What do Catalonia, a state in Spain and Kashmir, a state in India 7200 km away have in common? Separatism right from the time they joined the nearest large country.

Catalonia witnessed its first war in the year 1462 right when it joined Spain. Kashmir was no different it witnessed its first “war” in 1947 following which it joined the Union of India after its king Hari Singh signed the “Instrument of Accession” with the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. They say history repeats itself when we fail to learn from it. This is especially true in Kashmir and Catalonia cases. Read on to find out why.

Following its accession to Spain, Catalonia retained its autonomity, laws, and customs despite being under the rule of Spain. After a period of about two centuries of relative peace, rebelled against Spain using the Thirty years war and Franco-Spanish war as a distraction. The Catalan government then seceded from Spain using French support and declared Louis XIII as the Count of Barcelona.

A decade later, the Spanish monarchy recovered all of Catalonia save Rousillon which went to the French. Despite being annexed by Spain, the freedom call and separatism were much too great in Catalonia to allow it to remain peaceful for long. As time progressed, more and more separatism brewed in the state and by the twentieth century, there was a significant proportion of Catalonians who demanded complete freedom from Spain. The autonomity of Catalan should have been curbed for it to remain dependent on Spain but that was not done. This later allowed multiple political parties to gain a strong foothold in Spain.

Later in 2014, two of the most prominent leaders drafted the Declaration of Sovereignty and right to decide of the Catalan people which was also adopted by its parliament. The courts, however, decided that the declaration was unconstitutional. Following peaceful protests and demonstrations by Catalonians, the major political parties of Spain (CiU, ERC, ICV-EUiA and Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) ) decided to hold the independence referendum on 9th November 2014. However, the Constitutional court of Spain had had already declared the declaration unconstitutional and hence the vote despite going ahead was pretty much a failure. It was also a failure on the grounds that only 42% had voted. The leaders of the political parties then faced criminal charges for going against the court. The CiU a major political party that had been a staunch supporter of Catalonian independence broke up following the failure of the vote. Carles Puigdemont became the president of the nation in January 2016. He in late September 2016 declared that a referendum would be held with or without Spanish institutions’ consent. Despite many attempts, the Catalan Parliament did not succeed in its attempt to declare independence from Spain. Finally, the Catalan parliament was dismissed and the control transferred to the center (Source). Most pro-independence leaders were jailed or persecuted. (Source) Violent clashes with the police followed the declaration of the referendum as void (Source). Most of this violence was generated from the fact that the Catalan region was given near-complete autonomy with its own parliament and customs. Had it not been the case, Madrid may have been able to prevent most of the violence and injustice.

Parallelly in Jammu and Kashmir(J&K), despite Pakistani efforts in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 to snatch it away covertly by force, the region had been given autonomy for 70+ years since its accession to India. Following Pakistan’s last attempt, the region had experienced increasing levels of separatism as evidenced by people turning out in large numbers for the funeral of separatist and terrorist leader Burhan Wani protests erupting in quite a few parts of the state. The state’s “special status” the one that granted it autonomy and powers similar to the country’s parliament, gave it ample opportunity to fuel separatist movements (Source). Similar to Catalonia, many separatist leaders had such large political clout that they controlled a major part of J&K polity.

The autonomy granted to the state has been questioned by the now ruling nationalist party the BJP for years (Source). Finally, on 5th August 2019, the party passed a law revoking the special status for the state in both houses of the parliament. This was after over 12 months of presidential rule in the state following the collapse of the local government in the state of J&K. Following the dilution and repealing of Articles 370 and 35A from the constitution respectively, separatist leaders were placed under preventive arrest and curfew imposed. The curfew is yet to be lifted in most parts. Now that the state’s autonomy has been snatched, perhaps it will lose its separatist shackles and limp back to peaceful operations in tandem with the rest of the nation.

It is fortunate that India did not repeat Spain’s mistake when it came to the autonomy of one of its states. With an unstable neighbor whose politics is controlled more by its secret service than elected representatives, India probably dodged a bullet with respect to secessionist movements in its state.

About the author: Aniruddha Ganesh is an avid follower of politics in India and a political commentator. Reach out to him on Quora, Twitter, and Instagram.

Please cite this article as follows:

“Drawing parallels: Catalonia and the state of Jammu & Kashmir”, Aniruddha Ganesh,  01 Sept 2019. GLOBAL WARRIORS. URL https://globalwarriorsfoxtrot.com/drawing-parallels-catalonia-and-the-state-of-jammu-kashmir


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