Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first meeting with leaders from Indian Occupied Kashmir on Thursday since his August 5, 2019 decision to strip the region of its special status. Even though all the leaders who assembled at the meeting in New Delhi are considered pro-India, there was remarkable pushback on Modi’s policies, at least in public. The leaders — many of whom were jailed after the August 2019 lockdown — all claim that they spent much of the meeting demanding the restoration of special status for Kashmir and other pro-people actions.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti went as far as demanding that New Delhi talk to Pakistan and try to find solutions for settlement of the longstanding Kashmir dispute. That may seem like a low bar, but we must remember that India under Modi had not only cut off top-level talks and interactions with Pakistan but had even refused to admit that Kashmir is internationally recognised as a disputed territory.
Interestingly, some analysts believe that the February ceasefire agreement with Pakistan might have contributed to the meeting attended by 14 so-called Jammu and Kashmir leaders, including four former chief ministers — perhaps as a condition of the ceasefire. There has also been pressure from other quarters, including the Biden administration. Even if it wasn’t as harsh as Islamabad would have liked, Washington has been pushing for the removal of movement and communications restrictions and ‘suggesting’ that India rethink the August 2019 changes of stripping Kashmir of its special autonomous status and allowing purchase of property in the occupied region by outsiders so as to pave the way for demographic changes of choice.
But even though the Indian government announced no major agreements, Prime Minister Modi claimed in a tweet that the meeting was “important” in efforts to make the region “developed and progressive”. Modi’s mere use of the word progressive to describe his policies of far-right bigotry and crony-capitalism caused millions of true progressives to fall down laughing. However, in the same Twitter thread, Modi let the cat out of the bag when he spoke about strengthening “grassroots democracy” and the need for fresh delimitation — he wants to hold a rigged election as soon as possible.
Like many of Modi’s policies relating to Occupied Kashmir, or India, this meeting had little to do with development or the good of the people. It is about power and satiating his far-right base. The problem is that Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region, meaning that Modi can’t just win an election by mobilising his bigoted base. He needs to either get Muslims on board, or alternatively, scare them away.
Unfortunately, the same Kashmir policies that have bolstered his appeal to his Hindu base have alienated Kashmiri Muslims. He can’t practically walk them back, or he risks losing support around India. More likely, he will make false promises to try and fool Kashmiri Muslims into thinking the August 2019 actions will be toned down, if not revoked outright. Unfortunately for Modi, he will have to rely on the Kashmiri leaders also having short memories. After all, he jailed most of them, while his attack dogs, including Home Minister Amit Shah, compared them to gangs and called them “anti-national elements” and politically irrelevant in the light of the 2019 changes.
Just the fact that the most powerful man in India is meeting with these irrelevant “anti-national elements” shows how low Modi has taken Indian politics.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2021.
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