want to “return again” there, assuming I might have been there in another lifetime… I sure haven’t been there in this one, and I have no desire to go, India has turned it into a shithole… “Let my people go”!!!!

    3. All I see turns to brown
      As the sun burns the ground9s I scan this razed land

  10. It’s okay when Muslims do it*. (Which is every fucking time they are inconvenienced by non-Muslims insisting on being alive in “their” countries.)

    But for some opaque and incomprehensible reason, all the smarties and Top Men only complain about it* when someone OTHER THAN Muslims does it*. Whenever Muslims get treated the same way they treat others in all Islamic countries, there’s an immediate REEEEEing about Islamophobia. It’s the same with people whining about the Crusades when Muslims, at that time, had just spent the last 300 years attacking Europe.

    The double standard is mind-boggling and the intellectual justification seems to be no deeper than “Well, Muslims gonna Muslim derpdedurr.”.

    *-and by “it” I mean efforts to create ethnic, racial or religious mono-states, as Muslims do in EVERY Majority Islamic state on the globe. And the only way any country ever avoids serious problems with an Islamic minority is brutal oppression and the threat of even more brutal oppression. I agree this is bad, but as with much current year insanity, I get no explanation as to why principles against such behavior are not applied across the board.

    1. Entirely TOOOOO much of what you say is true!!!

      I haz a sad!!!!

  11. “Why Did Narendra Modi Crack Down in Kashmir?”

    To get to the other side of the road.

  12. No one in the US not from India really cares. And this illustrates one problem with immigrants – they bring their foreign entanglements with them.

    1. I wouldn’t say I care, but I would say I’m curious even if wholly uninformed. The problem is that Shikha has proven herself too dishonest on matters with which I’m familiar to believe her assertions. Even being very uninformed about the subject of this article the headline still sounded like ridiculous hyperbole to the point of being an utter fabrication.

  13. “which had handed Kashmir special status to have its own constitution and flag,”

    On what grounds do the Kasmiri people merit “special status” that’s consistent with the Open Borders mantra of Reason?

    Their own constitution? Why shouldn’t they be lumped into a polity, against their will, with people with differing political values?

    They sound kind of racist to me!

    1. “…the Indian army had turned the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir into an open-air prison, where seven million residents were being held under curfew and banned from calling, tweeting, publishing—much less protesting.”

      If this is where you advocate that Der TrumpfenFuhrer should take us to, to “protect our borders”, then I want none of it! Is this kind of thing REALLY what you want here in the USA?

  14. This pretty much toed the Pakistani line. I wish India was better at simply just stating facts.

    First, Kashmir is a very mixed state where an artifical Muslim majority has been maintained. The apartheid-approved “state subject” population is 12 million, of which 65% is Muslim and 35% Hindu and Sikh. But of actual state residents, this does not include the 0.7 million Hindu-Sikh West Punjabi refugees or the 0.3 million Valmikis both resident for about 70 years. Or the 1.5 million labour and workers from other states or the 0.5 million security people plus families. All told around 3 million non-state subject residents. There are total 7.8 million Muslims and 7.2 million Hindus and Sikhs. It’s near 50-50, but the Hindus and Sikhs are disenfranchised. These are now going to have the vote.

    Second, the reason “why now” is extremely simple. It has everything to do with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Rather, what the Pakistani press universally calls the American surrender. What will happen now is that the Taliban will take over. This is going to become the same launchpad for terror attacks on the West and India that it was before. In the 1990s, these Jihadis invaded India. Remember how Tsarar–e- Sharief was burnt down by them. The first thing they did was murder and chase Hindus out from the valley. Then they began to ghettoise it and turn it into an Islamist stronghold. Sufiism died then.

    Third, India will NEVER be vindictive with Kashmiri Muslims. Hindus generally cannot be anyway. They are virtually all related to Hindus – Lone/Lavanyas, Wani/Baniyas, Dar/Dhars, Gurus, Pandits, Saproos. They are literally India’s own blood and flesh. Ironically, the writer of this piece is a Dalmia and she is also of the Baniya caste, just like the terrorist Burhan Wani and Mahatma Gandhi were. So, how does she become a writer and Gandhi become a pacifist instead of a suicide bomber? Jihadist brainwashing. Which she is essentially supporting. I hope it is from ignorance.

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