NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi justified the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and endorsed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in an address to the nation on Saturday.
“The decision on Article 370 furthered the spirit of national unity and integration. It’s an expression of India’s compassion and spirit of inclusiveness,” Modi said in an open letter to the nation to mark the first anniversary of his second stint as premier of the country.
He was referring in part to the decision taken by New Delhi in August last year that annulled Article 370 of the constitution, which guaranteed a special autonomous status to the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and divided the state into federally administered units — the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
A curfew followed the decision in the valley and the suspension of all democratic exercise with hundreds of political and civil society activists detained during the unprecedented protests that followed in the months after.
Critics called the PM’s assertion a “brazen attempt to deny the reality and further the majoritarian agenda when the government should be focussing on the great economic and health crisis the nation is staring at.”
“Sadly, Modi lives in deep denial, and we are supposed to get used to this denial of reality,” Srinagar based Professor Siddiq Wahid told Arab News, adding that the speech could trigger “more anger in Kashmir.”
“Kashmir is headed for more conflict — both domestic and international — and anger. It is headed for more alienation,” he said.
Modi also praised the CAA, which grants citizenship to Hindu, minorities from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan but excludes Muslims.
The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise to identify “genuine citizens of India.” Muslims fear that if they are not on the NRC they stand to lose their citizenship while Hindus will be protected under the CAA.
“The amendment to the CAA was an expression of India’s compassion and spirit of inclusiveness,” Modi said.
The CAA, which was passed in December last year, elicited widespread anger across the country with Muslims, secular and liberal sections of society taking to the streets to demand a rollback.
The anger spilled onto university campuses with the government resorting to harsh measures against students, resulting in the deaths of about 30 protesters across the country.
Soon, a section of the ruling BJP began a counter agitation against Muslims, which led to violence in northeast Delhi, killing 53 people, mostly Muslims, and injuring many others.
Media reports from that time said that the minority community “suffered immensely in terms of lives and properties.”
However, all anti-CAA agitations were put on hold after the government announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24 to limit the coronavirus outbreak.
Modi’s speech nearly two months after the lockdown is seen by political analysts as a “brazen attempt to insult the sensibilities of the people.”
“Never before has democracy in India looked so weak and so besieged as it is looking now. The action in Kashmir and the citizenship legislation weaken the democratic credentials of this nation. It’s unfortunate the prime minister openly peddles such divisive agenda,” Urmilesh (who takes only one name), a Delhi-based political analyst and columnist, told Arab News.
In addition to the provocative statements made during the speech, Modi also pledged to focus on “economic revival.”
The address to the nation comes a day after India’s economic growth was shown to have fallen steeply to 4.2 percent in 2019-20 from 6.1 percent in 2018-19.
This is the lowest growth rate in the past 11 years, and the projection is that it will fall further in the next quarter.
“The economy has been doing badly since 2016. It was growing negatively in the last two years due to a lack of growth in the unorganized sector,” Prof. Arun Kumar of the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University told Arab News.
“If the government continues with its political agenda, then the economy will be derailed further. Given the socio-political situation we are in, polarization will not work, it would be diversionary. If the government is serious, it should focus entirely on reviving the economy and saving lives (from the coronavirus),” Kumar said.
India has witnessing an alarming rise in coronavirus infections and questions have been asked about the government’s readiness to deal with the crisis.
On Saturday, the total number of coronavirus cases crossed the 175,000 mark with more than 5,000 deaths reported from around the country.
India is into the fourth phase of the lockdown, which ends on Sunday, with media reports suggesting that the lockdown could be extended for two more weeks.