Kashmir: When words collide

    How the India-Pakistan feud has played out on Twitter.

    In early August, the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) of Narendra Modi abrogated Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution making history in the process – and not in a positive way. The articles provided the sole basis for Kashmir’s accession with India. The region had its rights enshrined in the constitution, its autonomy was guaranteed, and its regional assembly had the corollary right to make laws in its jurisdiction, and have its flag.

    The move, however, has not been smooth. Kashmiris have bitterly contested the decision, with some voices in India also protesting the move. Experts have argued that Modi’s decision would likely increase militancy and the NGO Genocide Watch issued a genocide alert for the Kashmir valley. The events also unfolded via the twitter handles of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both communicated their respective stances regarding Kashmir in an epic Twitter battle for the fate of the disputed region.

    Twitter has helped global leaders to reach audiences, unfiltered. Although measuring the collective viewpoints of the audiences can be a tedious task, social media has helped political leaders transmit narratives, policy outlooks and sometimes myths without even the need for the gatekeeping of the traditional media. The day when Amit Shah, the Home Minister of India, gave his speech in parliament, announcing abrogation of Article 370, Prime Minister Modi tweeted immediately after describing the passing of the bill as a “momentous occasion” in India’s parliamentary democracy.

    Modi further stressed the prospects of youth empowerment and various opportunities for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, ensuring integration. It must be underscored that envisioning the integration of the Kashmir region has been part of the political program of the BJP, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a right-wing Hindu organisation that dedicates itself to restoring the moral and spiritual traditions of India under the ideology of Hindutva.

    Additionally, the organisation has also been characterised as having fascist tendencies. In colonial India, the admiration of Nazi Germany was widely shared by Hindu nationalists. Vinayak Dimodar Savakar, a key figure behind the coining of the Hindutva ideology, was an advocate of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy, identifying a similar framework for the Muslim minorities in India. Also, the supreme director of the RSS between 1940 until 1973, Madhav Gowalkar, actively supported that India was the land of Hindus, while Muslims and Christians were considered as invaders.

    Neighbouring Pakistan, under the leadership of Imran Khan with his mastery over social media, condemned India’s actions against civilians in Kashmir, labelling it genocide and comparing Modi’s tactics to Adolf Hitler’s actions in Munich. Khan further stressed that the RSS ideology of supremacist Hinduism is on the same spectrum as Nazi Aryan Supremacy.

    Ever since, Khan’s tweets have constantly been criticising the tactics of the Modi-led government, referring to the region as Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). Khan is framing the situation without using the usual diplomatic language or communication protocols – consistently and forcefully making his argument that the RSS and the BJP are motivated by an underlying commitment to fascist ideology.

    Parallels with the way US President Donald Trump uses media are rife. Trump has become notoriously for his use of language to stir emotions. It is a matter of fact that social media platforms, especially Twitter, have revolutionised political communication. The usage of an exclamation mark in Modi’s tweet about fulfilling the dreams of 1.3 billion Indians was aimed at making an instant impact amongst his imagined audience. With the help of language and punctuation, he shaped an emotional myth in the digital space, while also giving justification to the historical goal of the right-wing ideology of the RSS.

    According to AG Noorani, the RSS through its political extensions had a wishlist, namely to pursue three policies in India: a uniform civil code, a Ram temple in place of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, and repealing Article 370. All three of those have now been fulfilled. The Indian state has been previously described as an epitome of a working democracy rooted in secularism, but it now seems to have departed from this identity, defining the identity of the Indian state in terms of Hindu values.

    Kashmir remains paralysed. Communication has been blocked, political leaders are detained, while thousands of additional troops have been deployed on the ground. That’s the irony of it all. Modi’s political leadership shrewdly uses the internet to brag about its achievements to his followers and the apparent “overwhelming support” it got from its Kashmiri “brothers and sisters”, who will, incidentally, not be able to read his message on Twitter. The BJP tries to showcase the revocation of Article 370 as approved by Kashmiri citizens, making Modi’s democratic argument rest solely on the classification of identity, that of the far-right RSS and Hindutva.

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