Another blow to democracy

Human rights and democracy around the world have been taking beatings - and they took another heavy blow in the past week.

The Government of the world's largest democracy, India, stripped the state of Jannu and Kashmir of autonomy. It has been closed off and put under direct control. Tens of thousands of extra troops have poured in, and trouble lies ahead.

This is, supposedly, being done in the name of national integration and the need for peace and progress. The area, the Government says, will be able to develop and become more prosperous.

This sounds a lot like the justification China gives for its actions in its giant western Xinjiang province (home of the Muslim Uygur) or in Tibet. Make the place wealthier and potential discontent will be ameliorated. At the same time, brook no opposition and rule ruthlessly.

India has also removed the ban on outsiders owning property, and that could allow more Hindus to settle in the Muslim-majority state. This sounds like the Israeli tactics in the Jewish West Bank settlements.

The rest of the world is anxious, perhaps not particularly because civil rights are bypassed but because this is the most militarised place in the world and a potential flashpoint.

Nonetheless, the rest of the world has shown remarkably little outrage. The likes of Russia's dictator, Vladimir Putin, or United States president Donald Trump are happy to see this largely as an internal Indian matter.

Kashmir is a legacy mess from the partition of British India in 1947, and Pakistan and India have fought three wars in the area since then. No wonder Pakistan and China (Pakistan's traditional ally and in control of part of Himalayan Kashmir) are fuming. Both Pakistan and India also have nuclear weapons, raising the potential stakes.

Both countries sought the area post-partition. The state was majority Muslim but ruled by a Hindu prince. He went India's way and wars flared in 1965, 1971 and 1999.

As happens in other places, the nationalist card is played. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party promised action on Jannu and Kashmir and have followed through, to the acclamation of Hindu nationalists.

The state had special status with the right to its own constitution and to make its own laws for people who live there. That has now gone. India already had about 500,000 troops in the state, and another 35,000 have joined them.

Trouble from Kashmiri separatists and accusations of Pakistani meddling have helped provide additional excuses. But, it cannot be imagined that Kashmir under armed guard will be peaceful. It is hard to see a brutalised, bullied and bossed Jannu and Kashmir being anything other than more troubled and less prosperous.

However, even if the India move is illegal under its own constitution, might is right as far as it is concerned. Proper rule of law, the rights of citizens and democracy itself are subverted.

Never mind that some other Indian states have some special rights. No matter that India puts Pakistan (which controls about a third of the state) and its leader Imran Khan in a near-impossible position and tensions heighten.


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