In heavily militarised Kashmir, the upcoming India elections do not inspire much hope

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is favoured to win a third term in office when the country holds its massive general election, starting on April 19.


  • Leoni Connah

    Lecturer in Government, Flinders University

While there are many questions about what another Modi term could mean for the country, residents in the Muslim-majority northern region of Kashmir are particularly apprehensive.

Modi visited the Kashmir capital, Srinagar, in early March in a bid to win Kashmiri hearts and minds – his first visit since his government controversially stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status in 2019.

Amid a heavy security presence, Modi promised over US$774 million (A$1.2 billion) worth of development projects to boost the economy and tourism in the region.

Whether this is enough to placate Kashmiri voters remains to be seen. Many residents have been made to feel like second-class citizens under Modi’s Hindu nationalist government and have dim views that things will improve if he wins another term in office.

Autonomy revoked

Since Modi was sworn in as India’s 14th prime minister in 2014, he has taken a decidedly muscular approach to Kashmir.

Pledging to quell a rebel movement that has been fighting the Indian state since the 1980s, his government heavily increased its security presence in the region and launched a special operation to root out Kashmir’s terrorist cells.

Then, in a watershed moment for the region in 2019, his government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had granted special privileges to local residents and gave the region its own constitution and flag and the ability to make its own laws.

Modi also redefined domicile rules, making it easier for non-Kashmiris to obtain jobs, land and permanent residency in the region.

The scrapping of Article 370 was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, a key victory for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) before the election.

Human rights abuses and crackdowns on civil liberties have also worsened in the region since 2014. This has included draconian clampdowns on the internet and other communications, strict curfews and the detentions of activists and journalists.

As part of my PhD research in 2020-21, I conducted online interviews with numerous Kashmiris in Srinagar and the surrounding areas and found the revocation of Article 370 had taken away any hope they had and led to a overwhelming sense of betrayal.

Some struggled to describe their feelings, while others said the move was completely unconstitutional and a political disaster. My interview participants said there were protests all over Kashmir after the revocation, but according to one working in journalism, these were very much underreported at the time.

Since then, Modi has done very little to address concerns that Kashmiris may have for their future. Instead, he is actively encouraging development projects and tourism in the region, raising fears about his party’s settler-colonial ambitions in Kashmir, particularly the Kashmir Valley.

Can local elections bring change?

Elections for Kashmir’s legislature are also expected to take place by September. The region has not had a local government since the revocation of its special status in 2019; since then it has been directly ruled by New Delhi.

If local elections do go ahead, this may be seen as an attempt by New Delhi to show some normalcy in the region and demonstrate the central government’s dedication to reinstating a fully functioning democracy. It may also result in Kashmiris feeling more included and involved in wider Indian politics.

However, in his recent visit to Srinagar, Modi failed to mention the likelihood of the local elections, which adds the feelings his government is ignoring the grievances of residents. These include the effects of the revocation of Article 370, the limited economic prospects in the region, and the treatment of Muslim Kashmiris in the rest of India.

Further, the area still remains heavily militarised, raising the question of just how successful Modi has been in uniting Kashmir with the rest of India, especially since Kashmiris still do not have the same freedoms and liberties as other Indians.

Many Kashmiris also fear the spread of disinformation prior to the election, especially if it propagates negative stereotypes associating residents with terrorist organisations. This could have a negative impact on Kashmiri political parties, discrediting their status as representatives of the Kashmiri people.

Kashmir’s future

It is important to note Modi’s support not only comes from the Hindu majority. Some Muslims in Kashmir will support the BJP due to tribal caste reasons, as well as for the belief the party could bring more jobs or economic prospects to the region.

Nonetheless, many Kashmiris believe a continuation of BJP leadership could result in additional human rights abuses, the loss of land or jobs to outsiders from the south and further alienation from the central government.

Ultimately, if Modi wins an unprecedented third term, this will cement the decisions that have already been in the region. And this means the future for many Kashmiris will remain bleak in what is purported to be the world’s largest democracy.

The Conversation

Leoni Connah does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

/Courtesy of The Conversation. View in full here.