Sidharth Bhatia, of the website The Wire, disucsses the “new roadmap for India,” by which India practically annexed the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir. The policy is leading India ever more towards a state in which Muslims are to become second-class citizens
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
On Thursday, as many as 10 people were killed in a fire exchange between Indian and Pakistani troops along the border of Kashmir as tensions continue to rise between the two countries. The border incident comes after the Indian Parliament revoked Kashmir’s limited autonomy by amending India’s Constitution. The parliament also partitioned the region of Kashmir that it controls into a Buddhist majority region and a Muslim majority region. In the Pakistani city of Lahore, thousands gathered on Thursday to protest the Indian partition and de facto annexation of Kashmir. The Pakistani government declared a Black Day and protesters waved black flags. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, spoke at the rally.
SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, FOREIGN MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: My eyes, the eyes of the region, and the eyes of the world are on the UN Security Council meeting tomorrow. Pakistan has decided that it will fight on diplomatic, political and legal fronts, and we will support the Kashmiri people until our last breath. Pakistani people, are you ready to support the Kashmiri people?
GREG WILPERT: One of the protesters said the following.
PAKISTANI PROTESTER: On this occasion of the Black Day when India is celebrating its Independence Day and announcing that is the biggest democracy in the world, we want to show its unbecoming face, that it is the worse oppressor in democracy, that it has suspended the rights of minorities.
GREG WILPERT: The question of international borders, sovereignty, and respect for UN Security Council resolutions is just one issue of the story. Another very important issue is how the occupation affects the lives of the people of Kashmir living under what is effectively an Indian military occupation. Last weekend, for example, was the Eid Al-Adha, one of the most important holidays on the Muslim calendar. Most Kashmiris are Muslim, but the observation of Eid Al-Adha was suppressed by Indian authorities. Visitors to the area report a heavy sense of oppression and fear among the population.
Joining me now to discuss the latest developments in India and Kashmir is Sidharth Bhatia. He’s a journalist and Co-Founder and Editor of the independent news website The Wire. Thanks for joining us today, Sidharth.
SIDHARTH BHATIA: Thank you.
GREG WILPERT: On India’s Independence Day, which was on Thursday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, spoke about “a new roadmap for India” through the annexation of Kashmir. Now, Modi is often referred to in the media as a Hindu nationalist. However, India was founded as a secular state and clearly Modi is moving away from this. So what does the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and allowing Hindus now to settle in Kashmir mean for India as a secular society?
SIDHARTH BHATIA: The decision to revoke Article 370, which was a constitutionally mandated and guaranteed arrangement with the state of Jammu and Kashmir under which barring all activities which would be handled by the federal government— that is, currency, defense, foreign affairs, etc. Everything else, including law and order and land – control of land and resources, would be handled by the state government. Now, over the years it’s become a little frayed. But the benefits of that have been that there’s been a large scale of government funding and there is political expression. Now that’s gone. So when you split it, you will have – the government has done the following. It has gone back on its 70-year-old arrangement. It has taken away the fig leave of—And I say “fig leaf” because to the world, we could easily say that India as a diverse country in which a Muslim majority state exists and we have given them special dispensation of rights. So that’s gone.
The message has gone down to the rest of the country and to the other states that the government could theoretically bypass the constitutional process and exercise its might at the [inaudible 00:04:28]. And the minorities now, because you have 120 million are Muslims in the country, may – will start feeling in fact, insecure because they will feel that they are going to be – their rights are going to be tempered upon. Because one of the things is also that the central government at this moment is going into areas where there are a lot of Muslims and in a sense disenfranchising them by questioning their citizenship.
So all these taken together and the takeover of Kashmir by bypassing—”Takeover” being a strong word and do use the word “annexation.” That, too, being a strong word. But the revocation, which has been deemed by the international community as a takeover. All that is going to spread some insecurity, perhaps some strife, at least in Kashmir because you alienated 7 million people. And most importantly, shake up the very foundations of the secular republic because now the minorities are perhaps not going to be full participants in the citizenship process.
So yes, it’s going to have an impact on India’s secular tradition and India’s secularism, per se. And it’s going to have a very big impact on India’s federal structure. And of course, there will be social upheaval and turmoil because you will have states as well as minorities feeling insecure. So I think in a that sense, this is a very risky gamble. For whatever reason, the government has done it. We have, we are not, this is not a question to answer that. And it could be a rocky road from down – from here.
GREG WILPERT: Now, on Friday, the UN Security Council is holding a closed door session on the crisis in Kashmir. What can we expect from the, sorry, from the Security Council? And is there anything realistic that the Security Council could actually do for the people of Kashmir? What do you think?
SIDHARTH BHATIA: Obviously the Security Council now will, you know, get pulled in several directions. We know what China’s going to do. We are in India waiting to see what Russia and perhaps the United States are going to do. There’s a good chance, given that the international community’s condemnation has been somewhat lukewarm, and this was admitted by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. it is possible that—Firstly, it’s closed doors, so we won’t know what goes inside, but one can expect some fireworks. But it’s possible that India will posit that as some kind of indication of victory, should there not be any other state condemning it.
What can the UNSC do? In many situations, the UNSC has been extremely helpless. India is a signatory to everything, to multinational treaties, and respects the Security Council. While it has the potential to reject it, but it respects. So whether the Security Council gets it back together and exerts some kind of pressure—Because actually, this has gone against a UN resolution, several UN resolutions. So what was not de facto has now become de facto because the situation on the ground was not necessarily what the UN had mandated, but now it’s become de facto. I think we need to see how this meeting goes and what comes out of it. Obviously Pakistan is lobbying, and its best friend China is going to help it and support it.
GREG WILPERT: I want to turn to the issue of why Modi is doing this right now. That is, one school of thought believes that he is simply capitalizing on his success in the recent national elections and following a clear path of Hindu nationalism that he was already embarking upon from the start of his political career. Now, the other school of thought says that the Indian Parliament and government are being emboldened by a world order in which populist right-wing leaders test the limits of what they can do, and basically ignoring international law left and right, just as US President Trump has done on several occasions. Why do you think India made this unilateral move against Kashmir at this time?
SIDHARTH BHATIA: There’s a third school of thought that says that the Indian government decided to speed things up because President Trump made an off-the-cuff remark, more or less, where he said in the presence of Mr. Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, that he had received a request from Mr. Modi to mediate in India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which is completely contrary to India’s stand for the last 50-plus years. That’s supposed to have speeded up, but speeded up what? Revoking the Article 370 was very much in the manifesto of the BJP, which is where Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of, and so he’s done exactly that. That’s one. Two, he definitely has taken advantage of his overwhelming majority in parliament, but also the weakness off the opposition. There is no real opposition, and certainly not a united opposition, and many opposition parties voted with the government. So that is the second, and that definitely emboldened him. Regarding the—And you know, their political calculations are perfect and bang-on because a vast majority of Indians had supported this move. I think the process of doing it and the way it was done, I think those have been disregarded.
The third is that they do want to see how far they can go, and in fact, in pursuit of their own right-wing Hindu agenda. But when you see— and this has happened in many other countries— that there is absolutely no international condemnation, every step of the way you feel that much bolder. So it’s a combination of everything.
But I have argued that the ultimate goal is taking them toward further structural and legal changes, constitutional changes, which will create some kind of a Hindu country. It may be some time off, but you know, the building blocks have been put in place. So this is part of their building blocks because Kashmir was always seen as a symbol of Indian secularism. And now that is no longer the case because secularism is something this government does not – particularly not even pay lip service to. So they are not [inaudible] secularists. So it’s a combination of all that, but it’s in pursuit of a larger goal.
GREG WILPERT: Now, finally, how do you see the likelihood of a military conflict erupting between India and Pakistan? There’ve already been firefights last month, or actually two months ago. There was a shooting down of an Indian jet fighter over Pakistan. So the conflict is certainly heating up. And of course with the two countries having nuclear weapons, the situation is extremely dangerous. How likely do you see that an actual conflict or war will erupt between the two now?
SIDHARTH BHATIA: Greg, I’m not really privy to what the thinking on both sides is, but skirmishes and clashes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers on the borders are nothing new. I think it’s possible that they would escalate a bit and there would be a few more. I doubt whether the international community will want any kind of full-scale war. I personally think neither country has the real appetite to go for war right at this moment, and nor may they be—They may not be even interested at this moment. What happens in the future? I can’t say, but certainly Pakistan has seen this as a provocative act. And there are fears, real fears, that now all kinds of [inaudible] and other freedom fighters, so called, and terrorists and the militant from different parts will pour in. India’s always said that these terrorists are sponsored by the Pakistani state. They’re non-state actors, but they are sponsored by the state. But who’s to say how people from, let’s say, Afghanistan come in? Because the borders are quite open, in many ways.
One way or the other, it’s going to be trouble on the border, and even if—I will not say that there’s going to be a war right now, but there could be trouble at the border. But you’re also going to have a situation where 7 million people in Kashmir are alienated, so that could be fertile ground for recruitment. It’s going to lead to some kind of – a bit of upheaval or turmoil or uncertainty— or call it whatever, however low-key you want to play this— in the rest of India. Because people are pretty taken aback at this decision, and not necessarily only Muslims. I think I must make it clear that a lot of non-Muslims in India, civil society, ordinary Hindus, are quite shaken up by this.
GREG WILPERT: Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Sidharth Bhatia, a Co-Founder and Editor of the news website The Wire. Thanks again, Sidharth, for having joined us today.
SIDHARTH BHATIA: Thank you.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.