Twenty-six days into the revocation of Article 370 and the subsequent shutdown of occupied Kashmir, Muhammad Jalal looks at the politics that led to India’s controversial decision.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise actions in occupied Kashmir after repealing Article 370 was influenced by a worldview that has seized India – Hindutva – a rabid form of nationalism that is built upon a grand conceit.
For Hindu nationalists, Islam is the problem and its place in any future India is for it to be subdued, depoliticised, and chastened by the power of the state and the braying of the mob. It is a necessary doctrine Modi has encouraged to create a direction for his country to provide purpose and meaning for what many Indian’s today call its historic moment.
Modi has attempted to patch together a ‘grand narrative’ about the country, as he aspires to develop India into a regional power. Like most ultra-nationalists, focussing upon a perceived enemy within and an enemy next door, enables a national sentiment for national progression. In this regard, Hindutva shares a lot with European fascism of the 1930’s.
Cow vigilantes and mob lynching
The mob lynching of Pehlu Khan, a 50-year-old dairy farmer from Rajasthan, just north of New Delhi, caught on camera and uploaded to the internet by those accused of murdering him may have horrified outsiders, but in India, his attackers have been lionised.
His six killers were filmed brazenly beating him to death whilst he pleaded for mercy. Last week, they were acquitted of murder on a technicality, the video had not apparently met the standards of forensic evidence. This was despite countless witnesses, two of whom were his sons, also beaten, and despite one of the assailants admitting to the murder to an undercover reporter. More than 70 Muslims and Dalits have been lynched to death in the last three years by so-called “cow vigilantes”, and hundreds have been injured.
Indian academic, Fadl Hejazi, argues the impunity with which the killers conducted their mob justice was the certain knowledge that India’s state institutions would ultimately exonerate them. Since coming to office in 2014, Modi has systematically eroded the independence of state institutions. The judiciary, law enforcement, and civil administration have all been subverted by his call for national renewal and the need to chasten Muslims.
Even more insidiously, this nationalism has created a media conformity that requires TV anchors and pundits to echo the message coming out of New Delhi or be branded as unpatriotic. The recent Pulwama and Balakot episodes just illustrates the length to which India’s media is ready to conspire with Modi.
Since partition, Indian politics has been dominated by the Congress Party, the party of its founder Jawaharlal Nehru. This one-party domination collapsed in 1998 for a brief period when the BJP came to office and it seemed, for a while at least, that a new two-party system would replace the monopoly of Congress. When the BJP lost power in 2004 and Congress returned to dominate Indian politics for a decade, such views seemed premature.
However, in 2014 under Modi, the BJP returned and today dominates the Indian political scene, winning a landslide electoral victory in April. This is in no small part down to both the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations barely concealing their support for Modi.
For the Americans, the BJP government can be enlisted to side with it in its quest to counterbalance against its new global competitor, China. This is why despite his obvious power grab in Kashmir, Modi is feted around the world, moving from UAE to the G7 Summit in France, posing with the great powers. Not only does this embolden Modi at home, but it also sends the clear signal that what happens in Kashmir, in terms of state repression, imprisonment, disappearances and worse, is unimportant to powers that profess “liberty for all”.
The Afghan connection
The Americans for their part have remained muted over Modi’s mob justice and Kashmir land-grab. India’s strategic importance and that of the BJP remaining in government supersedes any consideration for justice. In the short-term, the Trump administration sees mediation on Kashmir conditional to full support from Pakistan over its Afghan dilemma. This support, at least from the US’s perspective, has until now not been genuine, accusing Islamabad of playing a double-game.
America’s longest war may be coming to an end, at least that is the hope of the Trump administration. For 18 years, the US has failed to bring the Taliban to heel, oscillating between failed troop surges and periods of diplomacy.
The Bush administration began the war with grandiose notions of regime change and democratic transformation only to be swallowed into a quagmire about which most Americans had lost interest. When Obama came to office, he announced a troop withdrawal and a drawdown of US commitments as he attempted to refocus his attention to the Far East, and the emerging threat from China, his so-called “pivot to Asia”.
However, this intention to exit came with a troop surge, at one point 140,000 NATO ISAF troops were deployed to root out the Taliban that had fought a successful asymmetrical war. By 2014, Obama’s failure was clear, the Taliban remained at-large and their power had not eroded. All Obama could do was engage in a face-saving exercise and publicly withdraw, rebrand the operation and keep a residual force of 9,000 to supposedly undertake ‘non-combat’ roles. This facade was soon exposed, as US troops had to reengage, leading the Trump administration to accept the inevitable, the only solution was to negotiate a way out. However, like another failed war, Vietnam, it has to “leave with honour”.
The American’s need Pakistan to bring all of the Taliban to the negotiating table and critically, apply pressure on the group to negotiate with the Afghan Ghani government. The Taliban thus far have flatly refused to speak to Ghani, preferring the optics of negotiating with the world’s superpower.
Simply put, Trump needs the above two conditions to be met to “leave with honour” and withholding diplomatic support to Pakistan over Kashmir allows it to apply pressure on Islamabad. Washington’s hope is that Pakistan will get the message.
For his part, Imran Khan has to play the role of the resolute leader, taking to Twitter to castigate Modi and talking about Hindutva ideology and false-flag operations.
A failed UN Security Council special meeting sponsored half-heartedly by China, calls to take India to the International Court of Justice, and an effort to suspend Priyanka Chopra as a UN goodwill ambassador, has temporarily played well to pacify an enraged public, but does little to address the real problem – India’s occupation of Kashmir.
Muhammad Jalal is the head of politics at a UK college. He has BA and MA in Politics and History. He is currently writing a book entitled ‘The Islamic World Order’, which is a historical and contemporary look at Islamic international relations. You can follow Muhammad on Twitter @thinking_muslim.