The truth is that Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir continue to escape international conscience as world headlines remain awash with the Ukraine War. The focus remains on how utterly barbaric the Kremlin regime is and rallying behind the Biden administration’s calls to exercise economic, political and military coercion against Russia, is the correct course of action.
Yet the alarming part is that the occupation has entered a horrific phase as media blackouts, suppression of Kashmiri resistance through force and state-sponsored demographic changes are now deeply entrenched. The saffronization of the valley has reached new heights in 2022 and is now an operational technique to help the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party in India gain electoral dominance. This sets a dangerous and provocative precedent that mandates immediate attention.
Understanding the matter better
As Muharram processions were brutally curbed in the valley, the BJP brandished its credentials at the center in India. Despite the religious significance of the month for millions of Muslims across the world, heavy-handed tactics were unabashedly employed despite the fact that thousands of civilians and freedom fighters were incarcerated, tortured, or locked up since August 2019. Such political expediency mirrors tactics employed by regimes in pre-1994 apartheid South Africa or 2020-2022 Israel, Gaza and Palestine. Both regimes banked on heavy-handedness translating into greater domestic electoral success.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s defeat in the 2021 Israeli legislative election for example lead to the rise of the rotational government of incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Naftali Bennett being approved. A closer examination of the political ideologies that Bennett subscribes to also reveals that military operations such as ‘Breaking Dawn’ in Gaza or the expansion of settlements in the West Bank can translate into greater domestic political capital. Similarly, the white minority government during South Africa’s crackdowns on the indigenous population and confining them to ‘Bantustans’, helped politicians such as Hendrik Verwoerd cement his government’s position at the center. Any opposing voice was also muzzled out.
Noteworthy is the fact that both indigenous Africans and besieged Palestinians became political pawns in the process. As Hindu hyper-nationalism laced with state-sponsored oppression of the Kashmiri people becomes deeply embedded in the national psyche,the BJP continues to benefit from political capital. As of July 2022, the Narendra Modi government enjoys a 75% approval rate among all adult constituencies globally, despite the fact that democratic freedoms, minority rights and vibrant opposition to fascism are systematically being eroded in India.
Apparently coerced demographic changes in IIOJK based on changes to a decades-old domicile law are not swaying opposition to BJP’s majoritarian rule but further cementing it. Similarly, hegemonic or revisionist approaches which undercut the Kashmiri resistance movement and the right to self-determination are further solidifying the BJP’s stronghold over Indian politics.
As a result, crackdowns in IIOJK must be viewed within the wider context of Indian electoral politics. 2022 is an election year in India with the presidential, vice presidential and by-elections to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have taken place. BJP candidate Droupadi Murmu defeated her opposition candidate by a margin of 296,626 votes in a landslide victory which also applies to the vice presidency run as well, with Jagdeep Dhankar winning against Indian National Congress candidate, Margaret Alva. While the ruling party gained a stronghold at the center, there are still less than two years before the Indian general election takes place in 2024.
Read more: 1965 Kashmir War: The Political Dimension
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be contesting against the Indian National Congress and the latter has been repeatedly accused for granting undue special status to IIOJK and cronyism, kleptocracy and nepotism at the center in New Delhi. To ensure that gains in the presidential election translate into significant capital in the general countdown in 2024, hardline strategies need to be adopted by the BJP.
Even in 2022, the BJP heavily relies on the Hindutva vote bank for its political survival. While Prime Minister Modi remains popular in the Indian polity, the party has received considerable flak from international human rights organizations for curbing press freedom, muzzling out dissent and cracking down on social media platforms such as Twitter. The mainstreaming of fringe elements in the wider Hindutva network has worked well as a vanguard as plausible deniability from the party resulted in violent attacks being perpetrated against minorities for greater political clout.
It is noteworthy that systematic and state-sponsored violence witnessed during the Gujarat riots of 2002 when Prime Minister Modi was the Chief Minister came amid calls for his resignation from the Congress government at the center in New Delhi for culpability. The riots were described by Paul Brass in 2005, as premeditated and quintessential ethnic cleansing. The Gujarat government’s response was to dissolve the state assembly and call for fresh elections.
The result was Modi won with more than a two third majority
While dynamics in state and national politics differ significantly, constituent politics define the future for the latter. Kashmir is being used as a convenient case for political expediency as incarcerations of doctors, students, activists, women, and children allow the Hindutva laboratory to foment discord and play right into the BJP’s playbook. In fact, the Modi-led BJP easily brandishes its IIOJK policy to target opponents and flag its draconian credentials to alienate the opposition which has become toothless and inadequate over time in Indian politics.
Read more: The threat to freedom in Kashmir Valley
Champions of human rights should be concerned especially those who call out occupations in other geographical regions and call upon sovereign governments to reverse their clampdowns on besieged populations. The sad reality is that IIOJK continues to be used as a political pawn to further the BJP’s political ambitions with the Kashmiri people bearing the brunt of such brutality. Any reversal of such harrowing realities is dependent on the international community calling out an occupation for exactly what it is, instead of looking for justifications that allow the Hindutva laboratory to promote its goals which include social exclusionism, eliminationism and subjugating a population.
The writer is a Former Visiting Fellow, at Stimson Center, Washington D.C. (2016) and an Assistant Research Associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.