WHILE the world looks away, Narendra Modi’s government continues to take steps to impose more fraudulent arrangements on occupied Jammu and Kashmir. After J&K’s illegal annexation, bifurcation and integration into the Indian union three years ago, Delhi has used force and fraud to maintain its unlawful hold over the region.
Aug 5, 2019, opened a new chapter in the tortured history of the occupied territory intensifying the plight of the Kashmiri people. A prolonged cruel lockdown and communication blackout was imposed, the military siege tightened, the press muzzled and Kashmiri leaders jailed to prevent a popular upsurge against the move that took away virtually all the rights of the Kashmiri people. International human rights organisations reported widespread torture and arbitrary arrests, with thousands picked up from their homes and children blinded by the use of pellet guns. The latest report of India’s Forum of Human Rights in J&K found that human rights abuses have continued unabated. They include “arbitrary detention, prohibition on public assembly and mass imprisonment”. It also noted the “severe clampdown on the press” and that sedition laws continue to be used against political leaders and journalists.
Since August 2019, the Modi government has used sweeping and repressive measures to consolidate its control and take steps to eventually hold elections there to ‘legitimise’ it’s illegal actions. These efforts have involved drawing from the electoral fraud playbook to disempower Muslims in the occupied territory. Its latest move earlier this month kicked up a veritable storm in Kashmir. The announcement by the chief electoral officer in the occupied valley, to grant voting rights to any Indian citizen, even temporarily residing there, marks another attempt to change the region’s demography. This is a brazen violation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir as was the August 2019 action. There are 11 UN resolutions on Kashmir. Specifically, the move contravenes UNSC resolution 38, whose para 2 clearly states that neither party to the dispute can bring about a material change in the situation in Kashmir.
The action aims to add almost 2.5 million additional voters, including non-locals, to the electoral rolls. This represents an increase of 30 per cent more voters to the electorate. The announcement provoked fury and resentment in the valley. Leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) denounced the new election measure. It was also rejected by traditionally pro-Indian political leaders. Mehbooba Mufti, head of the People’s Democratic Party, described it as the “last nail in the coffin of electoral democracy”. She accused the BJP of trying to execute a “Nazi Germany or Israeli policy” in Kashmir. Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference asserted that “inclusion of non-locals” was a “clear-cut ploy to disenfranchise the people of J&K”.
India’s actions have sought to disenfranchise and disempower Kashmiri Muslims.
Pakistan strongly condemned the move. The foreign ministry called it “a clear manifestation of the treacherous Indian design to influence the outcome of so-called elections” in occupied J&K. It also called on the Indian government to desist from actions that violate international law, the UN Charter and the fourth Geneva Convention. A Kashmiri journalist, who did not want to be named, told me that “announcing that domicile certificates were not necessary for inclusion of 2.5m new voters in the electoral rolls completes the process of turning a numerical majority into a political minority”. This, he added, “will go down in history of how to disempower a majority and make them subservient to a minority”. In fact, this measure and earlier ones resemble Israel’s illegal settler policies and are typical of methods used by occupiers.
The trajectory of Indian actions over the past three years shows the patent Indian intent to disenfranchise Kashmiri Muslims and impose a BJP government on the occupied territory after fraudulent polls. Towards this end, Delhi has sought to bring about administrative and demographic changes and recast the electoral map to give Jammu greater representation and reduce Muslim representation in order to shift the political balance to Hindus. In May this year, India’s Delimitation Commission carved out new electoral constituencies in J&K that disempower the Muslim population.
Muslims constitute over 68pc of J&K’s population while Hindus are about 28pc, according to the 2011 census. Modi aims to turn this Muslim majority into a minority. The delimitation handed Jammu six more seats in the 90-member J&K Assembly while Kashmir was given only one more. Under this plan, Jammu would have a total of 43 seats, leaving Kashmir with 47. This despite the fact that, according to the 2011 census, the Kashmir Valley’s population was seven million while Jammu’s was 5.3m. Estimates of the present population of Kashmir are of course higher.
The move was roundly rejected across Kashmir. APHC leaders, who remain in detention, denounced it and sham elections in the future. Pro-Delhi Kashmiri politicians called the plan unacceptable as it sought to alter Kashmir’s demography. Prominent Indian intellectuals also decried the delimitation saying it was a violation of the principle of one man one vote. The Forum of Human Rights in J&K demanded that the delimitation plan be shelved.
The question is whether by such blatant gerrymandering India’s ruling party can accomplish its political aim in Kashmir. Given the strong opposition and overwhelming condemnation of its plans by the Kashmiri people, the short answer is no. For over 70 years India has tried in vain to foist a regime on Kashmir that has always been rejected by the majority of people. It has jailed Kashmiri leaders but failed to ‘imprison’ the popular aspiration for freedom from Indian occupation. Delhi’s policies of oppression and subterfuge have been a failure in Kashmir and only intensified the alienation of its people. If and when so-called elections are held, they will be a sham exercise boycotted by most Kashmiris, like previous ones. The only way the dark era in Kashmir can end is if the issue is resolved in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people and UN resolutions. Until then, its tragedy will continue and South Asia will be denuded of peace.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK & UN.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2022