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Modi used Kashmir to heighten Hindu Nationalism and bolster masculine image of “Chowkidar”

Hindu Nationalism

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In a new bid to cripple the economy of Indian-occupied Kashmir valley and heighten restrictions on movement, New Delhi banned civilian traffic on the arterial highway that connects Srinagar with Jammu, along with connecting the far-flung valleys and villages of Kashmir with economic zones.

New Delhi, much like Israel’s use of unspecified threats to ban movements in Gaza, used the pretext of security threats for its military convoys to impose a two-day ban on civilian traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway, a heavy-handed measure that has caused unprecedented inconvenience to civilians, students, professionals and particularly those seeking medical attention. This decision, however, is only one of the many heavy-handed measures ordered under the brutal regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that began in 2014.

The careful maneuvering of the Congress-led governments and Vajpayee’s carrot-and-stick techniques are long forgotten in the Indian-occupied valley as PM Modi has marred their minds with agonizing brutality by giving the military a free hand to counter all resistance, not just against freedom fighters but also civilian protestors, who are showered with rubber bullets fired through the notorious pellet guns.

BJP has led a strategy of gaining unpopularity in Kashmir and using the occupied valley as a stage to fuel the heightening sentiments of Hindu nationalism. Analysts believe that by marginalizing the Muslims of Kashmir, Modi and BJP seek to sideline many other issues faced by the Indian nation.

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Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri novelist and associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Westminster explained while speaking to PRI, how the Modi-led government uses the media to engage Pakistan and present Kashmir as a national security issue that needs to be dealt with force. Kaul explains, “India uses exceptional violence as well as nationalist propaganda around Kashmir and presents it as a Pakistan-sponsored Islamist problem and the media in the country is mostly complicit with it.”

Minutes after the Pulwama incident occurred, New Delhi resorted to its typical knee-jerk reaction of blaming Pakistan without conducting any kind of investigation, a move that analysts regard as the beginning of Modi’s election campaign that would present him as the “chowkidar” or watchman of the Indian nation, a claim that was further strengthened by the Indian claim of carrying out the alleged Balakot strike.

The five-week Indian election began in Kashmir on 11th April, marked by a wave of crackdown, brutal nocturnal raids, search and cordon operations, and arrests of hundreds of Kashmiri leaders, human rights lawyers and activists. On Monday 6th May, the districts of Pulwama and Shopian in southern Kashmir entered the fifth phase of the Indian election, which is set to end on 23rd May.

New Delhi has taken heavy-handed measures to quell protests and the Kashmiri resilience with heightened military presence, an increase in the number of checkpoints, widespread internet blackout, and increased clashes between the security personnel and civilians. Reports suggest that more than 70,000 innocents have died in the valley, and while India media and New Delhi portray the militarization of Kashmir as a fight against militancy, numerous international human rights groups has highlighted the human right’s abuses and violations undertaken by the Indian troops against unarmed civilians.

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Since the Indian-occupied valley comprises of no more than six seats, a historically low turnout of 12.8%, as reported by All India Radio News, in Kashmir is certainly not a disappointment to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The occupied people of Kashmir have boycotted the election, dismissing it as an “illegitimate exercise” imposed on them by a brutal military occupation.

Even though the election has no consequences on the justified demand for Kashmiri freedom, the valley is of great importance to feed and fuel Modi’s rhetoric of national security, militancy across Kashmir and the alleged threats emerging from Pakistan.

Modi’s Masculine Hindu Nationalism: Cashing on the Pulwama Attack

Mohammad Junaid, an expert on the freedom movements of Kashmir and assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, explained while speaking to The Intercept, “For Congress, at least at the level of rhetoric, Kashmiris are viewed as citizens of India. Their rhetoric suggests that eventually, India has to find a nonmilitary solution to the problems in Kashmir. The BJP, on the other hand, sees Kashmiri Muslims themselves as a problem. They dislike the fact that Kashmir is a majority Muslim region of India and foresee a ‘demographic solution’ for the province, which would entail bringing settlers from elsewhere in India to colonize the region.”

Junaid explains that the Modi-led government has altered the political dynamics of the valley such that “it is the Indian military establishment that determines what occurs in Kashmir”.

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Modi’s repetitive references to the alleged airstrikes, the destructions of terror camps in Balakot and the resolve to fight against Pakistan have stirred the Hindu nationalists and strengthened his election campaign by bypassing the issues of rising unemployment, joblessness, and poverty. BJP President Amit Shah, joined by other BJP leaders, was seen electioneering throughout India projecting PM Modi as the only leader who has the “will and force to fight back against Pakistan”.

Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, highlighted the “Islamophobic” rhetoric raised by Modi and the BJP leadership throughout the election campaign. In an article published in Open The Magazine, Kugelman writes, “During India’s election campaign, and in the days after polling began, top political leaders have resorted to ugly and Islamophobic rhetoric. They have maligned countrymen killed in terrorist attacks.”

Referring to Modi’s attempts to fortify his masculine image and hardliner stance against Pakistan, Kugelman writes, “And Prime Minister Modi himself, in an apparent effort to exploit nationalist sentiment in his electoral favor, even used a campaign speech to boast of India’s nuclear threat to Pakistan—a highly unusual move for a nation that takes its reputation as a responsible nuclear power very seriously.”

Arundhati Roy, Modi’s loudest critic, renowned novelist and human rights activist, explains Modi’s underlying political win behind staging the Pulwama attack in an article written for The Huffington Post. Roy states, “Tragic as it was, the Pulwama attack came as a perfect political opportunity for Narendra Modi to do what he does best—grandstand. For Modi, who is seeking reelection in polls expected this spring, the confrontation with Pakistan over the militant groups within its borders is a rare political opportunity.”

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Arundhati highlighted that before the Pulwama incident, BJP was all set to fight the Indian elections on “terrain unfavorable to Modi”, as issued like youth unemployment, rising social insecurity, and rural distress were the major problems being discussed in India. Once again, the world witnessed how the Hindu nationalist BJP and Modi used the stage of Kashmir to give birth to a violent wave of Hindu nationalism, an overpowering surge of anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric that bypassed the pressing concerns of widespread poverty and joblessness, allowing Modi to lead his campaign as a proud statesman, a “chowkidar” with a hardliner approach towards terrorists and terror sponsors.

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