Kashmir is bleeding. So is its economy Business and economy

On January 1, 2023, as the world celebrated the start of a new year, several families mourned in the Rajouri district of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Gunmen stormed the village and killed four civilians and wounded six others. Two more civilians were killed the next day.

Just a few weeks earlier, on December 13, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, presented investment figures for Jammu and Kashmir. The numbers spoke for themselves: investments fell by 55 percent in the last four years.

Together, the killings and the drop in investment contradict two central arguments that were at the heart of the Indian government’s rationale for ending the semi-autonomous status the region previously enjoyed in 2019: that the move would help improve security and spur economic development.

In the past, federal governments in New Delhi have often blamed local authorities in power in the region for the woes of Jammu and Kashmir. That’s no longer an excuse that works.

When the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi eliminated Article 370 of the Indian constitution – which gave Kashmir “special status” – it also separated the territory of Ladakh from the region. Kashmir’s statehood was withdrawn and it became a union territory, under the direct control of New Delhi.

Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t even have a legislature without the powers other union territories have — the region hasn’t held elections in seven years. Nevertheless, it should now be increasingly clear, if it wasn’t already, that the neglect of democratic processes and principles, and accelerated constitutional provisions, do not work to improve the region’s security or economic attractiveness.

Follow the money

The abrogation of Article 370 allowed non-residents to buy and own land in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time. Critics of the region’s previous special status often cited restrictions on land ownership as the main reason why private sector industries were reluctant to establish companies there.

However, data released by the Indian government’s Ministry of Home Affairs — and published by Rai — calls the claims a bluff. Total investments in the period 2021-22. in Jammu and Kashmir were $46 million, down from $50.5 million the previous year, dramatically less than the $102.8 million spent in 2017-18.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected Kashmir’s economy, statistics suggest that it has not been the biggest factor in drying up investment. After all, the biggest drop in investment came in the year the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, before the pandemic, halving from $72.3 million in 2018-19. to $36.3 million in 2019-20.

Follow the bullets

Things aren’t much better on the security front. Although political protests have died down as most pro-independence leaders have been jailed, armed groups appear to have changed their tactics.

Attacks on civilians have increased in recent years and are increasingly targeting non-resident Hindus and the Kashmiri Pandit minority community. AS Dulat, former head of research and analysis, India’s foreign intelligence agency, recently highlighted the sophistication of these attacks. The targeted killings, he said, showed that the armed groups had a strong intelligence network and likely had members within the government.

At least 18 Kashmiri Pandits and non-resident Hindus have been killed in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370.

As with the economy, Indian government data do not support claims that armed groups have been contained. The number of attacks by such groups was 229 in 2021, which is not significantly different from many previous years: there were 279 incidents in 2017, 322 in 2016, 208 in 2015, 222 in 2014 and 170 in 2013. , a year before Modi came to power.

What is actually in the game

The Indian government has argued that Article 370 restricts people’s participation in the political process and leads to a few families dominating politics in the region. However, since 2019, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has taken steps to further disenfranchise local Kashmiris.

First, constituency boundaries for the regional legislature were redrawn in a way that gave Hindu-majority Jammu a greater say in elections than its own population, against the merits of Muslim-majority Kashmir. In fact, it strengthens the chances of the BJP coming to power in Jammu and Kashmir.

Then the electoral roll was revised, giving outsiders the right to vote. Jammu and Kashmir is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and military personnel – if they are allowed to vote, their electoral influence will be significant.

Some Kashmiri leaders have referred to the 1987 regional elections, which were allegedly rigged and seen as a turning point when the armed separatist movement in Kashmir took off.

Meanwhile, armed groups may continue to attack non-local civilians as a mainstay of their strategy to signal their opposition to the demographic changes being attempted by New Delhi.

While Kashmiris and non-locals alike suffer, there is no reason to expect Modi and his government to change their policy towards the region. The BJP’s hard-line approach to Kashmir is helping to strengthen its image in the rest of India as a party that is tough on “terrorism” and “separatism”.

The truth is, of course, more complicated. The BJP’s policies have led to increased insecurity for people living in the region – whether they are Hindus or Muslims. And there was no economic profitability either.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera

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