Draconian measures by the Modi government regarding Kashmir have sent shockwaves across the whole region. On 5 August, the 70-year status of the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked by a presidential order. The existing constitutional arrangement was also revoked suddenly without any democratic process.
The constitutional arrangement, referred to as Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, was abrogated by the presidential decree without any discussion in the Indian parliament. Additionally, a new bill was presented and passed in just one day from the parliament regarding the bifurcation of the state, dividing it into two parts: Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh. According to the new arrangement these two areas are not given the status of a separate state in India but have been relegated to union territories, which means they are under the direct control of the central government in New Delhi.
Modi’s imperialist measures have not only trampled upon the very basic rights of 13 million people living in this state, but have also exposed the real character of much-touted Indian democracy and the Indian constitution, sending shockwaves through all the oppressed people living in India. Along with that, it has also jeopardised the stability of the whole region and has paved the way not only for another imperialist war with Pakistan over Kashmir, but also more repression and bloodbaths affecting the oppressed nationalities across the whole region by the ruling classes of India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries. This will surely give rise to huge mass movements of the oppressed nationalities, especially those of Kashmiris, across the divide and will win them huge solidarity from the working class of both India and Pakistan. A fitting response from the working class of India and Pakistan, leading to a general strike, could eventually lead to the overthrow of, not only the Modi regime in India and the repressive regime of Imran Khan in Pakistan, but will also challenge the draconian state apparatuses oppressing hundreds of millions across the whole of South Asia.
The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was already the most heavily militarised area on earth, with the presence of half-a-million armed personnel. But just to enforce these draconian measures, new deployments of security forces in big numbers were carried out in the days prior to this action and the whole state was in a complete lockdown. All the tourists, Hindu pilgrims and workers from outside the state were forced to leave abruptly at very short notice. Later, a strict curfew was imposed across the state: all the telephone lines, including landlines were cut off, the internet was blocked, more than 300 political leaders were arrested and all kind of movement was banned. These measures are still continuing, a week later, and the whole population is facing a severe shortage of items of basic necessity. Patients are suffering while the food is becoming scarce for a majority. These measures have also continued through the Eid holidays, leaving thousands of Kashmiri students and workers outside the state unable to come home or contact their families.
According to some reports, protests and demonstrations have already started despite the heavy lockdown and people are coming out on the streets against these draconian measures, facing tear gas, pellet guns and bullets by the security forces. The mass movement for freedom that erupted three years ago is still continuing with full vigour and the Indian state was unable to crush it despite using all kinds of heavy repression, killings and political manoeuvres. But this new measure will not only draw even wider layers of society into this movement but will also radicalise the existing movement to new heights. The movement before was generally restricted to the Valley and couldn’t spread to the Hindu majority areas of Jammu, nor the Buddhist-majority areas of Ladakh. But protests have already sparked off in Ladakh, where people are questioning these repressive measures, despite the heavy lockdown. In Jammu as well, the sentiment is against the decision, which has taken away the basic rights of the people living there. Even the supporters of Modi’s BJP in Jammu are in a state of complete shock.
Outside the state, Kashmiris are getting huge support from left-wing parties and students across India. There have been numerous protests against Modi’s decision across India. The Communist parties have strongly condemned this measure and held protests in many cities. There have been huge protests by students across the country in many universities, strongly opposing this measure, especially in Indian Punjab. Congress has also condemned this step, but very timidly. All the seculars and liberals opposing Modi have also come out in strong condemnation, though their basic argument is based on the humiliation of the constitution, and they are worried about the future of the Indian state, the foundations of which are shaken by this step. Mostly, they are concerned about the plight of other oppressed nationalities and states where separatist movements are going on, mainly in the eastern part of the country. In their view, Modi will crush these movements in the coming period and enforce a reactionary agenda of Hindutva, promoted by the fascist cadre organisation RSS, behind the BJP. The liberals want Modi to uphold the spirit of the secular constitution of India and respect the laws and regulations enshrined in the constitution and protected by the Indian judiciary. The position of the communist parties is no different and they are also trying to defend the secular traditions of India and save the constitution from being scrapped completely.
Modi in his speech after this decision has replied to the liberals in kind. In his speech, he attacked the inability of the liberals and past governments in developing Kashmir, thus keeping it backward. In a sheer display of mockery and deceit, Modi presented himself as the saviour of women’s rights, labour rights, the rights of minorities and other democratic rights in Jammu and Kashmir, and announced an era of development and prosperity for the region. He claimed that he will bring modern industry to Kashmir, which was not possible without these steps, and that it will end the plight of people living there. Speaking in the guise of a bourgeois reformer, he tried to convince the whole country that this step will bring an end to terrorism and bloodshed in Kashmir.
However, the situation on the ground is the opposite. Modi, with this decision, has unleashed a whole period of instability in the entire region of South Asia that could lead to wars, civil wars, bloodshed, terrorist attacks and much more. This decision, which is a historic turning point for the whole region, will not only give rise to state repression, oppression of nationalities and minorities and attacks on working class as a whole on both sides of the divide, but will also give a huge impetus to the resistance against these attacks and will lead to mass movements against all oppressive regimes. A completely new situation has emerged on the scene, both strategically and politically, that will have both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary implications.
In fact, this extreme step by the Indian ruling class has completely exposed their impotence to solve the national question through other means. The heroic movement of the Kashmiri masses has forced these rulers to risk jeopardising their whole state apparatus in order to crush this revolutionary uprising. The movement has continued for the last three decades, with ebbs and flows, by challenging the mightiest powers. Through the sacrifice of thousands of martyrs it has grown its influence far and wide. Both India and Pakistan have tried to crush this movement in their own way and have tried to use the blood of martyrs to perpetuate their rule. India has used the worst kind of repression and torture over the years to subdue the people of Kashmir to slavery but has failed miserably time and again. The recent movement, which started three years ago, has continued unabated despite the presence of more than 500,000 armed personnel in Kashmir and with threats of war. Pakistan has tried to derail this movement by using religious fundamentalism and terrorism. These methods also gave the Indian state the excuse for more repression and to cut it off from the rest of the country by labelling all Kashmiris as terrorists. In the 1990s, this strategy by both states was quite successful, but now the recent movement has rejected the intervention of the Pakistani State and is fighting against the method of individual terrorism used by few dozen local radicalised youth.
The recent spontaneous movement, mostly led by teenagers, has also exposed the rottenness and obsolete character of all the political parties of Kashmir. From pro-Indian parties like National Conference NC, People’s Democratic Party PDP, Congress and others; to pro-Pakistan parties like Jamat e Islami and Hurriyat Conference, all have been completely exposed by this movement and were unable to play any part in it. The Indian state has tried several times to control this movement for Independence through these parties and derail it through farcical negotiations with the so-called leaders of Kashmir, but have not been successful. All these political parties and their leaders were so far from reality that they could never predict Modi’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the constitution. Farooq Abdullah, the leader of NC and the current head of the Abdullah dynasty, which has ruled this state for the last seven decades, with three generations serving as the chief minister of the state, was clueless about Modi’s decision just the day before it took place. He and his party have betrayed the movement time and again and have collaborated with the Indian ruling class in crushing the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In recent elections of Lok Sabha, held in May this year, there was a complete boycott of the elections in the valley as a protest against repression. But Farooq Abdullah not only contested the election but won his ancestral seat from the capital city of Srinagar with a shameful turnout of less than 10 percent. No different is the situation of PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, who was chief minister of the state just one year ago, in coalition with Modi’s BJP, and had very fraternal relations with him. Other political parties in the state assembly of Kashmir have also lost their appeal and were unable to control the mass uprising for their own vested interests.
Modi’s decision has taken these pro-Indian parties to the graveyard, but it was the marvellous movement of the masses which rendered them useless for the Indian bourgeoisie and the state. After this decision, the Indian state will be even less capable of regaining any control over the masses. Not only will Modi’s desire to suppress this movement through oppressive measures backfire, but the manoeuvres to cut it off from the rest of the country will also not be fruitful, as this movement is now more linked with the fate of the Indian working class than ever before.
Most analysts are predicting an attempt to change the demography of the state as the next step by Modi following the example of Israeli settlements in Palestine, and state-sponsored Han Chinese immigration to Xinjiang. With the removal of 35A from the constitution, any Indian citizen can buy and sell property in Jammu and Kashmir, which was not allowed before due to the special status of this state in the Indian constitution. This has opened a whole flood of reactionary discussions across India, where leaders of the BJP are publicly speaking about the prospect of people from other states marrying “fair-skinned Kashmiri girls”. This has outraged many Indians as well, and there is a huge wave of condemnation of these remarks. But this whole situation will unfold on a massive scale in the coming period, as any attempt by the Indian state to change the demography of the region with settlers from different parts of the country and other reactionary measures will be met with fierce resistance by the Kashmiri masses and the Indian working class as a whole. This will eventually link this revolutionary movement of Kashmir with the movement of the working class of India against Modi, and will have revolutionary consequences for the entire region.
Pakistan’s “Kashmiri Freedom” rhetoric exposed
The situation in Pakistan is much more fragile than in India. Pakistan calls the Kashmir its jugular vein and always pretends that it supports the movement of the Kashmiri masses in Indian-occupied Kashmir, though the parts of Kashmir including Gilgit Baltistan under Pakistani control are also oppressed and have limited rights. The Pakistani ruling class has always used this issue to justify its exploitation and subjugation of the masses of the whole country. The only justification for Pakistan’s huge military apparatus and the enormous resources invested in nuclear weapons in a poor, underdeveloped country is rooted in the Kashmir issue and enmity with India. But now Modi’s decision has put them in a very difficult position. The right wing in Pakistan is demanding to attack India and ensure the freedom of Kashmir at this historical moment, but the ruling class is trying its best to avoid any conflict, exposing its utter weakness. In fact, the pretence to support “Kashmiri Freedom” is embedded in the foundations of the Pakistani state since its beginning 73 years ago. Pakistan fought three wars with India over this issue (in 1948, 1965 and 1999) and a recent aerial skirmish with India in February this year was also over this question. Education curricula are designed to propagate the idea that one day Kashmir will get its freedom and become part of Pakistan. State media and other institutions conduct constant propaganda around this idea and in fact it is an important part of the ideological cement holding together the army and the security apparatus. However, when the time of deliverance has finally arrived, what people see is complete inaction and indecision. The situation might change in the coming days and months, but this first response is revealing the weakness of the ruling class.
Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, has clearly stated that due to severe economic crisis in the country Pakistan cannot afford to go to war with India at this moment. Also, the efforts by the government to get support from other countries across the world have not borne any fruit. There is complete isolation of Pakistan at an international level, mainly due to lack of interest by US imperialism. Pakistan has always served US interests in the region and has been their key ally since so-called Independence in 1947. During the Cold War, India was in the rival camp, allied with the Soviet Union. Pakistan became an ideal candidate for the US imperialists, also to contrast the influence of Mao’s China. In the imperialist war imposed on Afghanistan since 2001, Pakistan was again quite useful for the interests of the US ruling class. But now they are planning to abandon Afghanistan and handing it over unabashedly to the Taliban, while India has developed very close relations with America as well. The Indian market is 10-times bigger than that of Pakistan, whose economy is shrinking at a rapid speed. In these circumstances, Pakistan’s role in the region has been relegated to a far lower level than it had enjoyed previously. In fact, Modi’s decision on Kashmir also reflects the new balance of forces in the region, with the Indian bourgeoisie expressing its arrogance and superiority due to the economic growth in recent years, facilitated by Modi’s anti-labour policies. But this new balance of forces is quite fragile, just like the bubble of growth in the Indian economy, which is heading towards a crisis now. The impending stormy events in the whole region on the economic, political and strategic fronts will destroy this balance and will give rise to new, unforeseen developments.
Pakistan tried to cover its strategic weakness through enhanced reliance on China, but this has only resulted in complicating its situation and augmenting its agony. The economic crisis is now much deeper than it was before going to China for help, while it is also facing the wrath of Americans for its close relations with rival Chinese imperialism. The weak economy and the crisis of the oppressive state has given rise to many other movements of oppressed nationalities, while the looming war between America and Iran is also detrimental to the stability of the Pakistani state. Pakistan has tried its best to avoid taking sides in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran but had to yield to Saudi Arabia eventually. But at this important moment, the Saudis, along with other Islamic countries, have not given any support to Pakistan, and its foreign minister is now publicly venting his anger on “brother” Islamic countries for the very first time. To make things worse, China has also expressed concerns over Pakistan’s new commitments to the IMF, in which Chinese loans were heavily scrutinised and asked to be rescheduled. Chinese investments have dried up since the new government of Imran Khan took office last year, and so did Chinese support against India at this crucial juncture.
All this has built up a political crisis in Pakistan, in which no political party from the far right to the left of the existing political spectrum has any understanding of this whole situation and thus can offer no solution. This is why they have lost all their support in their respective constituencies and can offer no way forward to the masses out of this abyss. The impotence to address the national question by the state and political parties is now a lot more exposed, just at the moment when the national oppression has reached new heights in the whole region.
Pakistan has effectively used religious fundamentalism as an important tool to serve its aims in Afghanistan, as well as in Kashmir, during the last four decades. But due to the turn of US policy, with the invasion of Afghanistan and recent pressure by international institutions like FATF, threatening the blacklisting of Pakistan’s financial institutions, this tool has now become a liability. The Indian state is still using this threat as a propaganda tool against Pakistan saying that there is a possibility of a terror attack in Kashmir. In fact, such an attack would help the Indian state to repress the movement in Kashmir even more and to isolate it from the working class in the rest of the country. Similarly, for Pakistan, such an attack would help to calm down the right-wing pressure for tough actions against Modi. But on the other hand, Pakistan cannot afford the consequences of sponsoring something like this. As Imran Khan openly confessed to the media, such a policy would present more disadvantages than advantages. This would not only further isolate Pakistan internationally but could trigger the hanging sword of blacklisting from FATF to fall. In the event of blacklisting, Pakistan will have to face economic sanctions from the whole world, just like North Korea and Iran. A terrorist attack could also lead to full-scale war between two nuclear-armed neighbours. In February, a suicide attack in Pulwama, in Indian-occupied Kashmir, triggered an air attack by India inside Pakistan in which bombs were dropped. In response, Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter plane, arresting its pilot, who ejected from the plane. The incident brought the two countries to the brink of war and the escalation continued for months. Now, once again, escalation on the borders has started and a huge army deployment is being carried out on both sides. One small incident can provoke a war, though the ruling class of Pakistan is trying its best to avoid it.
Pakistan has also appealed to Trump to intervene in this situation, but he has been unusually and significantly silent so far, which means that he is supporting Modi. In the meeting with Imran Khan at the White House last month, Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. Pakistan welcomed this offer wholeheartedly, but it was turned down by India on the grounds that it was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and no third party involvement was needed. Now, many in Pakistan are criticising Imran Khan for selling out Kashmir during his meeting with Trump. Pakistan is now trying to pursue this issue in the UN Security Council, but nobody in Pakistan has any hope for it.
China has criticised India but only on the issue of Ladakh with which it shares a border. Both China and India are part of many forums, like BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and others and have a mutual annual trade approaching $100 billion. In an ongoing trade war with Trump, China has no interest in escalating tensions with India. China has always emphasised the need to settle this issue and any escalation in a conflict would seriously damage its interests. One reason behind this is its heavy investments in Pakistan under the framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which starts from the disputed area of Gilgit Baltistan. This leaves Pakistan with far fewer options, or rather, with just one option left: that of accepting this as a fait accompli.
But this will not be acceptable to the masses in Pakistan and they will come out against the impotence of the state in one way or another. The situation in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir (officially called AJK) and especially Gilgit Baltistan is much more volatile and a new movement is brewing over this issue. Already there have been many protests across AJK and the masses are looking for a way forward to express their solidarity with their brethren on the other side of the border in these most difficult times. The political parties here have also been exposed already and all pro-Pakistan parties have lost their support in recent years. The religious fundamentalists are also in serious crisis. They have lost steam and without the support of state apparatus they are unable to move even an inch further.
The new situation has also brought havoc for the nationalist parties and separatists on both sides of the divide and they are clueless in this new situation. Marxists have always argued that the Kashmir issue cannot be solved on a nationalist basis. Without the support of the working class of India and Pakistan this struggle for freedom cannot achieve its goal. This situation is now much clearer and the events have linked the cause of Kashmiris with the fate of the working class of the whole region. The impotence of institutions like the UN, EU, human rights organisations, etc. has also been exposed. None of these institutions have condemned Modi over this action and demanded freedom for the Kashmiris. In a world dominated by capital, the interests of all these institutions, as well as the interests of the ruling classes of all countries, are dictated by the balance of forces and their material interests. The cries of the oppressed have no worth for them.
Class unity the only way forward
The only way forward for the struggle for freedom in Kashmir is through the unity of the working class of the whole region, which can be expressed by means of a general strike. A general strike in all parts of Kashmir can be the beginning for such a movement. Discussions are already underway in AJK to move towards a strike to express solidarity with the movement on the other side. This action will not only send a strong message of condemnation to Modi but also to the Pakistani state, which has oppressed the Kashmiri masses for as many years. The demands to prevent forced displacement, to end the threat of colonisation, and to withdraw the military are valid for all parts of Kashmir, including Gilgit Baltistan. A strike in AJK over these demands, along with economic demands against price hikes, unemployment and recent sackings of the trade union leaders in the public sector departments for their militancy can draw huge support from the masses and can become a starting point for the new movement. Solidarity from Gilgit Baltistan and then from the working class of Pakistan will be a decisive step towards achieving the goal of freedom.
The Indian communist parties have always denied the Kashmiri masses’ struggle for freedom and have tried to confine it to the narrow limits of the Indian constitution. In fact, they have betrayed the Leninist position on the national question, which supports the struggle of the oppressed masses for liberation and links it with the struggle of the working class. Now it is time to move towards this position. Especially the revolutionary youth can mobilise around this question and struggle for a general strike in India in solidarity with the Kashmiri masses. This will not only give a fitting response to Modi and his reactionary goons but will also pave the way for the success of future struggles against Modi’s rule and his anti-labour measures.
In the end, the only force on earth that can ensure the freedom of oppressed masses everywhere is the working class of the whole world. The only solidarity and support that can take this freedom struggle to its eventual success is this working class of the whole world. The Kashmiri masses must appeal to them, rather than being humiliated by imperialist institutions like the UN or EU, time and again. The ruling classes in this capitalist world will support their class in every country, in the last analysis. Only by overthrowing capitalism through a socialist revolution in India and Pakistan can genuine freedom be achieved: freedom not only from national oppression but also from capitalist exploitation.