India’s tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices in Mumbai and New Delhi last week. This incident may have forced the world to reluctantly wake up to Narendra Modi’s strong dislike for independent media; a subservient media has long been among the accomplishments of the Indian prime minister.
Ever since the BBC documentary, ‘India: The Modi Question’, was released, the BJP-led government has been offended by the famed British broadcaster daring to question the Indian leader, who – according to political commentators – is immensely sensitive about his global image. No wonder any reference to his controversial past is readily dismissed as the work of Western imperialists who are threatened by a rising India. Counter-attacks launched to protect the ‘dear leader’ from the Western media’s critical spotlight are often packaged in overwhelmingly nationalistic colours.
In line with the textbook definition of the term ‘fascism’, there is little to differentiate between the state and the leader who, for all practical purposes, is projected as representing the very ethos of a nation, far above the whole system that any audit of his actions is interpreted as an attack on national identity.
This is but snippets of a broad war that Modi has launched on Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) after his controversial decision of depriving the Muslim-majority valley of its statehood.
The world may conveniently choose to ignore the plight of Kashmiris, dazzled as it is by the lure of the Indian market and the willingness of the BJP government to become a partner of choice in the geostrategic competition with China. The situation in IIOJK has continued to deteriorate for Kashmiri Muslims.
While human rights violations have been consistent in Jammu and Kashmir, the chapter of Indian repression that opened on August 5, 2019 has been the most brutal. After revoking the special constitutional status of the valley, the BJP government worked on a recalibrated strategy that goes far beyond the rights abuses.
Here is a recap of the actions the Modi government undertook over the past three-and-a-half years to fulfil the mission of completely but illegally integrating IIOJK into the Indian Union. It is important to understand that the strategy has three key elements – diplomatic and political, demographic and legal, and cultural and informational.
The BJP government was left deeply stunned by an overwhelmingly negative response to and the total and absolute rejection of its revocation decision by all elements of Kashmir’s political opinion. Its ‘carrot and stick’ policy, which it has routinely employed to drive a wedge between the Kashmiri leadership miserably failed.
The default reaction of the Modi junta was to strengthen the military siege of the valley and imprison not just All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders but also the likes of Farooq Abdullah and Mahbooba Mufti who have traditionally allied with Delhi on multiple occasions.
As part of the inducements offered to ‘like-minded’ Kashmiri politicians, Modi hosted a conference in 2021 to win over their support. He took the ‘political’ initiative with a dual purpose. First, stung by the fierce international criticism of grave human rights abuses in IIOJK – particularly in global media – he wanted to give the impression of the situation normalizing in the valley. Second, the so-called ‘revived political process’ was aimed at seeking the consent of pro-India politicians for the Indian government’s efforts to consolidate the post-August actions.
The political stunt met stark failure as even pro-India politicians refused to play ball without Modi’s firm commitment to withdraw the revocation of Article 370. Even if they wanted to, they could ill-afford to go against people’s wishes in IIOJK. Such was the level of deep-running resentment and rejection of India’s decision.
In February 2021, India arranged a ‘guided’ tour of 20 diplomats from the EU, the Middle East and Africa – the third such visit after the revocation of the special status of IIOJK. The idea behind the visit was to somehow show that things were back to ‘normalcy’. The visit was preceded by the worst crackdown and the jailing of political leaders, including three former chief ministers, journalists and human rights activists to stop the popular backlash against the move.
As India looks set to host the G-20 this year, unconfirmed reports continue to emerge in the Indian media, indicating that the Modi government is toying with the idea of holding the meeting in IIOJK. If such a controversial move comes to pass, it will undoubtedly be part of the Indian diplomatic offensive to rewrite the reality in IIOJK.
Since August 5, 2019, the Indian government has undertaken a slew of measures to reconfigure the demographic representation of Muslims who constitute 68 per cent of the population in Kashmir, according to the 2011 census. The Delimitation Commission appointed by the Modi regime recommended six seats to Jammu and only one to Kashmir in the 90-member assembly with the sole aim of giving greater representation to Hindus at the cost of Muslims.
As legal experts point out, the delimitation exercise violates the UNSC resolutions, particularly para 2 of Resolution 38, which has barred parties to the dispute from bringing about any material change in the circumstances.
Also, India issued over three million new domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris to enable them to settle in IIOJK and buy properties. According to the previous domicile rules, anyone who is not a legally recognized resident of Kashmir was barred from voting and buying properties.
These are but a few glaring examples of the BJP government’s gross attempts at disempowering and disenfranchising Muslims by turning them into a minority in their home. IIOJK, a Muslim-majority state, is considered an impediment in Hindutva’s mission of ideologically refashioning India as the ‘Hindu-only’ country.
Together with the demographic and legal changes through the so-called Delimitation Commission, APHC leaders, who are true representatives of the Kashmiri people, have been subjected to long imprisonments. Even pro-India politicians found themselves on the other side of New Delhi’s equation. Thus Kashmiris’ political voice has remained muzzled over the last three-and-a-half years.
Kashmiris’ culture and way of life has also come under the BJP government’s assault. From the seizure and confiscation of all properties under the Jammu and Kashmir Waqf Board including religious places and shrines and the arrest of religious leaders, to the erosion of the Urdu language and an end of its status as an official language, the Hindutva mindset continues to trample upon and suppress the distinctive identities and culture of Kashmiris.
The information and communication blockade imposed on the valley has been a marked feature of life in IIOJK since the withdrawal of the statehood of Occupied Kashmir. A new media policy was introduced in 2020 under which journalists were arrested and tried under harsh sedition and anti-terror laws. Sweeping curbs on freedom of expression have been in place over the years.
The situation has led many media and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to note the presence of a culture of intimidation, prosecution and harassment and pass highly condemnatory statements.
As daunting challenges such as deepening geostrategic rivalries, natural disasters and global fatigue take the spotlight away from the plight of people living in one of the world’s largest open-air prison in a climate of fear, Modi’s ‘forever’ war on hapless people of IIOJK continues unabated.Amanat Ali Chaudhry, "Modi’s forever war," The News. 2023-02-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political voice , Political process , Politicians , Fascism , diplomatic , PM Modi , Kashmir , India , IIOJK , APHC , BJP