Fri Jul 12, 2024
July 12, 2024

Kashmir after Article 370 – Blood for Lithium

On the August 5, 2019, the Modi-led BJP government took the unprecedented step of abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution. This article was inserted after Kashmir’s annexation to India and guaranteed a degree of autonomy to Kashmir, recognizing a limited sovereignty. This exceptional situation for Kashmir was the result of the peculiar conditions under which it was made a part of India. While this ‘autonomy’ was whittled down over the decades of the 50s and 60s, being rendered a dead letter by the end, the BJP intended to score a symbolic political victory.

Today Kashmir has not only been incorporated to the same level as other states, but it has also been downgraded from a state to a union territory. In other words, even the limited federal sovereignty that Indian states are accorded to doesn’t apply to Kashmir. To make matters worse, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been broken up, with Ladakh being separated from the state and turned into another union territory.

In the immediate aftermath of the passing of the ‘Jammu and Kashmir re-organization Act of 2019,’ the state was brought under direct central control as a union territory, and an information blackout was imposed. The internet was shut down for months, and hundreds of arrests were made. According to official data, 4000 activists were arrested, including two former chief ministers of the state.[1]

For nearly two years, Jammu and Kashmir was placed under lockdown, communications were barred, and Kashmir was effectively sealed from the outside world. No journalists were allowed access, internet was blocked, and even after it was partially withdrawn in January of 2020 only certain white-listed sites were allowed access with 2G internet. The shutdowns and lockdowns made life hell for the inhabitants of the region, as state authorities clamped down on dissidents, activists, and even mainstream politicians. The state’s terror was meant to pre-emptively suppress dissent, widespread fear of unrest followed the passage of the reorganization act.

The abrogation of Article 370 was part of a political blitz orchestrated by the BJP government using its newfound dominant position following the 2019 general elections. The Kashmir reorganization act was passed on the August 5, and three days later in the same session of the parliament, the 4 new labour codes were passed as well, but have so far remained unimplemented. Unfortunately, the abrogation of Article 370 was passed and implemented in full, with the consequences affecting the wider region.

Today, while the Indian government has secured the ‘peace of the graveyard’ by terrorizing the population of their occupied section of Kashmir into submission, the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are in revolt. They are not protesting for merger with India, as some in the Indian media might have you believe, but for separation from Pakistan. They are revolting against the exploitation of Kashmir’s hydro-electric resources, of Kashmiri land for the benefit of the militarist elite, and the exploitation of Kashmir and its people, for their resources and lands.

The story on both sides of Kashmir is fundamentally the same of two greedy bourgeoisie in competition with each other for the fruits of a beautiful resource-rich piece of land that sits strategically on the edge of Central Asia and the crossroads of the Himalayas and the silk road. For this prize, both are willing to sacrifice as many of their country’s workers and peasants as necessary to keep their hold over Kashmir, the people be damned!

Background: What is Article 370, How Kashmir Became a Part of India and Pakistan, First Kashmir War, The Princely States, and the Resources of Kashmir

In the aftermath of Indian independence, the princely states of the Raj, which formed about a third of the total area of South Asia, had three choices. They could join with Pakistan, join with India, or attempt to stay independent. In reality, the third choice was no choice at all for most of the 500 princely states, which would remain poor, barely industrialized, and landlocked. Despite this, some large princely states, mainly Kashmir, Kalat, and Hyderabad decided to join either Hindu-majority India or Muslim-majority Pakistan when the former British Raj being partitioned Indian along religious lines. There were some states whose rulers were Muslim but with majority Hindu populations, such as Hyderabad and Junagarh (modern day Western Gujarat), and others with a majority Muslim population but with Hindu rulers, such as Kashmir.

Most of the 500 princely states fell to India, with its superior military, diplomatic intrigues, and the threat of communist revolution, which had gripped much of the South. The revolt of the masses triggered by the Red Fort Trial, and the Naval mutiny, had electrified the countryside as well as the cities. The princely states were a target, with Travancore and Hyderabad experiencing massive peasant uprisings. Kashmir too, had its fair share of unrest, led by the left-wing petty bourgeois National Conference, whose leader was the so-called Sher-i-kashmir (lion of Kashmir) Sheik Abdullah.

A combination of peasant and agrarian workers protested the harsh rule of the Dogra kings. The kings in turn, had been placed on the throne of Kashmir by the British, as a reward for aiding them in the conquest of the Sikh Empire.[2] The Dogra rulers were not popular, but rather infamous for their exploitative ways and ruthless rule. The last chapter of Dogra rule proved to be the bloodiest. In the context of a revolutionary wave throughout the sub-continent, Raja Hari Singh relied on the Hindutva organization of the RSS. To crush the growing movement of peasants and workers under the leadership of the National Conference, he used the state militias and the RSS. According to Pakistani estimates, the number of killed amounted to 50,000, while others, notably Ian Stephens of the Statesman, have cited higher estimates, with half a million being either killed or displaced.[3]

Maharaja Hari Singh is celebrated by the Hindutva right-wingers in India for his decision to bring Kashmir into India. The manner in which this was done, or the aftermath of his decision, do not factor into their thinking. The massacres of Muslims in Jammu gave Jinnah and Pakistan the perfect excuse to intervene and attempt to militarily annex Kashmir. This, in turn, compelled the beleaguered King to beg for Indian assistance, but this would only come in exchange for accession.

Much like Manipur, a state which had declared independence on its own terms, and even adopted a constitution, the people of Kashmir were not asked whether or not they would join India. Instead, it was a monarch, detatched from his people and ruling as a murderous autocrat, who made that decision for them, thus they were squeezed between two larger powers.

The 1948 Kashmir War saw massacres on both sides, with the tribal militias armed by the fledgling Pakistani state massacring Hindus and Sikhs in Poonch, in retaliation for the massacres of Muslims in Jammu. The first war between India and Pakistan was fought by an army still led by British officers and generals, on both sides. While the war ended in a stalemate, it was still a political victory for India who secured the most productive parts of Kashmir, Jammu, the valley of Srinagar, and strategic frontier passes, before Pakistan could push further. Pakistan was left with a sliver of Kashmir, ironically called ‘Azad Kashmir,’ (meaning Free Kashmir).  and the mountainous regions of Gilgit and Baltistan, areas which are arid but form a strategic frontier on the border of Central Asia and Western China.

However, the Indian army wasn’t the only force in the fight, workers and peasants’ militias organized by the National Conference bolstered the defense against Pakistan’s army and tribal militias.

Kashmir was brought into India, but it had not yet secured it’s hold over the territory. It could not deal with Kashmir as it had with the other princely states, where there was no other armed power attempting to take it over. The question of a plebiscite had first been proposed over the state of Junagadh for its accession into India, as it was a means to placate Jinnah and Pakistan over the accession of the princely states. India was keen about its position in the world, and its place in the United Nations, building its diplomatic reputation in the world. Nehru approached the United Nations to help resolve the question of Kashmir, and by the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) resolution 47 of 1948, it was resolved that status of Kashmir would be decided through an impartial plebiscite.

Later developments would practically nullify this resolution. A ceasefire was achieved, and a shaky peace came to Kashmir. But what was once a united realm lay divided in two parts, one occupied by India and one by Pakistan. As part of the conditions of the plebiscite, Pakistan would withdraw its tribal militias and nationals, and India would withdraw its troops. Neither honoured their commitment. The plebiscite, like so much of the UN, became a dead letter.

It is under these conditions, we must see the decision to incorporate Article 370 into the Indian constitution, which at the time of the ascension of the princely states, had yet to be adopted.

The ascension of princely states originally required only the realms of defence, communication, and foreign affairs under the control of the Indian government. The princely states were further encouraged to form constituent assemblies, where they may or may not draft their own constitutions. In most cases, the princely states were unable to set up constituent assemblies, but those states which did (Mysore, Travancore, and Saurashtra Union) adopted the Indian constitution. The state of Kashmir was an outlier in this regard.

In terms of the treaty of accesion signed by the King, Kashmir was not compelled to accept the Indian constitution. The state was within its rights to draft its own constitution and decide for itself. Kashmir’s leadership formed a constituent assembly and requested only those provisions of the Indian constitution be applied which corresponded to the treaty of accession. The Indian government agreed to this demand, recognizing the popularity of the National Conference and Sheik Abdullah. Thus, Article 370 was incorporated into the draft of the Indian constitution as a temporary provision, which granted some autonomy to the state of Kashmir, more than most states of India.

Article 370 embodied six special provisions for Jammu and Kashmir:

  1. It exempted the State from the complete applicability of the Constitution of India. The State was conferred the power to have its own constitution.
  2. Central legislative powers over the State were limited, at the time of framing, to the three subjects of defence, foreign affairs, and communications.
  3. Other constitutional powers of the Central Government could be extended to the State only with the concurrence of the State Government.
  4. The ‘concurrence’ was only provisional. It had to be ratified by the State’s Constituent Assembly.
  5. The State Government’s authority to give ‘concurrence’ lasted only until the State Constituent Assembly was convened. Once the State Constituent Assembly finalized the scheme of powers and dispersed, no further extension of powers was possible.
  6. Article 370 could be abrogated or amended only upon the recommendation of the State’s Constituent Assembly.

These provisions, along with the UN resolution on Kashmir calling for plebiscite, contained the seeds of a potential secession of the state from India. However, this was not to be.

Conflicts between the government of Kashmir and that of India came to a head in 1953, when the state constituent assembly took a majority decision to abolish the Kashmiri monarchy. At this time, the Kashmiri monarchy remained as the head of state for Kashmir, a major point of contention between the government of Kashmir and India. Negotiations between India and Kashmir over the fate of the monarchy concluded in the Delhi Agreement of 1952, which Sheik Abdullah was very slow to implement. The tensions came to a head in 1953, when a resolution was passed by the Kashmiri government to abolish the monarchy. After the abolition of monarchy, Prince Karan Singh, who succeeded his father Maharaja Hari Singh, became the head of state.

Around the time that the U.S. and UK engineered a coup in Iran, India was conducting a coup of its own in Kashmir. The decision to abolish the monarchy resulted in reactionary protests by pro-monarchist groups in Ladakh and Jammu, led by the Jammu Praja Parishad. Sheik Abdullah was subsequently removed by the head of state citing ‘loss of support from the cabinet.’ Immediately thereafter, Sheik Abdullah was imprisoned in the Kashmir Conspiracy case.

According to author A.G Noorani, the Prime Minister Nehru himself ordered the arrest. Sheik Abdullah alleged the entire ordeal of his dismissal and arrest were engineered by Nehru. It would not be until 1964 that all charges against Sheik Abdullah under the Kashmir Conspiracy case would be dropped.[4]

This chapter began what many authors call the erosion of Article 370. The presidential order of 1954 expanded on the terms of the Delhi Agreement, extending Indian citizenship to ‘permanent residents’ of Jammu and Kashmir. Crucially, the Presidential order extended fundamental rights of the Indian constitution, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, it placed financial relations between the central government and the state of Kashmir on the same footing as other states, and most importantly gave the central government the right to declare national emergency in the event of external aggression. Between 1956 and 1994, forty-seven presidential orders were passed over Kashmir eroding the state’s autonomy. By the time the article 370 was abrogated, Kashmir’s autonomy was a dead letter.

The riches of Kashmir now lay ready to exploit. Soon the biggest prize would be revealed.

The Lithium Find: History of the Lithium Find, Total Reserves, and the Importance of Lithium

On the August 5, 2019, Article 370 of the constitution was abrogated, and the state of Jammu and Kashmir was broken up into three union territories. In February 2023, the union government announced the find of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir. This find turned India into the third largest holder of lithium reserves in the world.

The timing is quite telling, as the Geological Survey of India began it’s work around 2018-2019, the same year that the government passed the Jammu and Kashmir reorganization act, abrogating Article 370 of the constitution. Not only did the remnant of Kashmir’s autonomy get erased, but it’s existence as a state was done away with. Jammu and Kashmir was broken up, and downgraded to union territories, which would be administered directly by the central government that would now control much of its bureaucracy and policing.

It would not surprise us in the least, if this step was undertaken precisely to facilitate lithium mining in the region. For this, the people of Kashmir would suffer a suffocating lockdown, the degradation of civil society and institutions, all for the benefit of Indian capitalists, particularly in the mining sector. The groundwork for this was already laid down by the previous Congress government, but it was the BJP government under Modi that finished the job.

Even before the lithium find, Kashmir was exploited for it’s hydro-electric power potential. The Indus water treaty with Pakistan is tailored to ensure the exploitation of Kashmir’s water resources, particularly the Indus River water. Kashmir has 20,000 megawatts of hydro-electric power potential. So far it produces only about 10% of this potential power generation at near 2500 megawatts. Even this relatively meagre production is sent to states outside of Kashmir. Most of the state’s hydro-electric power is generated by dams run by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, which transfers most of the power it generates to other states in North India. This exploitation of the state’s natural hydro-electric power is not limited to the Indian side of Kashmir but finds it’s mirror image in Pakistan’s exploitation of Kashmir’s hydro-electric power.

The result is that while Kashmir is a land rich in resources and potential wealth, much of this is taken away. The Kashmiris do not benefit from their nation’s hydro-electric power potential, they do not benefit from their resources, they are left with power cuts while India and Pakistan have power for their capitalists.[5]

The Abrogation of Article 370: It’s Illegality, Impacts, and Blackouts in Kashmir, Enforced Disappearances, and the Breakup of Indian Kashmir

The BJP government came to power for a second term in 2019 with the platform of revoking Article 370 and promulgating a Uniform Civil Code. On the latter, it still finds itself struggling, but on the former, it moved like lightning. The BJP’s absolute majority in the lower house, and majority in the upper house, ensured the passage of the controversial law, but not without challenge. Even today, multiple petitions are pending before the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of the abrogation of the article.

The immediate aftermath of the abrogation of the law saw protests in Kashmir, and only tepid protests by the main oppositional bourgeois parties in the rest of India. Before the abrogation of the article, Kashmir was placed under emergency, the army was moved in citing ‘security threats.’ Arrangements were undertaken to crush protests should they arise. However, the sheer speed and weight of the state’s oppression made organizing for protests nearly impossible. The uprising that the government feared never happened.

Nevertheless, the government prepared every possible tool of repression to answer to unrest, should it emerge. Kashmir saw its internet shut down in 2019, and it remained that way for 18 months, the longest internet shut down in Indian history. A lockdown was imposed in the state between August 2019 and February 2021. Over 2000 people were detained by the state in a pre-emptive crackdown. Opposition leaders were arrested, including the Hurriyat leadership and the National Conference leadership. Security forces had cordoned roads and highways, effectively sealing the state. It even became impossible for the press to access Kashmir. The country was blinded from whatever happened within Kashmir. Even today, the heavy security presence in Kashmir is a reminder of Indian authority over the state.

The presence of the army and paramilitaries ensured the people would be cowed. In the words of the governor, ‘even the dogs won’t bark.’ Years of oppression, betrayals, and failures have created the condition for a sense of defeatism. The abrogation stung like a ‘final’ defeat in a long struggle. To further consolidate it’s hold over the region, the central government played out the strategy of divide and rule. Much like the Congress before it, pitting the Muslims against non-Muslims of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, ensured the isolation of Muslims and the prevention of solidarity emerging between them. It strengthened the hold of the Indian government, while weakening the autonomy of Kashmir.

The separation of Ladakh from Kashmir was aimed at placating the Buddhists of Ladakh, but it’s downgrading to a union territory has caused conditions to worsen. Protests have been taking place in Ladakh since earlier this year, as promises for jobs and development have proven to be hollow. Now the people of Ladakh are demanding statehood.[6]

Protests in Pakistan Kashmir: On the Outbreak of Protests, Protestor Demands, and the Abrogation of Article 370

The swiftness and suddenness of the Modi government’s move had taken the population by surprise. No less surprised was the establishment in Pakistan, which found itself stymied for action. For decades, Kashmir was seen as the holy grail for Pakistan, its conquest being much desired by its leadership.

Pakistan had never truly accepted Indian occupation over Kashmir, neither did it ever accept any pretence of Kashmiri independence. It is why Pakistan treats it’s part of Kashmir almost as a colony. The bureaucrats and military officers live large at the expense of the people who mostly live in abject poverty. The conditions in Gilgit Baltistan are worse.

For years, the Pakistani bourgeoisie tried and failed to acquire Kashmir from India, appearing to fight for Kashmir’s independence while denying any independence to the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which it ironically names ‘Azad Kashmir.’ All of their efforts have failed, and this latest failure comes on the top of a long legacy of failures of the Pakistani bourgeoisie to outmatch India.

The cost of their failures has been borne by the workers and peasants of Pakistan, including those who live in Pakistan’s part of occupied Kashmir. This has come in the form of military dictatorships, poverty, economic crisis from excessive military spending, and the continued exploitation for the benefit of a clique of bureaucrats and military officers who live large while the masses of Kashmir live in abject poverty.

The only reason why Pakistan has managed to hold on to their part of Kashmir, and pacify the people of that region, was the promise of freeing the whole of Kashmir from Indian rule and unifying both occupied parts of Kashmir. This goal seems more distant than ever now. The Pakistani state’s feeble response, and the culmination of failures through the years, even as it undergoes one of the worst economic crises in its history, has been the spark that set off the protests in Pakistani Kashmir.

The Indian media reports on these protests as if they were a vindication of Indian rule over Kashmir, some go as far as to suggest that the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir wish to join theIndian occupation. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The people of Kashmir march against their exploitation at the hands of the Pakistani bourgeoisie through its army and corrupt civilian government. They wish nothing more than the unification of their country, and the independence of Kashmir. It is becoming clearer by the day that this will not be achieved with Pakistani arms, but by the solidarity of Kashmiris.

Self-determination Still Valid: The Principle of Self-determination, The Question of Kashmiri Pandits, Ladakh, and Jammu

The abrogation of Article 370, and the breakup of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, does not itself invalidate the struggle for Kashmiri self-determination. This is another blow to Kashmiris in a long history of oppression at the hands of the Indian state, held together by coercion, overwhelming military power, and heavy-handed policing. The desire for independence for Kashmir is grounded in the aspirations of the people, rooted in the history of class struggle in Kashmir. This has not fundamentally changed.

It is necessary to see through the lies and grasp the reality of Indian and Pakistani rule in Kashmir. Neither state is after the well being of the people of Kashmir, that includes Kashmir’s non-Muslim population. Pakistan may pretend to be a ‘friend’ to the Kashmiris, who balk and suffocate under the weight of Indian occupation. India may pretend to be the ‘defender’ of Hindus and Buddhists. This is just a ploy to further their agendas. The agenda being the exploitation of the resources of Kashmir, it’s hydro-electric power and its mineral wealth. The people of Kashmir do not figure in this, only the profits and ambitions of their bourgeoisie do.

The revolutionary stand today is more valid than ever. We stand for Kashmiri self-determination. The workers and peasants of India and Pakistan have no reason to identify with their bourgeois governments who cloak themselves in the national flag and order the sons of workers and peasants to go die in the unforgiving mountains of Kashmir. All they have to offer is death, either by poverty and starvation, or the bullet in war. The patriotic illusion is the tool of the oppressor to make the workers of either country a party to the oppression of Kashmir. By supporting Kashmiri self-determination, we intend to break this false and toxic alliance between the working class and bourgeoisie of India and Pakistan and build the solidarity between the workers and peasants of Kashmir, India, and Pakistan!

UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR KASHMIRI SELF-DETERMINATION!

FULL SUPPORT TO THE PROTESTS IN KASHMIR!

END THE OCCUPATION!

KASHMIRI RESOURCES FOR KASHMIRI PEOPLE!


[1]     https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-kashmir-detentions/thousands-detained-in-indian-kashmir-crackdown-official-data-reveals-idUSKCN1VX142

[2]     Raja Gulab Singh purchased Kashmir for 75 lakh rupees from the East India Company, thereby securing his rule. His descendants ruled till 1948. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogra_dynasty

[3]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_Jammu_massacres#cite_ref-44

[4]     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh_Abdullah#Arrest_and_release

[5]     https://www.dw.com/en/why-is-india-administered-kashmir-facing-a-power-shortage/a-60275456

[6]     https://thediplomat.com/2023/02/disillusioned-ladakh-turns-to-protests/

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