2 March, 2024


Looking At India’s Double Strike On The Big Day Of Rajapaksa Announcement

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Today is the day for the big Rajapaksa announcement. Let us wait to hear the full and formal announcement without rushing to rain on the long-awaited family parade. At least the Rajapaksas are ready to make a new announcement, even if it is going to be an old story. Unlike the UNP folks. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa have apparently announced to each other that each wants to be the Party’s presidential candidate. Their respective cheerleaders are left in a political pickle jar. The much-heralded Democratic National Front (DNF, an affront to honest politics) to harness the UNP elephant and minority mice is still unborn. Ranil’s alliance partners have told him to call them after his Working Committee picks the mahout for their next elephant ride. 

For Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, alliance politics is avant-garde politics, Sri Lanka style. And his too-clever-by-half constitution for the DNF has fared no better than the new constitution for the country that he handsomely disowned after getting others to produce with much effort. The Rajapksas carry their own alliance burdens, but made up of miniscule groups from the island’s majority. The Rajapaksas have deliberately cultivated mutual aversions with minority parties. What more can one intelligibly write on the gyrations of party politics and alliance machinations in presidential Sri Lanka?

One State cut into two Union Territories

So, this is as good a time as any to lift one’s gaze towards South Asia’s main elephant, Modi’s India. In two unrelated internal strikes last week, the Modi government and the Reserve Bank of India independently sent flutters across regional and global political and business circles. On Monday (August 5), the Modi government rescinded Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that had given the contested state of Jammu and Kashmir (asymmetric) autonomy on almost all matters except the subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communications. Along with the revocation of Article 370, Parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill to divide the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir which will have its own legislature, and Ladakh which will be under direct Union control. 

Even though much of this autonomy had become compromised over seven decades after independence, and even though the revocation of Article 370 has been a long standing BJP position and was included in its manifesto in this year’s general election, the actual revocation on Monday, after placing Jammu & Kashmir under an emergency clampdown, came as a shock both internally and to the world outside. At the same time, the revocation is also proving to be quite popular among many sections of the Indian society, even as it has drawn strong condemnation from the government’s usual critics. 

Economic Glooms

Two days later, India joined New Zealand and Thailand to cut interest rates amidst growing global concern that the next economic downturn is around the corner. With Trump not letting up on his trade spat with China and plunging bond yields, the trio of central banks in the Asia-Pacific region joining 20 others who have already cut rates this year is being seen as confirmation of warning signs that the global economy is poised for a slow down or contraction after the last recession in 2008. 

Within India, much of the curiosity was about the Bank reducing the rate by 35 basis points (to 5.4%) instead of a customary multiple of 25 basis points (bps – 100 bps being one percent rate). As the Reserve Bank Governor Shaktikanta Das explained, a 25bps cut would have been “inadequate”, while a 50 bps cut would have been “excessive.” The Bank has cut 75 bps previously this year, and reduced the growth forecast for 2020 from 7% to 6.9%. Mr. Das went onto say that any slowdown will be cyclical and structural. In the Bank’s assessment, the Indian economy will bounce back. 

Two weeks earlier, the IMF has lowered global growth forecasts citing trade and Brexit uncertainties as reasons. Global trade volumes experienced the worst six-month decline in April since the 2008 recession. According to Gita Gopinath, the IMF chief economist, “escalation of trade and technology tensions (that) can significantly disrupt global supply chains.” Slowdown in China, problems in the EU, a no-deal Brexit and geopolitical tensions are among the other risks worrying the IMF. The IMF is not expecting a recession, but is warning about “significant downside risks.” They are also among the main causes for the weakening investment climate in general. 

And paradoxically so in the US, where the job market is overperforming and stocks are roaring, but the bond market and investment climate are showing caution. The caution stems from falling factory activity, construction slowdown and drop in home sales. The inflation is below target. It is consumer spending that is driving the job market, and after resisting Trump’s presidential badgering for several months the Federal Reserve was forced to lower interest rates. Others, including India, have been forced to follow suit.

The IMF was categorical in assessing that the global “recovery relies on recoveries in stressed emerging and developing economies, and so there is significant uncertainty around that.” Additional risks, according to the IMF, include tensions in the Persian Gulf and civil strife elsewhere that will create humanitarian costs, cause transborder migration, and trigger volatility in commodity markets. Now the Indian government has added Kashmir to these risks. Ironically, in scrapping Kashmir’s special status, Modi and the BJP might be encouraged by India’s growing economic strength and Pakistan’s unaffordability to incur the cost of a military response to India’s constitutional provocation. 

Jammu & Kashmir

At the time of independence there were 565 princely states in British India. Given the freedom to join either India or Pakistan, or remain independent, 552 states joined India and 13 joined Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir was one of the 552 sates, but its “accession” to join India came about in controversial circumstances. It was a princely state with a Muslim majority population under a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. Given its border location, the Muslim majority in the north (Kashmir) and Hindu concentration in the south (Jammu), there was support for all three options – to join either India or Pakistan, or remain independent. In October 1947, the ruler came under attack by Muslim citizens of the State and Pushtoon tribesmen from Pakistan, and supported by Pakistan. Hari Singh sought India’s help and signed the “Instrument of Accession” in return for military support. The accession was negotiated by Lord Mountbatten, and it included the proviso that after normalcy was restored, the people of the State, and not the Maharaja, would decide their future – where they wanted to live. 

Following the “Accession”, war broke out between India and Pakistan and by the time ceasefire came after more than a year of skirmishing, the dispute was taken to the UN by India, and the State was divided into two with a Line of Control separating them. The northern and western districts of the former State are now, respectively, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan administered by Pakistan. The (now former) Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir includes the Kashmir Valley to the north, the Jammu Division to the south, and Ladakh to the west. To the east of Ladakh is the Aksai Chin region that China annexed in 1962. 

The UN resolution of August 1948 included a commitment by Pakistan to withdraw its troops and India’s commitment to hold a plebiscite among the people of Kashmir once law and order was restored. Neither Pakistan nor India have honoured their commitments. Both sides make claims and counterclaims in defence of their positions. India usually argues that the original intention to hold a plebiscite has been more than satisfied by the autonomous status given to the State, the periodical elections to the State Assembly, and the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan which provides for bilateral resolution of disputes between the two countries.  

The now rescinded Article 370 of the Indian Constitution reflected the Instrument of Accession and was intended as a temporary provision until the State of J&K formulated its own constitution. That never happened and after the State’s Constituent Assembly dissolved itself in January 1957, Article 370 became a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution and has been confirmed so by the rulings of the Indian Supreme Court and the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir. Under Article 370, J&K has been able to somewhat modify the applicability of the division of legislative powers under the ‘Union List’, State List’ and Concurrent List’ as provided in the constitution and applied to other states. One aspect of this autonomy has been the restriction of individuals and businesses from outside the state to buy property or start businesses in the State. 

The BJP government’s claim is that with the revocation of Article 370, J&K is open for business and the people of the State can join the rest of India’s march to economic prosperity under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. The fear, however, is that the BJP will use the new opportunity to alter the ethnic composition of Jammu & Kashmir. The population of the now bifurcated state is around 14 million, Kashmir – 7 million, Jammu – 6 million and Ladakh, the largest of the three divisions has under half a million population. Statewide, Muslims constitute 68% of the population and Hindus 28% of the population. The population is multilingual with Urdu (written in the Persian Script) being the state’s official language. The political narrative in India is that the Muslim population in J&K has been disproportionately increasing due to high birth rates and influx from Pakistan. There will now be internal pressure on the Indian government, if any pressure is needed, to restore the population balance.  

Three days after revoking Article 370, Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation for 37 minutes, even though the people in Jammu and Kashmir would not have been able to listen to the address given the news blackout in the State. The speech has been welcomed as a reassuring sequel to the underhanded manner in which government revoked Article 370. Mr. Modi promised to restore statehood to J&K, including elections and economic growth. But he reiterated his government’s stock argument that Articles 370 and 35A had given only “separatism, nepotism and corruption to the people of J&K.”  This is a rather simplistic assessment of the origins and growth of the Kashmiri insurgency since the disputed state election in 1987. The revocation of these articles is not going to address the root causes of the Kashmiri problem. Perhaps that is not the real intention behind the revocation. The government’s intention might be to rewrite India’s federalism in the Hindutva script, on the one hand, and assert India’s dominance in the region, on the other. 

Many commentators have read into the role that President Trump’s statement that he had been asked by India to intercede in the Kashmiri matter, may or not have played in the BJP government’s seemingly abrupt move to revoke Article 370. Others have noted the possibility of India acting pre-emptively in light of the situational changes in Afghanistan and the possibility of a new rapport between Pakistan and the US. Or, some exuberant patriot in the government might have imagined that India should emulate in the Kashmir valley, Israel’s Jewish settlement examples, or China’s handling of its Muslim question. But such imaginations are fraught with danger and fly in the face of the subcontinent’s checkered history of Hindu-Muslim co-existence. 

The Indian Constitution, including Article 370, provided a worthy framework for the peaceful coexistence of the country’s multilingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic peoples. The pendulum of Indian federalism has swung between central dominance and state autonomy. 1989 was the dividing line when the pendulum started to move away from central dominance to state autonomy. Now the Modi government is trying to pull back the pendulum. But there is a vital difference between the pre-1989 era and the unfolding Modi era. Centralization in the earlier phase was tempered by Nehruvian secularism. In the current phase, secularism has become the government’s main enemy. And the Modi government can claim a national mandate to justify its regressive march.     

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Latest comments

  • 5

    So what’s the connection?

    Gota is the next president of SL. Moda or Modi will have to work with him.

    • 9

      Is it Modi to work with Gota or Gota to work with Modi. If Gota is so powerful why did he ask Modi for an appointment, instead of Modi asking Gota for an appointment. Gota has told TNA that he will not implement 13th amendment in full. while Modi when he visited Sri Lanka recently told to implement 13th amendment in full and go beyond. Will it be Modi who will have to retract or Gota to eat his own words. Look at what is going to happen in Kashmir, similar to war without witnesses in 2009 in Sri Lanka. When Pakistan foreign minister met Chinese officials, he was told to settle the problem with India by talks. This shows that China is not keen in giving Military support to Pakistan against India specially after the recent drubbing they got at the hands of India in eastern front. India was pussy footing under congress regime, and did not want to derail the current Sri Lanka regime, but do not expect that in the future with a stern BJP government and a hostile Sri Lanka government. Current Islamic terror in Sri Lanka is a good excuse for India to intervene, as it has come to light that terror groups have been funded and supported by government since 2009. India has the support of USA and Israel and will be allowed by them to take control.

  • 3

    Dr Ranil ,I heard saying Modi has created a Buddhist State in Jammu Kashmir….
    If it is true How cool is that ?..
    Or is it one of his big porkies to dupe the Sinhala Buddhists like his BS promises to our great majority who are Dalits.

    Wonder how our Chinese Bros feel about this?.
    Will they make the Hidutvas Chinese , when they annex Ladakh..

    Even King Asoka couldn’t give a Buddhist State in Hindia.
    He had to send an Emissary to create one in the neighboring Srilanaka.
    Which Dr Ranil and his Cohorts have been trying to destroy for four and a a half years now.

    But the Hindians sent invaders and terrorists to our motherland for nearly 2000 years. up to 2000s.AD.

    Wonder whether Hindian Modi learned to be too clever by half from Dr Ranil?..
    BTW Is it Dr Rajitha the next Candidate whom Dr Ranil has picked this time to face Nandasena?…

  • 3

    The nomination of Gota as a Presidential candidate[ whether he is of Presidential material is another issue]
    will be of inconsequence to India.India has indicated this by ignoring the request of Gota to meet Modi.
    By now with the impending chaos in Srilanka, in the next few months, would we witness another Jammu and Kashmir?
    Even before he is elected, Gota a mere foot soldier, has promised to safeguard the sovereign state of Srilanka!!!

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 5

    What Modi did is correct. Nehru wanted to do this but did not have the courage. Modi had the courage to do what should have been done in the 1950s. The so called Jammu Kashmir state had three separate regions. The Kashmir valley where ethnic Kashmiris mostly Muslim , however 10% of Kashmiris are Hindus , they are the Brahmin Kashmiri Pandits, Nehru and Indira Gandhi belonged to this community. These people are the original people of Kashmir and were chased out or ethnically cleansed out of Kashmir in the 1980s and their lands forcibly taken over by the Muslim Kashmiris. Just like what is happening in the eastern province to the indigenous Hindu Tamils at the hands of Muslims and Sinhalese. Kashmir was originally Hindu Saivaite and there are still many important Saivite shrines there. The very north and south of India has been Saivite , whilst the land in between became Vaishnavite. Most of the population in Kashmir were forcibly converted to Islam , when Muslims conquered this region around 500 years ago. Now coming back to Jammu Kashmir. Kashmir valley is predominantly Kashmiri Muslim. The Jammu region is predominantly Doghri Hindu. Hindus are around 68% of this regions . The Doghri are Hindu people , very closely related to Punjabi. The Doghri speak Doghri and the Kashmiri speak Kashmiri. The Third region is Ladakh which is predominantly ethnic Tibetan and Buddhist . These three diverse regions were ruled by a Hindu Maharaja after the Sikhs conquered this region from the Muslims. However these three regions had very little in common with each other. The Doghri Hindus of Jammu and the ethnic Tibetan Buddhist of Ladak , never wanted their lands to be part of Muslim Kashmir and be dominated and ruled by them.

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