NEW DELHI, India - Chants of “Long live Mother India!” and “Down with Pakistan!” rang out in the streets, as crowds gathered to hear PM Narendra Modi speak atop the massive, Mughal-era, Red Fort for Independence Day.
As Indians celebrated the birth of the world’s biggest democracy, India, members of Modi’s massive fanbase hailed his recent revision to the constitution -- ending the state of J&K (Jammu and Kashmir)’s special semi-autonomy.
“I must say Modi is like a god to India today. Terrorism will end. The fact is that Kashmir is ours now,” Vijay Rashtravadi, a demonstrator in New Delhi told VICE News.
“Union Territories” -- which means Kashmir will lose representatives in Parliament, and the central government will gain direct control.
The move has angered Pakistan, which lays claim to Kashmir. Pakistan’s leader compared Modi’s “arrogance” to that of Hitler’s in a tweet on Thursday (Aug. 15th).
“It’s my hope that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir will be ours soon also,” Rashtravadi said. “It’s my hope Modi will quickly make it ours, too.”
While people paraded in the nation’s capital, Independence Day celebrations in Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, were orchestrated -- largely missing attendance by Kashmiri folks who actually live there.
“Kashmiris have lost 5,000 years of history as a country,” Kashmir University Professor Hameeda Nayeem told VICE News. “Overnight their identity, their dignity, their everything has been lost.”
The Kashmir valley has been under lockdown for 12 days, as the government moved an additional 35,000 soldiers into the region. Internet and communications are blacked out, opposition politicians have been detained, and large public gatherings are banned.
“This is all bullsh*t,” Nayeem said. “They are actually hiding a dark Hindu fantasy of destroying Kashmiri Muslims and reducing them to a miniscule minority so that they can always rule them and they will be enslaved.”
Kashmiris still protested: Many waived Pakistani flags, and some were seen unfurling banners of a local Islamic-state affiliate.
While India initially denied there were any protests last week, calling such media reports “fabricated” fake news, they eventually recognized “widespread unrest.”
Today, India announced it would start to ease its restrictions in Kashmir gradually.
“You are creating a dynamic which is pushing violence forward. Why is that done? That is also done deliberately to provoke this violence,” said Dr. Ajai Sahni, executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management, to VICE News. “So you create this whole demonization of the Muslim, which assists in your Hindutva [Hindu Nationalist] consolidation.”
Downgrading democracy is Kashmir is likely to push people towards an insurgency that Pakistan is accused of sponsoring -- feeding the popularity of recently re-elected Modi, who has styled himself as India’s Chowkidar or “Guardian.”