As Parliament, press, and ordinary people up and down the country focus in on Boris Johnson’s lockdown lawbreaking, a weekend break halfway across the world to India offered him a significant political advantage.
A timely withdrawal from an increasingly blistering spotlight in exchange for a PR bonanza boasting the exploits of ‘Global Britain’ is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to flaunt what Number 10 consider Johnson’s bloke-ish best on the world stage.
But cosying up to Narendra Modi’s far-right, increasingly authoritarian, and Islamophobic government ought to provide Johnson with the opposite of political respite.
Modi was swept to power in 2014, with his party, the ultra-nationalist BJP, registering an unexpected landslide victory.
Last year, the eyes of socialists across the world were briefly trained on the gargantuan response from India’s farmers to Modi’s attempted pro-market farming reforms which threatened their livelihoods. But far less attention has been given to the virulent Islamophobia that has characterised Modi’s premiership.
In 2019, the imposition of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) violated India’s longstanding secular tradition by simplifying the path to citizenship for some religious minorities, while at the same time placing more stringent requirements upon Muslims, enshrining a sweeping Islamophobic current into the statute book.
Legislative incursions upon the Muslim minority have been coupled with an upsurge in lynch mobs, public threats of sexual violence against Muslim women, and police harassment—the latter of which was evidenced just last week when authorities bulldozed Muslim-owned shops in New Delhi.
Modi’s authoritarian inclination has also manifested through the escalation of state-sponsored violence and human rights abuses in Indian-occupied Kashmir, already one of the most militarised zones in the world.
Emboldened following his 2019 re-election, Modi introduced a raft of authoritarian measures to Kashmir. Simultaneously, he revoked Article 370 which had guaranteed Kashmir limited autonomy, ushering in direct rule, and enforced a communications blackout with use of phones and the internet blocked.
In anticipation of public outcry at such a draconian measure, thousands of Kashmiri leaders, activists, and journalists were detained without charge. Hundreds of them remain imprisoned.
The media blackout might now have ceased, but press freedom remains non-existent. The government maintains an iron grip over output and free speech, implementing a policy akin to that of Putin’s Russia.
But there is no restriction on free speech capable of concealing the brutal situation facing those on the ground in Kashmir.
The occupation of Kashmir didn’t begin with Modi, but the accession of the BJP has greatly intensified what is a longstanding conflict. As it’s been put by Kashmiris, previous administrations ‘would stab us in the back, BJP stabs us up front.’
Indian security forces flaunt the immunity from justice afforded to them by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In conjunction with armed paramilitaries, security forces flagrantly violate human rights, with regular extra-judicial executions, the use of shotguns for crowd control, and the torture of men, women, and children.
Perhaps the most chilling instrument of oppression brought against the Kashmiris is that of enforced disappearance. Campaigners estimate that up to 10,000 Kashmiris have joined the ranks of ‘Kashmir’s disappeared’ since 1989.
Britain’s deep historical ties to the entire region, which bears the scars of colonialism and imperialism, places a particular responsibility to speak out upon our government. Crucially, though, discussion of Britain’s involvement in the region is not limited to the historical. India is among the top ten buyers of British arms: our government has approved the sale of £1.6 billion worth of arms to India since 2014.
Rather signalling a shift in Britain’s approach to Modi’s administration, given the ongoing repression in Indian-occupied Kashmir, Johnson has said that they desire to deepen defence and security ties is among the primary motivations for his visit.
Upon Johnson’s return, it has come to light that he neglected to even mention human rights in Kashmir and India, a shameful abdication of duty which I raised to a minister standing in for an AWOL Johnson in Parliament on Tuesday. This isn’t merely turning a blind eye to persecution, oppression, and injustice—it is active and ongoing complicity.
For too long the international community has stood by as Kahsmiris were slaughtered, passing the buck by blindly insisting that the conflict is merely a bilateral issue. But human rights are never a bilateral issue, the right of a people to self-determination is never a bilateral issue; these are always international issues.
So long as Britain situates itself as a signed-up partner to the Modi regime it remains a partner in its crimes. If we have learnt anything from the invasion of Ukraine and the international revulsion toward Vladimir Putin, it is that despots are to be confronted, not courted.