National Security Crisis or Propaganda? Modi Campaign Politicized Pulwama Attack for Political Gain
The 2019 general elections just began on April 11, and Narendra Modi’s right-wing government in India has not shied away from employing fear-mongering propaganda to steadily mobilize their voter base — evidenced by their politicization of the Kashmir Situation.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has a history of appealing to the nationalist sentiments of its majority Hindu following. The Modi government and his loyal bandwagon of “bhakts” have repeatedly relied on anti-Muslim rhetoric and sparked majoritarian sentiments to ensure steady support from Hindu fundamentalists. The last stunt by the Modi government was the politicization of the Pulwama attacks. The attack on at least 49 CRPF officers had provided the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the perfect platform to divert attention away from the failures of their own domestic policies and increasing violence in Kashmir by attempting to escalate the conflict with Pakistan and invoking a national security crisis for the sole purpose of mobilizing its support base. While the death of these officers was tragic and the shock of the country was understandable, the government’s politicization of the situation through hate mongering and fear mongering propaganda for the sake of securing another five-year term is not.
Over the last five years, BJP and its associated parties have controlled most of India, including Kashmir, and they have succeeded in worsening the crisis in Kashmir, with the Modi government relying less on diplomacy and dialogue and more on aggressive militaristic tactics to handle the conflict. The United Nations has accused India of committing increasing human rights violations in the region, including kidnapping and killings of civilians and sexual violence. This has led to a deep sense of alienation and discontentment among the Kashmiri youth, who consistently face harassment and intimidation at the hands of the security forces. The damage that has been inflicted upon the heavily militarized valley has once again been pushed to the sidelines, while BJP — and their followers– continue to incite violence against minority groups and cheer on military confrontation that can only aggravate the domestic crisis.
Thus, in Pulwama, the Modi government had found the perfect opportunity to direct the focus onto a national security crisis to mobilize support and cover up the failings of their own policies. This tactic is not uncommon among leaders, and we don’t need to look too far to find similar use of fear-mongering and hate-mongering propaganda to garner support. For instance, President Trump based his presidential campaign — and now his administration — on fear-mongering propaganda, whether it was a concocted national security crisis on the southern border that called for a wall or the fear of “Muslim terrorists” that called for the Muslim ban. Consequently, public attention was diverted from issues such as Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections and gun violence.
Likewise, the Modi government used the death of paramilitary soldiers to fuel tensions and to establish itself as a strong government that stands strong in the face of terror. Contrary to what the government claims, the escalation of the Indo-Pak conflict has conveniently diverted attention from the fact that the right to life of tribals is being violated, or that the import ban by Pakistan had devastating effects on farmers, and once again shifted the narrative away from the sufferings of the Kashmiri people or the military occupation in the region.
These efforts to appear as “strong” or “powerful” leaders who are willing to take stern measures against those that threaten the safety and security of its nation is nothing short of propaganda aimed at invoking fear and hate and allowing leaders to engage in divisive politics and advance their own agenda. Both Trump and Modi’s Administrations are guilty of employing propaganda that flames majoritarian sentiments, consequently diverting attention from shortcomings of their policies and real issues that plague the nation.
Modi inflaming the masses through his declarations that “the blood of the people is boiling” and “the Indian Armed Forces have been given a free hand” are not a new development, but they have been a part of his political career. However, this time, his declarations are more concerning since this general election will be decisive for Indian democracy. The right-wing will stop at nothing to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments for their political gain while branding anyone who opposes their stance as an anti-nationalistic member of the liberal left. With mobs threatening and attacking Kashmiris, the Modi government’s campaign tactics are tearing apart the social fabric of India. Diverting attention to a national security crisis from its domestic failures may secure a win for the Modi government, but it will certainly be a loss for Indian democracy.
Srija Banerjee is the Communications Intern at Truman National Security Project and a student at Earlham College studying International Relations. Views expressed are her own.