In spite of facing a united Opposition in Jammu, the Bharatiya Janata Party retained the region’s two parliamentary seats as well as Ladakh. In Kashmir, the party again failed to make inroads. All three of its candidates in the Valley lost.
This is no consolation for ordinary Kashmiris, though, given the BJP looks set to win a large majority nationally. Many now speak of “tough times ahead”.
Mohammad Asif, a PhD student, is from Tral, a hub of militancy in South Kashmir. He is already mulling cutting down on his frequent trips outside the Valley. “I have travelled across India in my private vehicle,” he said. “After today’s results, I will think twice about making a trip in my car. The politics of hate and bigotry has prevailed in India. I am Kashmiri and Muslim. That makes me an easy target.”
Not that it is much better at home. Asif said he has only known gunfights between militants and security forces, civilian killings and clashes in his hometown in the past five years. “The majority of Indians want the oppression of Kashmiris to continue, that’s why they voted for Modi,” he claimed. “What happened in Kashmir in the last five years was used by the BJP to get votes.”
Since the BJP took power in 2014, Kashmir has witnessed one of the worst phases of violence since the peak of the militancy in the 1990s. Hundreds of Kashmiri militants and civilians have been killed and thousands of people blinded by pellets fired by Indian security forces. Yet, the militancy has only intensified, with more and more young men taking up arms.
The state also faces a political crisis. Jammu and Kashmir will soon complete a year without an elected government. The Mehbooba Mufti-led state government fell last June after the BJP walked out of its alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party. The state is under President’s Rule, which means it is administered directly by the Central government. The prospects of an Assembly election are still uncertain.
“They basically have unbridled power now,” Asif contended, referring to the BJP. “So, the situation will only get worse. They can do anything in Kashmir.”
Threat to Article 35A
The BJP’s landslide victory has rekindled fears that it might abrogate Article 370, which guarantees autonomy to the state under the Constitution, and Article 35A, which empowers the state government to define permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir and grant them special rights and privileges. The provisions are currently being challenged in the Supreme Court.
“The Congress party was never soft on Kashmir either but they were careful not to touch certain things,” said Shakoor Ahmad, a businessman in Shopian, South Kashmir, referring to Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in the Indian Union. “See, it is the Congress which is responsible for the current condition of Muslims in India. But while the Congress knew how to sugarcoat its rhetoric, the BJP is brazen in its politics. They attacked Article 370 and Article 35A for votes. In a way, the BJP has just increased the level of oppression. I don’t see them changing their approach on Kashmir.”
The BJP’s victory, Shakoor Ahmad contended, will have “multi-dimensional repercussions”. “The Congress mastered the art of managing the Kashmir conflict, while the BJP is intent on crushing the freedom movement,” he said. “What that means is the BJP’s policies actually keep the freedom movement alive. So, with the BJP back in power, there’s every possibility that the situation in Kashmir will get worse.”
‘Kashmiris outside are not safe’
Today’s results have also heightened anxieties among Kashmiris studying or working outside the Valley. In the wake of the Pulwama bombing in February, several Indian states witnessed xenophobic attacks against Kashmiri students and traders, forcing thousands of them to return home in fear.
Shaheena’s son did not suffer harm after the Pulwama attack, but she is worried that the BJP’s return to power could make it hard for Kashmiri Muslims to live in India. Her son works with a multinational company in Delhi, but Shaheena did not want him to be identified by name.
“I pray for his safety every day,” said Shaheena, who lives in Srinagar’s Old City. “May Allah keep everyone out of harm’s way. Kashmiri people always end up becoming targets in India whenever anything happens here.”
Her worry is shared by Kashmiris living across India. “Our mouths are shut,” said an engineering student in Bengaluru who did not want to be identified. “We avoid writing about Kashmir on social media since there are people who take screenshots and then gang up against you. The atmosphere got really bad after the Pulwama attack. So, we just tend to avoid voicing our opinions.”
He blamed “nationalistic passions” roused by the Sangh Parivar and its supporters for shaping Indians’ attitudes towards Kashmiris, especially Muslims. “It is not that we do not have friends from other states,” he said. “But when they are also labelled anti-national if their views don’t fit with the majority’s, they become silent. That’s what makes us more afraid.”