Last week, we saw British television personality Bear Grylls pal up with Narendra Modi for his latest wildlife adventure, Man vs Wild. The unlikely pair grinned for the cameras as India’s prime minister was questioned about a host of issues during a survivalist special that opened in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Predictably, the dialogue was supercilious and contrived. What amounted to reality TV propaganda made no reference whatsoever to the millions of Muslims fearing for their own futures in Jammu and Kashmir, a far more perilous region of the Asian mountain range.
The notoriously bellicose Modi – an extremist Hindu nationalist – has stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomous status, pouring tens of thousands of extra Indian troops into the already heavily militarised region. Dissenters have been placed under arrest without trial, as a communications blackout and curfews intensify the lockdown.
Those organising public protests have complained of increasing violence against them, including the use of pellet guns that can easily cause blindness. Indian forces are accused of abducting and detaining hundreds of Kashmiri boys and molesting women and girls in night-time raids.
India and Pakistan claim Kashmir (which is also partly shared with China) in its entirety, and have frequently gone to war over it. Some 70,000 people have been killed and many more wounded during related disturbances over the past 40 years.
The end of a status that the Muslims living there have taken for granted for 71 years could not be more provocative. Modi wants the occupation to result in non-Kashmiri Indians moving into the region, so helping to stifle the long-held aspiration of Kashmiri independence.
As the crackdown becomes more savage, Grylls’ bizarre decision to act as a propagandist for Modi is overshadowed by the Indian leader’s collaboration with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu. Their own warped publicity shots include a set of pictures of the portly pair paddling in the sea. They have visited each other’s capitals and exchanged platitudinous compliments on social media.
“I hope that our friendship will continue to thrive and grow even further,” Modi told Netanyahu on Twitter.
The histories of modern India and Israel are certainly very similar. It was in July 1949 that, following Britain’s exit from the subcontinent, India and Muslim Pakistan declared a ceasefire line within Kashmir. This was a year after the founding of Israel led to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians being forcibly expelled from their own homeland. In both cases, a state of permanent conflict was the result.
Now opposition politicians in the Pakistani National Assembly are among those who have accused Modi of wanting the global flashpoint of Kashmir to be even more like Israel-Palestine. Ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism will characterise the intended new order enforced by direct rule from New Delhi. As in Palestine, a ruthless military replete with arms provided by western powers will crack down on all forms of dissent, including any attempts at a Kashmiri intifada.
Modi’s long-standing hatred of Muslims will permit the radical Hindus who support him to change Kashmiri demographics, introducing the kind of ultra-nationalist zealots currently taking part in illegal land grabs in Palestine.
Remember that Modi was the governor of the Indian state of Gujarat when a mass pogrom led to some 2,000 Muslims being murdered in 2002. Rampaging mobs carried out the carnage in response to claims that 58 Hindu pilgrims had been killed when a train carriage was set on fire. Savage attacks also included rapes, as thousands of Muslims were forced to abandon their homes.
Anyone who has studied the casualty figures of recent Palestinian-Israeli conflicts will note the parallel with what happened in Gujarat. In 2014, Israeli forces killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 850 children, women and OAPs. Infrastructure including homes and medical facilities were decimated. Israel lost six civilians (one of them a Thai national) from ordnance fired out of Gaza and 67 soldiers from attacks, following their invasion of the blighted Strip.
The experience of such asymmetrical confrontations has ensured strong links between Kashmiris and Palestinians, with both peoples seeing themselves as victims of ruthless expansionism by an imperialist neighbour. In turn, and as the Modi-Netanyahu love-in shows, India views Israel as a cherished ally with which it can exchange ideas about everything from forceful repression to the expropriation of territory.
Israel is particularly deft at portraying any kind of Palestinian resistance as being part of a revival in Islamic extremism that places the safety and security of the entire world in jeopardy. All opponents of Israeli aggression are viewed as terrorists intent on slaughter. This is just the kind of myth that Modi also relishes as he considers Kashmiris to be impoverished, backward enemies who deserve to be destroyed.
In a television address this month, Modi said it was essential to revoke Articles 35A and 370 of the Indian Constitution, which guaranteed special status for Kashmir. “We will free Jammu and Kashmir of terrorism,” he said.
Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic relations, while in the short term insisting that it is “not looking at military options”. As tensions escalate, a more aggressive stance is inevitable.
The Israeli model necessarily requires an expansion in the Indian security state to “protect” Hindu-only settlements in Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, like the Israelis, the Indians will push the narrative that they are exceptional democrats who need to stand up to Muslim majority states. It is a brutal narrative that ultimately aims to present the victims of an ambitious and cruel regime as aggressors.
As Modi and Netanyahu’s colonial policies progress, they will continue to look towards each other for support, desperately seeking to convince the world that what they are doing is just and appropriate. It is a monstrous collaboration that will ramp up conflict in parts of the world where peace now looks further away than ever.
Opinion: Modi’s brutal annexation of Kashmir follows the Israel-Palestine script to the letter – The Independent