- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2019

While Pakistan fumes and world leaders fear a nuclear outbreak in South Asia, a top official of India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party offered a spirited defense Monday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent crackdown in Kashmir.

Vinay Prabhakar Sahasrabuddhe, a member of the Indian Parliament and the national vice president of Mr. Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, is one of the first top BJP officials to visit Washington since Mr. Modi unilaterally modified Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special political status and dispatched thousands of troops to quell any unrest. The Modi government imposed a communications blackout and initiated a curfew in the divided province, the source of multiple clashes over the decades with Pakistan.

Mr. Sahasrabuddhe told an audience at the Hudson Institute that the Modi government’s moves were meant to integrate the impoverished region peacefully with the rest of the country. He said Kashmir was in need of the reforms and the economic benefits of a unified India.

“Now we’ve put an end to what I can say pseudo-separatism or pseudo-secessionalism,” Mr. Sahasrabuddhe said.

Many Kashmiris feel the moves are the first step to absorbing their province into Hindu-majority India, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Mr. Modi of being “inspired by Nazi ideology” to dilute Kashmir’s Muslim majority.

“Attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing,” Mr. Khan tweeted. “Question is: Will the world watch and appease as they did Hitler at Munich?”

Mr. Sahasrabuddhe, who is also president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, dismissed the criticism as demographic scaremongering.

“Let me also tell you that demographics cannot be changed by governments and need not be, as well,” he said Monday. “Kashmir is where Hindus and Muslims are legitimate, equally sons and daughters” of India.

“We don’t want any discrimination to be tied to them, which is why the special status is removed,” he said.

He said Mr. Modi, who recently won a second term with a hefty majority in Parliament, has a mandate to pursue his “One India, Great India” agenda, including a clean environment, an attack on poverty and corruption, and an end to terrorism and the caste system. That same mandate, he said, applies to the situation in Kashmir.

“When Prime Minister Modi refers to ‘nationalism,’ he has been insisting that it has to be nationalism, which is patriotism, which is to be reflected in your day-to-day lives,” Mr. Sahasrabuddhe said.

He said the Western press is too reliant on India’s English-language media, which tend to be more critical of the BJP, and predicts the communications blackout in Kashmir will “have a very short life, I’m sure.”

“We don’t believe in these kinds of restrictions,” Mr. Sahasrabuddhe said. “They were a very literally temporary thing.”

The Associated Press reported Monday that Indian troops posted in Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs Monday for the Eid al-Adha festival as the security lockdown reached its eighth day. The lockdown is expected to last through Thursday, India’s independence day.

Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental organization, called on New Delhi on Monday to release political detainees, allow independent monitors in Kashmir and end the news blackout.

“While international law does allow governments to temporarily suspend some rights in exceptional circumstances, this cannot be allowed to become the new ‘normal,’” wrote Meenakshi Ganguly, the rights group’s South Asia director. “Unless it wants to inflame tensions in Kashmir for another generation, the Indian government needs to step back, and fast.”

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