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Narendra Modi’s New-Model India

By asserting direct government control over Kashmir, India's prime minister is remaking the country in the image of his chauvinist party. The new India is a far cry from the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who preached non-violence, religious co-existence, and the acceptance of difference.

NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to practice what American generals call “shock and awe.” The last time Modi stunned the country – and was initially applauded for his decisiveness and bold vision – was when he announced, on a few hours’ notice, the demonetization of 96% (in value) of India’s currency. The Indian economy is still dealing with the consequences.

On August 5, Modi shocked India with another announcement that may turn out to be the political equivalent of the demonetization debacle. After seven decades in which both the people of Jammu and Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – and the international community had been assured that the state would maintain its special status under the Indian constitution, the government unilaterally divided it. Modi’s administration has carved out a union territory in the high plateaux and hills of Ladakh in the eastern half of the state, and reduced the status of the remainder – still named Jammu and Kashmir – from that of a state to a union territory. (A union territory is directly administered by the federal government, though it may have an elected legislature and cabinet, with limited powers.)

Many in India worry that, as with demonetization, the short- and medium-term damage caused by Modi’s decision will greatly outweigh the theoretical long-term benefits. First and foremost is the breathtaking betrayal of Indian democracy: the government has changed the constitutional relationship of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to the Republic of India without consulting them or their elected representatives.

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