Kashmir in the Age of Modi: Democracy Delusions


Tamanna Shah is the author of Kashmir in the Age of Modi: Democracy Delusions. Tamanna is in the PhD program at the University of Utah studying sociology. Her research has focused on conflict, war, and terrorism on the people of Kashmir. The photograph was provided by Tamanna from her field research in Jammu and Kashmir. This article is part of a series where the Democracy Paradox features the research and insights of young scholars who will shape political studies in the years to come. 

Kashmir: A History of Turmoil

Arguably one of the oldest civilizations of the world, Kashmir, the ancient land of gods has had to endure a curse of geography like no other land on the planet Earth. Kashmir, a land of ancient decent and culture has, for centuries been the target of plunder and oppression. In 1947, the partition of India left the state divided into two parts, one each with India and Pakistan, respectively. Families, kinships, loved ones, friends and property, overnight became enemies and strangers. An eternal bitterness was sown. In the words of Yeats “a terrible beauty [was] born”. There has been no let-up in the violence, intrigue, power games in the name of Kashmiris and continuous alienation of the Kashmiris on one ground or another since then.

Having seen four wars between India and Pakistan, the final nail on the coffin of the carcass of Jammu & Kashmir’s was driven when the Islamist insurgency started in December of 1989. It is estimated that over 1,30,000 Kashmiri youth have been consumed by the flames of insurgency and billions of dollars worth of property destroyed as collateral damage. The untold psychological trauma to the families and the psychological scars on their psyche cannot be quantified. Although, the insurgency had ebbed in its intensity, normalcy was contained albeit with many confidence building measures and youth employment programs by Manmohan Singh government which was in power in Delhi till 2014, the entire hallow  collapsed with coming to power of Narinder Modi and his right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 in Delhi.

State Capture by the BJP

Since elections to the Jammu & Kashmir state legislative assembly also coincided with the national elections in 2014, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed formed a coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir with the BJP, an event which shocked the political pundits and the civil society alike, ostensibly to work out a lasting solution to the vexed Kashmir problem with Pakistan since the BJP government that had come to power at New Delhi under Mr. Modi had an overwhelming majority and were known for their decisive stance on matters political. However, this proved to be Mufti’s greatest strategic blunder. Having partnered with Mufti, BJP, for the first time since partition of India in 1947, got a chance to be part of the government in J&K and thus ensured a total infiltration into the system of governance that would ultimately lead them to capture the state entirely.

After Mufti Sayeed died, the mantle passed on to his daughter Ms. Mehbooba Mufti and the BJP immediately began to create obstacles for her governance. Ultimately, having completed their infiltration into the power apparatus of the state, the BJP pulled the rug from under the feet of Mehbooba Mufti in June 2018.  Once Mehbooba Mufti realised the real motives of the BJP and Modi’s demagoguery, it was too late for her to save her political legacy. It was grievously dented. BJP, as a coalition partner in the government of Jammu & Kashmir, had unfolded a long term strategy of political mobilisation with an ultimate aim to capture the only Muslim majority state of India. They managed to thoroughly communally poison the secular fabric of the state. The damage is long term as the subsequent events in the state would prove.

A Sinister Design

The real motive of the BJP was a sinister design to totally decimate the secular and Muslim majority character of the state of Jammu & Kashmir by abolishing its special status on 05 August, 2019 that was guaranteed by the Indian Constitution’s Articles 35A & 370, and mete out the ultimate disgrace of breaking it into two and reduce it to the status of a Union Territory to be directly ruled by New Delhi. In one fell swoop the BJP realised their long standing wish to bring the state of Jammu & Kashmir to its heels and pave way for complete submission of Muslims there into a helpless and politically irrelevant ethnic grouping.

The move was so stark and brazen that P Chidambaram, a former Union Home and Finance Minister in Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government, stated in the Indian Parliament while responding to the debate: “You are dismembering a state. You think you are doing it to Jammu & Kashmir mischievously interpreting the constitutional provisions will not apply to any other state? All that you will have to do is to dismiss an elected government, dissolve the state legislature, promulgate President’s rule, declare parliament to be the state legislature for the time being and divide that state…You do not realize what you are doing? The same resolution, the same provisions, the same methods can be applied to any other state. What you are doing today sends very wrong signals to the rest of the country.” Chidambaram called it the darkest day in the history of independent India.

Systematic and Decisive Repression

Concurrently with the abolition of the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the special status to Jammu & Kashmir and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, BJP government in New Delhi moved swiftly and put over 500 political workers of various political parties including the three previous chief ministers, Farooq & Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under detention in various jails within and outside Jammu & Kashmir. Never has such arbitrariness been seen in the political public affairs of India. However, to political pandits and the discerning public alike, it did not come as a surprise.

Ever since Mr. Modi won a decisive majority in the parliamentary elections to Delhi’s throne in May 2014, he systematically but decisively moved to translate his misogynist Hindutva agenda of segregating Indian Muslims and other religious minorities, which has been an article of faith with the BJP since its ancestral roots. Kashmir’s Muslim majority and its special status has been particularly an agenda point with BJP’s long term measures to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. Political hara-kiri in Kashmir is not an isolated event. It is part of a larger pattern of BJP’s design to persecute and exclude Indian Muslims and convert them into second class citizens. This concept lies at the core of the Hindutva ideology to create a Hindu Rashtra.

Having altered the entire character of the political landscape of Kashmir and having put important political leaders behind bars, the government swiftly moved to create an atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty among the masses in Kashmir. Security forces speeded up the counterinsurgency / anti-terror operations and many guerrillas were killed with an equally heavy toll of civilian lives as collateral damage. Internet services were closed initially and thereafter, reduced to 2G operations only that effectively put paid to any meaningful communication with the outside world. Students and traders suffered and continue to suffer due to the internet clampdown to this day. In this environment and atmosphere of fear even the Supreme Court of India did not take up any habeas corpus petitions filed by various interested parties ostensibly because of the worsening law & order situation that, as per the government, required these political persons to remain confined.

Death and Murder in Kashmir

Meanwhile killings, both staged and terrorist related, continued unabated in the Kashmir Valley. In 2020 alone 225 persons were killed by security forces in over 100 successful operations as stated by the now Union Territory’s police chief. Extra-judicial killings in the name of anti-terrorist encounters are routine. On 18 July 2020, security forces killed three laborers in the Shopian area of Kashmir Valley allegedly as Pakistan-sponsored terrorists, who had gone there to work in the apple orchards to eke out subsistence. These poor laborers belonged to Rajouri, a town 100 kms away from Shopian.  These young men were related to each other and had come down to Shopian as a group to work in the gardens. They were identified as Imtiyaz Ahmed, 20, Ibrar Ahmed 16, and Mohmad Abrar, 25.

When their parents learnt of the killings of their children through local newspapers and social media, they raised alarm. Kashmir police had discreetly buried these “unidentified militants” some 100 km away in a remote graveyard in north Kashmir that is reserved for foreign militants. This is just one example. Incidents abound where such brutalities are carried out as routine without any fear of reprisals from the law of the land. Consequent to spread of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown, security forces introduced a new procedure that legislates that bodies of slain militants be not handed over to locals for burial but be interned in far off graveyards. It is abundantly clear that such a protocol only helps security forces avoid accountability and escape the long arm of the law, with tacit approval of the authorities. This has further compounded the already miserable situation prevailing in the Valley.

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