National and International Issues

Modi’s Kashmir Policy and the Critical Voices of India

The brunt of Modi’s divisive, exclusionary and extremist Hindutva policies was not only borne by the people of IIOJK, but also by the critical voices, including Hindu writers and allies of BJP, who speak against the extremist approach in IIOJK.

An award-winning writer and one of the strongest voices on the issue of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), Arundhati Roy once stated that, “Even if India increases its military footprint from seven lac to 70 lac in [Indian Illegally Occupied] Kashmir, it wouldn’t be able to gain Kashmir.” In order to gain Kashmir, what matters is winning their hearts and minds, not subjugating them through fear, denial of their basic human rights and use of excessive violence. Ms. Roy also once stated, “Just a few months of COVID-19 lockdown, without a military curfew or communications siege, has brought the world to its knees and hundreds of millions to the limits of their endurance and sanity. Think of [Indian Illegally Occupied] Kashmir under the densest military deployment in the world. On top of suffering Coronavirus has laid on you, add a maze of barbed wire on your streets, soldiers breaking into your homes, beating the men and abusing the women, destroying your food stocks, amplifying the cries of humans being tortured on public address systems.” Unfortunately, Indian sociopolitical structure under Baharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has no room left for sanity as “sanity” is synonymous to “treason.” As a result, Roy’s humanist views and inconvenient truth has made her a permanent target of Hindutva radicals, threats by government officials and attacks on her academic credibility. 
The voices of discriminated, subjugated, and marginalized socio-religious communities, especially of Indian Muslims and Kashmiris, are neither audible nor visible in the electoral autocracy, i.e., India. Priyanka Gandhi, the leader of Indian National Congress, highlighted this trend in her statement. She said, “There is nothing more political and anti-national than the shutting down of all democratic rights that is taking place in [Indian Illegally Occupied] Kashmir. It is the duty of every one of us to raise our voices against it; we will not stop doing so.” However, such views are not a part of the popular discourse in India and the political space for Congress is shrinking with every passing day. 
The alternate discourse lacks representation in Indian decision-making processes and is completely absent from the popular discourse. Such mindset is a reflection of Indian strategic culture. Chanakya Kautilya, the cornerstone of Indian strategic thought, never envisioned a society based on equality, human rights, and inclusivism. Instead, he advocated majoritarianism with authoritarian principles. The BJP regime, self-proclaimed defenders of Hindutva, created popular discourse in favor of a Hindu society, based on the principles chalked out in Arthashastra and other Hindu scriptures. The internationally acknowledged academician of Indian origin, Ashok Swain, discussed the policies of BJP regime and wrote that, “Modi does not anymore pretend even as the leader of a secular country. He sees himself and overtly acts like a king of a Hindu Kingdom.” In another article, he wrote, “For Modi’s politics, peace, and stability in Kashmir do not bring benefits, violence and despair of Kashmiri Muslims do. That is the reason Narendra Modi is celebrating first anniversary of his repeal of Article 370 at Ayodhya by formally starting the construction of Ram temple, another key Hindutva project.” The scholars need to deliberate on how subjugating Muslims has become a satisfaction for Hindu ego? Whether secularism is a product of colonial knowledge or religious nationalism? If after practicing secularism for decades, India is reverting to its Hindu roots, then where do “secularism” and “democracy” stand in the realm of “gospel truth?”
BJP regime always manifests Indian atrocities and occupation of IIOJK as a matter of pride for Indian Hindus, as their success story and their revenge from the Muslims for the consumption of domestic audience/vote bank. According to a census conducted by India in 2011, out of IIOJK’s total population of 12.5 million, Muslims comprise 68.31 percent and Hindus 28.43 percent. An overwhelming 96 percent of those Muslims live in IIOJK. 
In order to fan anti-Muslim hysteria/Islamophobia, to demonstrate the Hindu destructive powers and to appease radical extremist Hindu vote bank, Modi’s Kashmir policy is a continuation of Indian strategic culture. His policy is based on: 1) exclusivism; 2) authoritarian masculinity; 3) war hysteria; 4) use of excessive violence; 5) political and electoral manipulation to undermine Kashmiri Muslims; 6) constitutionalizing state-sponsored terrorism; 7) manifestation of ruthlessness; 8) divide and rule; 9) information blackout; and 10) governing through fear. Mr. A. S. Dulat summarized Modi’s Kashmir policy and clearly stated that Modi’s Kashmir policy has created a mess. Although his thoughts have no audibility within the popular discourse, but he still tried to raise the alarm bells. Lieutenant General H. S. Panag, former General Officer Commanding (GOC) Northern and Central Command of India, substantiates the observations of Mr. Dulat and stated, “The situation in the Valley has since gone from bad to worse. People in Kashmir feel that their culture and identity are now under threat. The hope of the silent moderate majority for a political solution has given way to despondency and people are more alienated than ever. They believe they have been ‘cornered’ and have no option left but to ‘resist.’ In view of the massive deployment of the paramilitary forces, the resistance has manifested into ‘civil disobedience’ and non-cooperation – against which the state is powerless.”
In a move to legitimize state terrorism, BJP regime unilaterally stripped IIOJK of its limited autonomy and statehood on August 5, 2019, under the false pretext of resolving the longstanding armed conflict for sustainable peace and development in IIOJK. However, even after three years, nothing sustainable has been achieved, whether it is state government, peace, economic development, or stability. Modi’s Kashmir policy has deepened the trauma of conflict and violence among the subjugated Kashmiris in IIOJK. The economic losses they have faced after the revocation of Article 370 are unprecedented. The core sectors of the economy of IIOJK have witnessed a steep decline. The unemployment rate in IIOJK is 25 percent, whereas in India, it is 7.6 percent. Only in the initial five months of Modi’s second regime, the economy of Kashmir lost $5.32 billion and more than 100,000 Kashmiris lost their jobs in the sectors of handicraft, tourism, and information technology. The cross-Line of Control (LOC) trade has almost ceased to exist.  Several Indian scholars tried to caution their government regarding the futility of Modi’s Kashmir policy, but they remained unheard. Despite having no audibility, Justice Markandey Katju wrote, “Kashmir Valley continues to be subjected to various restrictions and proper internet services are still barred. Many political leaders are still under detention or house arrest. At the time of its scrapping, it was affirmed that reading down of Article 370 would usher in development, but this has proved a forlorn hope.” While echoing similar opinion, Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of IIOJK expressed his disappointment and termed the situation of IIOJK as “unfortunate,” as he opined, “Center said [Indian Illegally Occupied] Jammu and Kashmir will progress once Article 370 is removed, militancy will disappear. I would like to ask those people, has militancy disappeared? It has increased rather than decreased. Any development? Zero development. Whatever we had, we have lost even that.” 
The extrajudicial killings of innocent Kashmiris and out of proportion community punishments by Indian occupying forces are a norm in IIOJK. According to estimations, since the abrogation of Article 370, at least 197 security personnel, 675 suspected rebels (a claim of Indian occupying forces) and 131 civilians have been killed in the wave of mainly state-sponsored violence that has engulfed the Kashmir Valley. The police chief of IIOJK confirmed to Al Jazeera that only in 2022, Indian police and military has committed extrajudicial killings of more than 100 suspected armed Kashmiris, mostly young men aged between 18 and 26. Whereas, as per the claims of Indian officials, during 2022, only 16 people were killed by freedom fighters. Not only this, but contrary to its claims regarding normalization of the situation in IIOJK, Modi regime arrested hundreds of Kashmiri politicians, including former chief ministers, human rights activists, lawyers and students. 
A new domicile law was introduced that allowed outsiders to permanently settle in IIOJK, raising fears of a demographic change and allegations of a “settler-colonial project” in the region. Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister of IIOJK and an ally of BJP, while explaining how Modi’s Kashmir policy has affected the conflict, highlighted that, “More and more young people are running away from homes and joining militancy. It is due to the anger and the environment created by the BJP. They (youth) are being killed within 2-3 days of joining the armed struggle, some had not even picked up a gun yet. Everywhere it is the blood of Kashmiris that is being spilled.” After the house arrest of Mehbooba Mufti, her daughter, Iltaja Mufti, said, “Suddenly, there is heightened security and surveillance in the Valley. Clearly this is being done to ensure that anger and frustration felt by people here remain hidden.”
While the BJP regime was cheering for slashing Article 370 from the Indian constitution, the seasoned Indian politician, Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Advisor and former Foreign Secretary raised his voice to refute the false claims of Hindutva radicals, when he wrote that “The withdrawal of special status of [Indian Illegally Occupied] Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution had led to India being isolated from the international community, even by its traditional allies. There has been no meaningful international support, apart from a few committed members of the diaspora and a ragtag bunch of Euro MPs from the extreme right. We seem to know that we are isolated.” 
IIOJK is the least reported conflict of the world as BJP government has literally imposed virtual siege on this conflict-ridden region. After creating an information vacuum, BJP bridges it with false information, baseless propaganda, and fake stories to create the desired misperception about the conflict and their war crimes. As a result, in the World Press Freedom Index 2022, India’s ranking dropped to 150th from 142nd in 2021. However, the international community needs to break the information barriers and reach out to these children of a lesser god, the poor Kashmiris. Rana Ayyub, the award winning courageous Indian Muslim journalist, aptly cautioned, “Do not compare this self-quarantine (during COVID-19) with Kashmir. An entire population was locked down against its consent, thousands detained, deprived of the basic humanity.” Another journalist and novelist, Mirza Waheed, highlighted the plight of Kashmiris and wrote, “Mass arrests, Gestapo-style surveillance, torture, suppression of free assembly, crushing of Kashmiri press, decimation of local economy, longest internet shutdown ever imposed by a democracy, crippling of education system, incarceration of thousands of young people, unprecedented criminalization of speech, and gagging of Kashmir’s civil society. It all serves to remove Kashmiri agency.”
Modi’s India has no appetite to create space for critical thinking and alternate discourse. Indian politicians, scholars, and professionals who dare to disagree with the popular narrative constructed by BJP face the wrath of Hindu radicals, BJP supporters, and government machinery. Their careers come to an end and their socio-political space is eliminated. Having an alternate critical thought is equivalent to being a traitor as independent thinking has been considered a sin and convenient lies are preferred over inconvenient truths. 
Islamophobia has been used as a strategic weapon by the BJP regime to not only push Hindutva policies, but to also delegitimize the Kashmiri freedom struggle by equating it with the false rhetoric of “Islamic terrorism.” The criticism on Modi’s Kashmir policy could not get air time in Indian media due to strict media control by the BJP regime. A great South Asian scholar, Mr. A. G. Noorani aptly pointed out that “The measures unleashed by Modi’s BJP government on August 5 are designed to go beyond the wreck of Kashmiri autonomy. They are aimed at destroying the territory itself. The legal mechanics, crippling as they are, were imposed after the Valley was sanitized by army and paramilitary. Kashmir’s police were disarmed. This itself is a tribute to the rebellious spirit of the people of Kashmir.”
The hatred-driven, majoritarian Kashmir policy of Modi regime led the pro-India politician from IIOJK, Mr. Omar Abdullah, to say that “One year later, what has changed? Are people alienated, feeling any less so? Is violence any less? Has investment suddenly started flowing in? Is corruption any less and is governance any better? Has there been a reverse exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits?” Modi is not losing Kashmir, but he has already lost it. This is the outcome of the strategic culture where politics of hatred supersedes humanity and love for power undermines the power of love, where peace is synonymous to weakness and balance of power is a symbol of incompetence.

The writer is Executive Director at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJ&K and the author of Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists: The Grand Trunk Road to Confidence Building Measures between Pakistan and India.
E-mail: [email protected]

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