How India systematically destroyed Kashmir’s economy

Economic repression is an insidious form of repression. It seldom garners outrage from the outside world, especially in the West where poverty is often viewed as a personal choice, although as we know, that is not always the case. Yet, economic repression can be as devastating as a war for those people who are trapped within it.  

The destruction of Kashmir’s economy is intentional. It was one of the first arrows that Modi fired when he revoked Articles 370 and 35A in August 2019. Before the ink was dry on 370 & 35A’s demise, Kashmir was placed on lockdown. Businesses were shuttered and a communication blackout cut Kashmir off from the outside world.

Without this vital link, thousands of people were unable to work, pay their bills, and earn a living. With 370 and 35A gone, the economy could be handed over to outsiders loyal to the Modi regime.

Economic annihilation 

From August 2019 through the present day, the economic repression has been strategic and targeted to inflict maximum damage.

As the initial lockdown after the revocation of the special status was beginning to be lifted, the world was hit with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Unable to provide basic life necessities, many were forced to flee their homes.

While the government kept Kashmir in lockdown, it was secretly selling licenses and land to outsiders. When blocks were auctioned off to mine the Jhelum River, over 70% went to Indian businesses.

Ghulam Mohammad, a local contractor, explained how the strategic disinvestment impacts his family, “this government has pushed us to the wall. They have robbed us of our livelihood. In the present crisis, they have left us with no means of survival.”

Compounding the problem, when these companies fill the jobs, they are not hiring locals. Many jobs that were legally reserved for true domiciles in Jammu and Kashmir are now granted to illegal Indian soldiers, bureaucrats, their families, and other outsider colonial laborers.

Cutting off access to the world 

Agriculture, specifically apples, have been the lifeblood of many Kashmir families, going back generations. Yet, the Indian government was determined to let the crops rot and the farmers starve. Not only did India block access to the global market, making India the only destination for these apples. In addition, the bushels of apples never even make it to that market as the government has let them rot on the side of the road.  

To add insult to injury, they also imported apples from Iran.

The result: the elimination of the market for homegrown crops and the deprivation of native farmers of their livelihood.

This restriction to the Indian market for Kashmiri business is not unique to the agricultural industry – as most businesses within J&K are subject to these trade restrictions. Restricting access to the Indian market guarantees market manipulation from New Delhi at best, and complete ruin at worst.

Settler colonialism’s legacy of failure 

While the Modi regime’s goals of economic devastation and displacement have wrought devastation upon Kashmiri Muslims, it has also failed to provide any tangible benefits to the valley. According to a report by Al-Jazeera – total investment in 2022 in the J&K region is not only down from 2021 but has been down before 370’s abrogation.

The report stated:

“Total investment in 2021-22 in Jammu and Kashmir stood at $46M, down from $50.5M the previous year, and dramatically less than the $102.8M spent in 2017-18.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic no doubt affected Kashmir’s economy, the statistics suggest that it wasn’t the biggest factor in investments drying up. After all, the steepest fall in investments came the year that the Indian government ended Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, before the pandemic, halving from $72.3M in 2018-19 to $36.3M in 2019-20.”

In our previous blog, we discussed the veneer of normalcy that Modi is trying to project to the world with the G-20 summit, with gatherings in the Kashmir valley. However, journalists won’t have to look far to see an economy and lives ruined by neglect, malice, and incompetence.

Authoritarianism is bad for business

Democracy is not a perfect system of government. It can be easily exploited by monied interests that have easy access to the corridors of power. However, flawed it can be, it offers a modicum of transparency and the ability to hold leaders accountable and promote policy change through activism.

The free market is strangled when patronage must be paid to the ruling elite. When those avenues are removed and there is no accountability, corruption, and cronyism, abound. Stability falters and violence becomes the norm. Leading to a feedback loop of further disinvestment.

This is where Kashmir finds itself now.

Civil life has been crushed in Kashmir. With pro-democracy, human rights, and civic leaders imprisoned, there is no hope for change. But that has not stopped the violence in Kashmir. 

Indeed, it is possible to see echoes in the current conflict, with the rigging of the regional elections in 1987. When a government cannot claim legitimacy – violence becomes inevitable.

Militants have begun targeting civilians, Kashmiri Pandits, and attacks on nonresident Hindus have increased over the previous year, including an attack on New Year’s Day that left four dead and six injured.   

The Modi administration promised stability – and yet it has delivered only ruined lives and a ruined economy.

Is there a way back from the brink?

Sadly, there is no good news on this front. Restoring the economic lifeblood of Kashmir means ending the settler-colonial project. Yet, Modi has staked not only Hindu national identity on reclaiming and integrating Kashmir, but any retreat on this front would be seen as a failure by his supporters. Modi similarly will not reverse course. Only the fall of the BJP-led government could bring a reverse direction. The economic failure we see in Kashmir has now occurred throughout India – only time will tell if the Indian people will realize their government is bringing no benefit to them before it is too late. 

Modi’s BJP regime has now started to show cracks that have been visible to the repressed Kashmiris, but also to the Indians and the world beyond. Modi could do no wrong including the sudden demonetization, the gross mismanagement of Covid-19, and the post-Pulwama misadventure in which Pakistan shot down two fighter jets, one pilot was captured and six Indian force personnel were killed. 

Last week, a bombshell interview of the ex-Indian Governor Satya Pal Malik accused Modi of having misled the nation and being directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of 40 of his own CRPF personnel. Is there a ray of hope for Kashmiris in the repeated misadventures of Modi? Only time will tell.