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Kashmir’s troubled relationship with the BJP

  • Rifat Fareed
  • 24 May 2019

The re-election of Narendra Modi’s party stokes fears of heightened conflict among Kashmiris but also tentative hope of peace.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi reacts as he is presented with a sword during an election campaign rally in Himmatnagar, Gujarat, India, April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave ( Reuters )

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has been re-elected in a landslide victory in the Indian parliamentary election leaving many residents of Indian-administered Kashmir fearful for the future of the region.

In its manifesto, the BJP vowed that it would abolish Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, which are applicable to the region. 

The two laws provide special citizenship rights and autonomous status to the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir and prohibit outsiders from permanent settlement and getting jobs in the Muslim-majority region.

With BJP securing another five-year mandate, residents feel the party will allow “demographic changes” in the volatile region.

Shopkeeper Abdul Hamid told TRT World that people had keenly watched the election results filter through, worried about what a win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party would mean for Kashmiris.

"The BJP is talking about the full integration of Kashmir with India, and the way the party will do that is by changing the demographics of the state," he said, adding: "It would keep the state on edge."

The BJP has not managed to secure a single one of Kashmir’s three parliamentary seats but the party is intimately involved in determining the fate of the state’s citizens.

India under Modi has launched a broad crackdown on the anti-Indian opposition in the region, including  the arrest of activists and “all-out” operations against rebel groups in the region, killing a record number.

Following the suicide attack on Indian paramilitary troops in Pulwama in February, which killed 40 soldiers, the federal government banned separatist groups, including Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), jailing hundreds of their members.

Kashmiris have been protesting against arbitrary arrests and killings by Indian security forces.(AP)

The government also closed the region’s main highway to civilian traffic for two days a week, a measure it said it will lift on May 27.

The measures don’t end there.

The Indian Ministry for Home Affairs has also asked the region’s government “to take sustained action against the media houses involved in anti-national coverage”.

New Delhi has implemented a media gagging order on coverage that may be seen as supportive of the rebel cause. The government has also withdrawn its adverts from two of the region’s most important newspapers, depriving the media outlets of a major source of revenue.

In its latest measure, students wanting to study in Pakistan-administered Kashmir were warned that their qualifications would not be recognised in India.

Conflict

The prevailing fear for many Kashmiris is what a new BJP mandate means for the conflict.

Kashmiri rebel groups have been at war with India since 1989 but the current tensions escalated with the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani in 2016.

In the civil unrest that followed, close to 100 Kashmiri civilians were killed, sending hundreds of young men to the rebel ranks.

In southern Kashmir, the conflict is at its most intense. And within these areas there have been widely observed boycotts of the recent elections.

Seeing the right-wing BJP in power again has created a sense of unease among people in the Kashmir Valley. 

“We really feared this day,” said Abid Ahmad, a resident of Shopian district in southern Kashmir.

“People would have been killed here any way here but during BJP rule, they [Indian forces] became brutal. 

Senior separatist leader Yasin Malik (2L) march along others towards an Indian army headquarter during a protest march against the recent killings of civilians, in Srinagar on December 17, 2018.(AFP)

“They didn’t only kill people but mutilated the bodies of rebels, they burnt them. They crossed the limitations of oppression here.”

Ahmad is aware of how effectively the BJP used Kashmir as a rallying cry before the election and now believes the party will take a harder stance on the state.

But just how much of the Modi camp’s rhetoric on Kashmir is bluster is up for debate. The party kept its mutual outreach to Pakistan quiet while running on a platform that ruled out “terror and talks”.

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of the state told TRT World that previous BJP leaders had softened their stances once the election was secured.

“We hope that with the mandate they got, they will change their policy and adopt a pro-people policy here, as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did,” she said, continuing: “Our party has a clear stand on Article 370 and we will continue to defend it. If they try to tinker with it, then they will have to bear the consequences as well.”

Mufti was a candidate in the Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which she lost. 

All three parliamentary seats were won by the National Conference, a party led by 83-year-old Leader Farooq Abdullah, who has represented Kashmir for most of the last seven decades 

‘Doomsday’

Shah Faesal, a bureaucrat turned politician, concurred with Mufti’s assessment.

He told TRT World: “The BJP has been talking about these laws for many years but ultimately they would not do it.

“We are hopeful that this time it will just remain an election issue and that the BJP understands that playing with these sensitive laws, will further damage the relationship between Kashmir and New Delhi.”

Faesal said that actually following through on their campaign pledges would be “doomsday” for ordinary Kashmiris.

That’s not to say the BJP has not presided over a deterioration in the quality of life for minorities.

The party’s rise has fuelled Hindu extremism, with Muslims lynched on accusations of killing cows, and for Kashmiris, a harsher treatment of the civilian population by Indian forces.

Academic Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain said the BJP’s win in Kashmir would mean “more alienation”.

“Unless by taking advantage of its huge mandate, the BJP decides to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all, it will be a tougher time for people,” he said, adding that any misadventure by the party will “boomerang”.

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