The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Modi has stoked Kashmir’s anger and stained all India’s democracy

Kashmiri Muslim women and young girls protest in Srinagar, India, on Friday.
Kashmiri Muslim women and young girls protest in Srinagar, India, on Friday. (Dar Yasin/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated how many years India has been independent. India celebrated 72 years of independence on Aug. 15. This version has been updated.

PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi of India spoke in glowing terms of the future of Jammu and Kashmir after the announcement Aug. 5 that seven decades of autonomy for the disputed region with a large Muslim population had vanished overnight. Mr. Modi, leading the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, having secured a second-term election victory in May, promised to deliver a “completely transparent environment with a lot of honesty” for Kashmir, “new hopes” and “new heights” and “renewed vigor.” Given the way Mr. Modi chose to impose change, these words cannot be accepted at face value.

Kashmir was partitioned in 1947 at the end of British rule. Pakistan controls one part, India the other. Within India’s control are three areas: Jammu, which is Hindu-majority, population about 6 million; Kashmir, a basin with Srinagar at its center that is home to ethnic Kashmiris, mostly Muslim, population about 8 million; and Ladakh, a desert highlands that has many Buddhists, population about 300,000. In India, these territories had the status of a state, with some autonomy guaranteed by the Constitution. Mr. Modi effectively canceled the key provision, Article 370, and dissolved the state, turning it instead into two “union territories” with less autonomy, under direct rule by New Delhi. Also canceled was a provision that barred people outside the state from buying property and displacing Muslims.

Mr. Modi is playing a dangerous game. His sunny vows of transparency aside, the stripping of Kashmir’s autonomy was done in darkness and in the most coercive way possible. As The Post’s Niha Masih reported from Srinagar, streets are no longer crowded with civilians but awash with India’s armed soldiers, and “instead of traffic jams at intersections, there are spools of concertina wire. People remain inside their homes with no telephone, Internet or cable TV service. No one has seen or heard from local political leaders, hundreds of whom are in detention. Of the more than 200 newspapers in the region, only five are publishing physical copies. Their websites are stuck at Aug. 5.”

This is the kind of crackdown on free speech and assembly one expects from authoritarian China, which has set up concentration camps for ethnic Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. But India, which just this week celebrated 72 years of independence as a boisterous, multiethnic and multiconfessional democracy? Mr. Modi might have fulfilled a dream of Hindu nationalists going back to the 1950s, but he also stained that democracy and most likely stoked anger in Kashmir that will fester long into the future.

Mr. Modi’s promise of “new heights” might turn out to be a dark day for Kashmir and for India’s democracy. The value of any goal must be doubted if it can be achieved only by these dark, oppressive means.

Read more:

The Post’s View: India’s dangerous landslide

Mili Mitra: This is the Modi government’s darkest moment

Barkha Dutt: Pakistan’s response to Kashmir is only helping Modi. It should stay out of this.

Alexander Lee: What the Kashmir decision means for Indian federalism — and democracy

Asad Majeed Khan: India is precipitating a crisis in Kashmir. It’s time for the U.S. to step in.