Time, distance, history and geography are the major factors that facilitate the separation of Hong Kong and Jammu and Kashmir into two completely different worlds. It is not entirely incorrect to make this assertion since one is ruled by the largest democracy in the world, the other happens to fall under the administration of a “democracy craving outlier of an authoritarian state.”
The very pillars of democracy such as freedom of choice; speech; religion, free flow of information, multiparty system for power etc. have been taking blows over the past few years and Central Governments’ recent move with regards to the abrogation of Article 370 in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, paints a grim picture of Democracy’s recent tectonic shift. What unfolded in Kashmir and Hong Kong and the way it was conducted by both countries makes it hard for us to decipher which of the regions comes under which country.
The Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 established People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) sovereignty over Hong Kong when the 99 year old lease expired in 1997 which effectively set up the Hong Kong Special Administrative Area (HKSAR). Under the agreement, HKSAR would “enjoy a high degree of autonomy except in foreign and defence affairs”. This birthed the idea of “one nation, two systems” with China exercising sovereignty whilst Hong Kong retained its executive, legislative and independent judicial power.
A similar contrast can be captured in the province of Jammu and Kashmir which, until a couple of weeks ago, was an autonomous region with special privileges under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The Princely state had acceded to a new independent India in 1947 in exchange for having being granted its own autonomy and constitution. That lived reality came to a halt on 4th August 2019 as the Indian government abrogated the article granting it the special status and took away Kashmir’s rights as a province, bifurcated it into two federally administered units and put all its major political leaders under house arrest. While many hailed this decision as long overdue; terrorism needed to be kept at a bay, Kashmir’s economy needed a revival and most importantly, it was to integrate the country fully, others had their valid reservations about this move.
The mass protests that erupted in Hong Kong after the Extradition Bill was proposed has a success story of its own. The Extradition Bill proposed allowed the government to extradite people to mainland China. Millions joined the protests viewing the bill as a systematic tool to dismantle HKSAR’s special status and thus, they exercised one of democracy’s foundational instrument; the freedom of assembly. The leaders were not imprisoned and they voiced their views freely, giving life to the protests. The authorities reacted through police action but the government never interfered with people assembling. They protested, they made themselves heard and finally, they got the bill withdrawn.
What is interesting to notice is the aforementioned unfolded under the administration of “democracy craving outlier of an authoritarian state”, China. It is urged that we compare the same narrative with the world’s largest democracy. In Kashmir, a total lockdown has been initiated with the entire region in a state of semi- curfew. Internet and telephone services have been suspended, cable and postal services have been shut down, the army has been beefed up to maintain “order” and to hammer the final nail in the coffin, Kashmiri leaders have been held in detention under unspecified charges with all the three top leaders not been heard of since August 5.
At such a critical juncture of democracy, the media plays an integral role. It raises the right voices and sheds light on the actions of the state; essentially playing the prefect of the 4th pillar of democracy. However, mainstream Indian media, possibly under the pressure of the government, followed the narrative offered by the state; that of peace and calm in Kashmir. The current state that the Indian media finds itself in, is disappointing to say the least. A once proud independent media is now overshadowed with a host of outlets pleasing those at the higher level of the food chain, rather than reporting the truth. It is thus unsurprising to see India fall two more places to 140 out of 180 territories in the World Press Freedom Index. It is also interesting to point out that Hong Kong falls 73 on the same list. This new culture of a dominant media is how the government will improve the plot of the Kashmiri’s. Only this time, neither the Kashmiri leaders nor the people are being heard to substantiate the government’s narrative.
An image of one pellet injury emerged from Hong Kong and that sent a completely new ramification; bringing in more angry protests. The same cannot be stated in the Kashmir region where pellet guns were used but reported very pluckily by the Indian media. This is a tough paradox for those advocating for democracy. On one hand, a group is protesting freely about a possible decision hurting their democratic fabric whilst on the other hand, there are those, living under martial law imposed by their own government, who just a few months back voted in the world’s biggest election.
The manner in which situation was handled in Hong Kong seems more tilted to a democracy than the situations unfolding in Kashmir. This leads us to a strange trajectory where it seems to be hard to bifurcate which is administered by the largest democracy and which by an authoritarian state. Political scientists would be scratching their heads on this whilst the people live in a constant state of hysteria.
South China Morning Post. (2019). SCMP. [online] Available at: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3023171/hong-kong-india-kashmir-china-right [Accessed 4 Sep. 2019].
The Week. (2019). “Hong Kong, J&K similar; there are lessons to learn.” [online] Available at: https://www.theweek.in/columns/Mani-Shankar-Aiyar/2019/06/28/hong-kong-j-k-similar-there-are-lessons-to-learn.html [Accessed 4 Sep. 2019].
M.K. Bhadrakumar (2019). China and Jammu and Kashmir’s new status. [online] Asia Times. Available at: https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/08/article/china-and-jammu-and-kashmirs-new-status/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2019].
Sahil Philip is a second year bachelors student studying International Relations at OP Jindal Global University.