Is Populism Serving India’s Interest and that of the Region?

Author Name: Maheen Shafeeq      27 Mar 2020     Regional security/Region

Analysis of speeches by various presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and leaders of major political parties the world over reflect populist eloquence. Populism has become a distinct stratagem of a majority of the current political leadership and was not in the forefront until quite recently. It has become a favourite tactic in the current decade for winning elections through promotion of nationalistic and populist ideologies. Not surprisingly, since 2000, the number of right-wing parties in power has doubled. Leaders employing populist philosophies are observed to place self-interest over national interest and personal will over the will of the people.


According to the Global Populism Database, the rise of populism is apparent in major regions of the world. Europe, America, and India stand on the high tide of populist sentiments. European leadership leaned towards a populist philosophy during the Mediterranean migrant crisis and Brexit. Likewise, in the United States, President Donald John Trump’s electoral campaign, as well as his policies such as the Mexican border wall and Muslim ban evinced a populist rhetoric. In a similar fashion, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s party is adopting the doctrine of a section of the Indian public, while ignoring the pluralist sentiments in a largely diverse society. However, the irony in this drawn similarity is that populism in the West is very different to that in Asia.


In the West, populism is softened due to mature democracies, whereas its rise in Asia is seen to endanger democracy. Mr Modi’s version of populism embedded in the Hindutva philosophy caters to only one segment of the Indian public and is a serious challenge to the fundamentals of liberal democracy, such as will of the people, freedom of speech, human rights, and liberty. Once the fundamentals of liberal democracy in any country are shaken, the whole structure turns fragile. Rise of populism in India has moved the scale from democracy to autocracy, as it caters to just one mindset. It has intensified xenophobia in the society, which has taken to political violence to impose its will and judgements.


The so-called terror incident of Pulwama in Indian Administered Kashmir on 14th February 2019 was a backlash to the rising populism in India and state's policy of oppression in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK). The highly militarised zone of Kashmir was labelled by President Bill Clinton as the most dangerous place on earth. Militarization suppressing the rights of the indigenous population and democracy do not blend. Denial of means of livelihood and basic human rights to an already neglected segment of the society automatically makes room for political violence.


Adil Ahmed Dar, a native boy of Pulwama, did what could well have been expected when he ambushed a convoy of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force killing 40 of its personnel. Mr Modi’s populist government in a state of delirium was prompt in blaming it as Pakistan’s act of terrorism. India claimed that Jaish‑e‑Muhammad had accepted the responsibility, and the blame game generated an action-reaction sequence between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control. In reaction to the Pulwama attack, on 26th February 2019, India launched an air strike on Balakot, inside the boundary of Pakistan, asserting that it was aimed at destroying a training camp of Jaish‑e‑Muhammad.


The Indian argument of linking Pakistan to terrorism is flawed. Firstly, Indian attack inside Pakistani territory violates the International law. Attacking the territory of a sovereign country attests to an act of war and can by no means be justified as fighting terrorism. Secondly, it will be highly conflictual to classify Pulwama incident as a terror attack as it was a local reaction to the fascist policies of Mr Modi’s government attempting to enfeeble the will and fervour for freedom in Kashmiris. The saying ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ was perhaps drafted for incidents like such.


Secondly, whether the reaction of the native boy was a terrorist act or statement made by a freedom fighter depending which way one wants to view it; the fact remains that Kashmir returned to the limelight. Thirdly, assessing from the nature of the target, its location, and the intended consequences, it was an unmistakable cry for freedom. The Pulwama incident, an act by a frustrated Kashmiri, was maliciously overlooked and fashioned by Indian propagandist into everything other than what in fact it was.


Lastly, as for Mr Modi’s government's claim that the air-strike was a pre-emptive action against terrorists was without evidence and thus groundless. India's rash action had endangered the already crippling security environment of the region.


On Pakistan's part, it had banned Jaish‑e‑Muhammad in 2002, and frozen its assets in 2003, showing its commitment to eradicate such groups and stand with the world community against terrorism. India plays the victim, whereas it is Pakistan that has suffered the evils of terrorism since the start of War on Terror. India gets away with its excesses, while Pakistan is unjustly blamed for terrorism despite the fact that its role in rooting-out terrorism is incontestable. With its clandestine destabilizing efforts, India has been pursuing Hybrid War against Pakistan while trying to remain anonymous under a cleverly crafted veneer.


However, Pakistan has not only unmasked the sinister Indian intentions before the international community but also thwarted its surreptitious terrorism through effective countermeasures.


The lessons drawn and the way forward from the Pulwama incident demands regional efforts and concrete actions towards sustaining peace. Pulwama incident was an outcry over the rising tide of populism and fascism in India that has generated resentment and disaffection in the Kashmiri people. As a reaction, it reflects on the nature of Mr Modi’s government and its despotic policies. Its aftermath and action by Pakistan Air Force should make it clear to the Indian leadership, that Pakistani nation is in no mood to accommodate Indian arrogance.


If India wants to be a champion of democracy, Mr Modi’s government should stop silencing the voices of the oppressed and address the concerns of the diverse Indian society. It should above all respect UN resolutions on Kashmir. The future course of events in the region would be influenced by the approach the Indian government adopts.


Maheen Shafeeq  is a research fellow at the Centre of Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS).  This article was first published in She can be reached at

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