New Delhi:Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made his first public comments since his government’s risky power grab in Kashmir this week, and it’s clear he regrets nothing even though the move could potentially spark a war with Pakistan.
Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region in both India and Pakistan’s north, has been partitioned between the two countries since 1947. It’s been a major source of tension ever since, with both sides disputing one another’s control over the region; the two countries have already gone to war over it twice.
This week, BJP government led by Narendra Modi exacerbated the situation by revoking Article 370 of India’s Constitution, which had for decades afforded the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) India’s side of Kashmir substantial autonomy over its affairs.
Importantly, another article 35a also barred people outside the state from buying property there to prevent India’s majority-Hindu population from moving into Jammu and Kashmir and displacing the Muslims who live there. That, too, was revoked.
By revoking the articles, the Indian government in New Delhi will now have far more control over Jammu and Kashmir, and outsiders will be allowed to buy property there. That has sparked fears of “ethnic cleansing”: that Hindus will flock to the region to push out the Muslims once and for all.
Despite criticism from many around the world, most notably from Pakistani leaders who consider themselves protectors of Kashmir’s Muslim population and the true governors of India-administered Kashmir, Modi’s roughly 40-minute speech left no doubt he believes the article abrogations were a good move.
In a rare address to the nation on Thursday, Indian PM Narendara Modi defended the decision. “We have taken this decision as a family. A new era has begun,” he said. “Article 370 was a hurdle for development of Kashmir,” adding that it only “gave only separatism, nepotism, and corruption to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
That last line is particularly important, as it underscores the main argument Modi and his supporters make for why revoking the articles were necessary: that an autonomous Jammu and Kashmir has caused too much separation between its Muslim population and India’s Hindu-majority populations, left the area less economically developed, and led to violence. Indeed, an insurgency on India’s side of Kashmir has killed thousands of people over three decades, bloodshed that New Delhi claims Islamabad helps fuel.
Still, Modi tried to quell concerns that the central government will perpetually rule Jammu and Kashmir. “You will get the opportunity to elect your representatives soon,” he said to the area’s residents. “I want to tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir that your representatives will come from among you.”
It’s unlikely that Modi’s words will do much to calm the current tensions. Indian forces in Kashmir — sent there to curb any unrest — reportedly detained 500 people on Thursday in nighttime raids.
There are also some rumblings that protestors in Jammu and Kashmir have thrown rocks at Indian security forces, prompting them to fire back. It’s believed some demonstrators have been killed, although there’s no direct confirmation of that.
New Delhi had already closed schools, evacuated tourists, cut off internet and phone service, and put some of the area’s political leaders under house arrest. In effect, the area is on lockdown.
“We’ve been pushed back into medieval times,” Ali Saifhuddin, a resident of the Jammu and Kashmir region, told BBC News on Thursday. “It’s a barbaric act, an act of extreme control by a state over its subjects.”
And Pakistan has warned of the possibility of war. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday noted that India and Pakistan have fought wars over Kashmir before and could do so again: “Such incidents are bound to happen again. I can already predict this will happen.” If a fight broke out, it could potentially spiral into a full-blown nuclear war since both nations have the bomb, though that outcome is extremely unlikely.
Modi, though, is unlikely to back down in the face of danger. If anything, he has an incentive to lean in to the decision.